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“It's time to go. Are you ready?”
I half jumped and lifted my head to see my mother standing in front of me, handing me my lunch.
“Ma, it’s ok. I can make or buy something as soon as I get there,” I said, reaching for the lunch. I was very nervous and excited at the same time. Even though I tried to sound like I didn’t need the lunch she had made, I secretly wished I’d get one of those every day.
My family and I had moved from Malawi to Botswana, and I was going to a new school. We were now living in a town called Francistown, which was about six hours by bus away from the capital city, Gaborone. When we first arrived here, I tried to assure my mom that I was ok and would be ok on my own, so I asked her if I could go to a school even further from Francistown. At first she was hesitant, but she eventually gave in.
“There are good schools here too, and you’d be able to come home whenever you wanted. Why do you want to go so far away?” she had asked.
I managed to convince her that I was grown and would come home whenever she needed me. After I assured her that I’d call every day, we agreed that I’d go to Nata Senior Secondary school, in Nata, which was about four hours by bus from Francistown.
I was the only son, but I had a little sister who was just nine-years-old. She was going to be going to a school here in Francistown, called Our Lady Primary School. She was more excited than I was, but maybe it was because she was still going to be home.
“Neema, aren’t you going to miss me?” I asked her as she was slipping her shoes on. My mom was going to drop me off at school, and she was coming along.
“No,” she said playfully. She started giggling and I stood up and chased her. She ran around the couch twice before I could catch her and started tickling her. She laughed and rolled around, then I lifted her up and we walked outside. My bags were already in the car, but for some reason I wasn’t ready to leave. I didn’t let my mom see that I was nervous, so we left.
We usually played music whenever we were driving, but this time my mom wanted us to talk since I was leaving. She told me about her Secondary School years and what to watch out for.
“Come on, Ma, that’s like 30 years ago. I think our generation does different stuff than you did years ago,” I said.
“I know, Juma, but some things never change,” she said.
I nodded and she went on to tell me about staying on task and paying attention to why I’m going there.
We kept passing by people on roadsides waiting for buses, and I could tell most of them were students by the amount of luggage they had with them. About two hours into the drive, we passed by a bus that was carrying students. They were poking their heads out the windows and waving at anybody who happened to pay attention. They were so noisy I felt like I was missing out.
“Ma, how come I didn’t take the bus?” I asked.
She looked at me and frowned, and looked back on the road.
“Is it so bad that I wanted to drop you off and make sure you’re settled in before I left you there? You know we won't see you any time soon, right?” she said, sounding hurt.
“It’s ok. I’m glad you’re dropping me off,” I said.
The school was full of students running up and down when we arrived. It was surrounded by a long brick wall, and the entrance was made of metal doors painted in green. Green was part of the school uniform as I had noticed earlier. There was also a side door where students walked in with their bags. I assumed those students either lived in Nata, or had taken the bus and had to walk from the bus stop to the school, which wasn’t so far away. We drove in and my mom parked near a building I later found out was the school’s entertainment hall.
All we needed to do was get my school ID from the office and we were good to move in. I had no clue who my roommates were going to be, so I was just waiting to be told which building and room I was assigned to. I got my ID and the lady at the desk said, “You will be living in block G, and you room number should be 218. Your roommates are already there, oh and… no cell phones or computers are allowed here. You can have MP3 players and radios, though.”
No cell phones? I wasn’t too shocked because even in Malawi, students weren’t allowed to have phones on campus.
“How do we contact him if we have a family emergency or need to know how he’s doing?” my mom asked.
“The school has telephones that he can come and use for free to reach you. If you need to get in contact with him for any reason, you can call us and we’ll get him on. And if anything was to happen to him, we’ll contact you,” she said.
My mother took the school’s contact information and left hers. Then she walked back to the car.
“Where’s block G, ma’am?” I asked, and she pointed to a building on the far right end of what I later found out was the cafeteria.
I thanked her and walked back to the car. I pointed the building out to my mom and told her that I didn’t think there was a parking lot there, since I couldn’t see any car parked there.
We took out my bags and walked to my dorm. Most of the floor was covered with bricks and cement. The place looked big which made me a little more nervous. There were people running all over the building. Block G (or probably all student housing buildings) were three floor buildings, and had space in the middle of the first floor building that looked like a fireplace. There were two elevators on both ends of the building, and you could see people on the third floor from the first.
We took the elevator to the second floor, and this whole time my little sister was holding my hand. I had my briefcase in my left hand and my backpack on my back, and my mom had one of my other bags and my lunch. I still had my bedsheets in the car. We got to my room and I knocked. There were people chatting but they stopped as soon as we walked in. I couldn’t speak Setswana yet, but everybody spoke English, even though a lot of them didn’t like it that much. The room had a wall that ran from one end of the room the the center. There were two beds and two closets on each side. Two of the beds in the far end of the room were taken and the top bed on this side was taken too, by Kenny, which left the bottom bed empty. I said hi to the three guys and walked over to the bed and dropped my bags on the floor. One of the guys said something in Setswana and they all laughed.
\Then he stood up and walked up to my mom and said, “Let me help you with that, ma’am,” and took the bag from her. He brought it and put it next to me and said, “I’m Benard, this is Kenny, and that’s Katlego.”
“I’m Juma, and that’s my mother and little sister, Neema,” I said pointing at Neema.
Kenny was the guy at the top bunk. He sat up and said, “Are you guys from Tanzania?”
“Yes we are, but we have been living in Malawi for nine years. We just moved to Francistown last month,” I said wondering how he knew we were from Tanzania.
“How did you know we were Tanzanians?” my little sister asked. She can be a talker sometimes, so I wasn’t too surprised.
“Your names,” Kenny laughed. “My father is Tanzanian too, but my mother is a Motswana. I have a cousin named Juma.
Later when we had brought all my stuff inside and I was walking my family back to the car, my mom said, “Looks like you won’t have any trouble fitting in, son.”
I pretended to be surprised at the fact that she called me “son,” instead of “Juma” or the pet names she seems to create all the time. She laughed and kept walking.
“Wow, why do I feel like I’m being dumped here for good?” I asked jokingly.
“You chose to come here, remember?” she said as we approached the car.
“I’ll miss you,” Neema said, getting teary.
“Hey, don’t worry now. I’ll be home before you know it. And you can write to me.” she smiled and hugged me.
I got in the car with them and begged my mom to let me keep my phone on me. “Mom, I promise I won’t do anything to get caught. I’ll only use it to call you, I promise,” I begged. She was one to follow rules no matter what, so it took me time to convince her to break this rule just this once. She already knew I sometimes took the phone to school with me back in Malawi, so this wasn’t anything new. We said our goodbyes and I got out of the car. They waved and drove away. As I stood there watching them leave, the fact that I was now on my own hit me. I’ve never been this far away from home, and I didn’t think I was ready. After they had completely disappeared, I walked back to my new home, block G. When I got into my dorm to unpack, Kenny and my other two roommates were gone. At least I could unpack comfortably. I put all my clothes into the empty closet and put the smaller bag in the closet with the clothes and the bigger bag under my bed. I made my bed and sat down to eat the food my mom had gotten me. There was no fridge in the dorms, and I later found out that we weren’t allowed to bring food except snacks into the dorm.
Later that night when my roommates came back, we sat around and just talked. Kenny was a little lighter in complexion than the rest of us. He was a little shorter than I was but he was muscular. Katlego was tall and skinny. His hair looked like neat mini locks, but turns out, he was a Mongwato (a tribe in Botswana), and a lot of them had hair that naturally divides itself in tiny circles and made it look like locks. He wasn’t much of a talker but he sounded like a really intelligent guy. Bernard was the tallest and strongest looking. He laughed a lot, and happened to talk a lot too. I on the other hand was just medium sized, never worked out, wasn’t much of a talker either, and preferred being on my own than in a crowd. Katlego and Bernard went to the same Primary School, while Kenny went to a school in Francistown called John Mackenzie Primary school.
I asked Kenny why he decided to come here and he shrugged his shoulders and said, “I guess I just wanted to be away from home for a while.”
He didn’t sound too convincing, but I didn’t question him.
Turns out, we all had phones on us even though we weren’t supposed to. “As long as you don’t get caught, you’re good,” Bernard had said.
Katlego looked on his watch and said it was supper time. I wasn’t hungry, so I said I was just going to take a shower and head to sleep. Kenny said he needed to change and go for a run instead. Bernard and Katlego walked out and Kenny started changing. As he took his t-shirt off, I noticed that he had lots of scars on his back. He turned around and saw me looking and looked uncomfortable. He slipped on his t-shirt fast and started taking his pants off.
“I feel like my roommate is a girl. Why are you staring at me like that?” he asked.
I didn’t know what to think of or say at that very moment. I looked away for a moment and then asked, “What happened to your back?”
By this time he had pulled his shorts on and was grabbing a pair of sneakers. He stopped and walked up to me, sat on my bed, and wore his sneakers.
“Why are you so nosey, Juma, huh? Do you like me already?” he asked staring at me in the eye.
I stared back unintentionally and let out a nervous laugh and said, “Yes, I do. You seem like a nice person.” I stretched my arm quickly and patted him on his back. He looked nervous and stood up.
“Do you wanna go for a jog?” he asked.
“No, I’ll just take a nap. Plus I never work out,” I said.
“There’s a first time for everything. Let’s go. I’ll answer your question about my scars.”
(Part 2 next week)