My first term at Mbeya was tough. I was assigned to Burton house, and we had a little green square sewn on the breast of shirts and little khaki dresses, with our Cash's name tapes carefully sewn into every item of clothing. On laundry day, having changed into a fresh set of clothes we would line up down the middle of the dormitory holding the pile of used clothes destined for the laundry. Once at the front of the line, you would drop one item at a time onto the growing heap, calling out what it was, so matron could mark it on her laundry list: "khaki dress, khaki nickers, sports dress sports nickers..." etc.
That first term, I was in Miss Butcher's dormitory. Looking at the photograph, walking from the dining hall,through the archway into the dormitory quadrangle, it was the dorm on the right side. I did not know any other children (having just come from Kenya), so a group of the older kids started to pick on me. Every little thing I did wrong (mostly whispering after lights-out to the girl in the next bed) was reported to Matron. It started with reprimands, then I was moved to another bed, and finally I was isolated to a bed by itself on the way to the showers. I was definitely on the slippery slope with authority. Finally, the mobbing reached a climax towards the end of term when I was blamed for a broken cupboard. It was my word against theirs, and matron was already convinced I was a "bad one" - for me there was definitely "no tea and biscuits with matron", let me tell you. Anyway,Miss Butcher sent me to the headmaster (William Waddington, I think) for "strapping". It was definitely a turning point in my life. I held my head up and refused to cry. The next term I was in a different dormitory, with a different matron, and I was tougher - so life improved from then on.
The dining hall was the huge building on the end of the main square. There was a flag pole there on the small lawn across from the dining hall. At mealtimes a native would beat a large native drum for about five minutes to announce the meal. The sound carried for miles, so even if you were out on the playing fields, you could hear it. I remember the porridge, and I did not mind that so much, but the peas - oh dear, they had not been picked over properly, and frequently there were caterpillars in them - Ugh! I don't remember any birthday parties at all.
I do remember the activity hall (across from the assembly hall). Wet weather activities were puzzles or crafts. Playtime for the girls consisted mainly of group skipping with a long rope, when all kinds of songs went along with it. Ball games were also a favorite. You had to find a section of unoccupied brick wall along one of the many verandahs, and then there were many "throws" involving one or more bounces, or none, which had to be executed together with other turns, jumps, hand-claps, etc.,depending on the complexity, all without dropping the ball,so the player could move onto the next level of complexity. All building memory, dexterity, and fitness, I suppose. In later years, a favorite game was jacks, with a small rubber ball, and metal pieces to be snatched up and the ball caught all with one hand.
Between classes, a necessary task was the feeding of the pet chameleon. With the chameleon in hand, one went from window to window while the chameleon snapped up the miriad flies. We did not have screens on the windows, and I know we did not have mosquito nets in the dorms. I remember one time, a boy had extended a great favor by allowing me to feed his huge, horned chameleon in the gap between classes. I felt honored and did my best to feed his hungry pet, so that I was the last one dashing into Latin class. I had the creature on my hand, and I had the desk lid raised, as if I was getting out my books. The creature would not climb off my hand into the desk! Finally, as the teacher was getting suspicious, I had to scrape it off my hand and shut the desk. At the end of class,imagine my horror to find I had squashed it!
The assembly hall was a favorite place. Miss White played the piano and I was in the choir, so choir practice took place regularly every week. At the back of the assembly hall was a real stage, with wings and the usual equipment for scenery, etc. - actually it was quite sophisticated, given the place and time!
At the back of the classrooms was the gym which had bleachers on the outside facing the huge playing field. The gym was equipped with climbing bars on both sides which went all the way up to the windows at the top of the walls. A favorite warm-up game was Ship's Captain, which went like this. The gym teacher was the captain; he would call out "man the starboard" and we all had to run to the right wall and climb up the bars; "man the port", and we all had to run to the left and climb up (the last person off the ground was "out", and had to go and sit down); "hit the deck" (lay on the floor); "freeze" (anybody moving was out) etc., until there was only one gasping person left in the game, who was declared the winner. I loved it!
I also remember playing, making dens,climbing and sliding down the branches in the fir trees. To this day, that particular pine scent pulls back memories. The river garden was a favorite place, but only allowed at weekends. The black mamba was in residence in my day also. Dog walking for teachers was a favorite task, and we would be rewarded by being allowed to pick guavas from their trees.
When I was about 11 years old, I was in the senior girls dorm (off to the right in the picture, on the way to the sick bay - do you remember the huge eucalyptus trees beind the sick bay? Anyway, living in that dorm, I remember they "apple-pied" my bed one evening, while I was not looking, and put a big lizard at the bottom (haw-haw monicky - sp?).
One time, I remember going by bus to visit a large meteor that had crashed through the atmosphere somewhere nearby (several hours journey). It was a science-related excursion, as we all climbed over this huge hunk of whatever and learned something about the planets, etc.
The school was well equiped for sports. The girls played rounders and hockey, and I remember one year how we rebelled when asked to learn cricket! I started cross-country running at Mbeya and was really enjoying it, when I was diagnosed with Osgood Slaters disease (inflamation of the knee joints). This involved rubbing a loathsome ointment on my knees which turned the skin yellow-brown (lovely!) I outgrew it in about 18 months.
In my final year, I was actually named head girl, which espunged my earlier reputation.
This was the best time. At the end of term, there were usually a couple of days before the buses came to take us home. There was the ritual hike to the top of Mbeya mountain which involved the whole school - children and teachers. I had done it so many times by this time, I knew the way by heart. We had two new teachers that year (male and female) that seemed to take a shine to each other. They were lagging behind on the climb back down, and I guess they lost their way. A search party had to be sent out the next morning. My my!
All in all, I loved it at Mbeya and was sad when we were posted to the Congo. Finding this blog and being able to share memories is great! If you download Google Earth, and plug in the coordinates: Lat: 8degrees55'28.66'S Long: 33degrees24'44.38'E, you'll be able to see what it looks like now (June 2004).