I can still recall my early years, when I used to go swimming in the neighboring rivers and reservoirs on the days I had off from primary school. My favorite season was the chilly dry one, and I loved to spend hours swimming around in the cool water with my buddies and completely losing track of time. I was limited only by my imagination during this time of play, freedom, and exploration.
My parents, however, weren’t always happy with my swimming adventures. They would berate me every time I returned home for having a pale complexion and chapped lips. I had difficulties keeping out of trouble with them until I discovered a trick. I started bringing body lotion to the river and applying it to my skin before getting out. I appeared completely healthy as a result when I got home, and my parents suspected nothing.
Even though I adored swimming, there was more to my upbringing than that. My schoolmates were perplexed as to how I managed to pass with excellent scores despite occasionally skipping class to go swimming. The trick was that I regularly read in a shaded area near a tree by the river. I loved science when I was in primary school; back then it was called primary sciences and it was a combination of biology, agriculture, and other scientific subjects. I particularly enjoyed reading about biology and agriculture. Sometimes I would read English books under the shade of a tree, but English was fairly easy for me, so I only read the grammar part. I would read for a few minutes while enjoying the cool breeze and then jump back into the water with my friends.
My father always encouraged me to read, no matter how often I went to the river. At the time, I found it to be a bit annoying, but today I realize that he was thinking of my future. Reading not only helped me academically but also opened up new worlds and perspectives for me. It allowed me to imagine and dream, and it helped me develop a love for learning that I still carry with me to this day.
To be honest, I do not recall the names of the friends I had because we mostly met at the river. There were boys from all corners of the village. I do remember that the river was behind Lilongwe Central Poultry, which we called Dudu. One of the biggest poultry farms in Malawi, Central Poultry was in Area 36, near the Malangalanga Forest. There was an electric fence around the farm that my friends and I never messed with. Anyway, our goal was simply to swim in the river nearby.
My friends and I found a tree by the edge of the river, and we would climb it and jump into the water. We would dive as deep as we could, and the longer you stayed underwater, the more respect you gained in the crew as a great diver. The thrill of competition was palpable, and I remember the excitement and anticipation we all felt as we waited for our turn. I recall the intense focus and concentration it took to stay underwater, trying to hold my breath for as long as possible. As my friends took their turns, I watched in awe as some of them seemed to stay underwater for an impossibly long time, their hair floating around them like strands of seaweed. As my turn approached, my heart was pounding with excitement and nerves. I took a deep breath, dove underwater, and held my breath with all my might. My body felt weightless as I focused on trying to beat my friends and come out victorious.
We always kept an eye on the movement of the sun, and at sunset, we would head back home. I cherished those tranquil and enjoyable times. January to March is the rainy season, which is a period of change. The rivers and reservoirs that we bathed in would flood, and the arid terrain would transform into verdant vegetation. Farming was done throughout the rainy season, and it was always fascinating to watch the crops grow from seedlings to harvest-ready plants.
Thinking back, I cherish those days spent swimming, reading, and experiencing the different seasons. They were peaceful, serene times that gave me the chance to regroup and refresh, and they had a big impact on the person I am now. My early years were, in many respects, the ideal synthesis of quiet times of introspection and having a good time with friends. I’m thankful for the memories and lessons they gave me, since this balance has served me well throughout my life.
13 March, 2023