IN June 1997, the Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE) offered me a study visit to Malawi Institute of Education (MIE). By then I was the Head of Department at TIE.
This was a programme of exchanging experience and expertise among members of East and Southern African Curriculum Organisation (ESACO). Such visits were conducted under a memorandum of understanding called 'ESACO' spirit.
In this spirit, the host institution would incur costs of accommodation and upkeep while the visitor would meet travel expenses. This offer was also given to the Financial and Administrative Manager of TIE, Mr Patrick Komba.
Both Patrick and I were used to very hard conditions of life. We wanted to make an adventure and therefore decided to go by bus because there was a bus that operated between Dar es Salaam and Lilongwe.
From Lilongwe we would take a bus to Blantyre that would drop us at Domasi near Zomba where MIE is located. We inquired about this venture and were supported by our administrators. The MIE officers knew about the trip. However, no communication was made available to them about our means of travel. They knew for sure that we would travel by air. They also had an idea of the date of travel.
They kept waiting for confirmation so that we would be collected at Lilongwe International Airport. We purchased tickets for the bus to Lilongwe, Royal Twiga International Coach Trans that was scheduled to leave the city of Dares Salaam at 5:30 am and reporting time was 11:30 am.
The bus terminal was at Kisutu. I lived in Sinza while Patrick lived in Msewe. We agreed that we should be at Kisutu by quarter to five. We knew that a slight delay would cost us. I woke up quite early and arrived at Kisutu station at ten minutes to five. I was disappointed to learn that the bus had left a few minutes earlier.
Sympathisers advised me to board a Mbeya bus that was leaving immediately. "This bus is very fast. It will catch up with the Malawi bus before it reaches Iringa," they shouted. They helped me get into the bus and we left immediately. It drove at a high speed that scared me.
We drove past Msamvu in Morogoro but the Twiga Trans was beyond sight. A stand-by passenger told us the bus had just left. Our bus driver drove even faster and the Twiga bus was seen passing Mazimbu. Our driver hooted continuously to alert the Twiga bus to stop.
When it slowed down, our bus overtook me and covered the road to prevent it from a possible revenge. The Twiga Trans made a complete stop to avoid collision. The conductors of our bus helped me carry my bag as I disembarked and jumped into the other bus. There were cheers from my previous bus indicating that they were happy about the success.
At last their driver would drive at a lower speed. When I entered the bus, I noticed that it was full of cargo. No doubt it left earlier deliberately to allow more space for the cargo at the expense of passengers. I tried to locate Patrick but could not see him. "Patrick Komba," I called. Nobody replied. I realised soon that Mr Komba had also been left behind.
The bus drove up to the border at Songwe where we stopped for a number of hours before crossing the Songwe Bridge to enter Malawi. My eyes were on all vehicles entering Songwe from Mbeya. I thought Patrick might have boarded any of them to attempt a connection. But Patrick was not in any of them. So I would go to MIE alone. What a menace.
I even decided to travel by bus. What would our hosts think of us? After entering Malawi we drove several kilometres of rough roads in North Malawi and entered Mzuzu at the middle of the night. We managed to enter Lilongwe early in the morning. Monday had found me in Malawi.
The Twiga bus was destined to end in Lilongwe. I made a connection at Lilongwe by boarding a bus to Blantyre the former capital of Malawi. I asked the bus conductor to drop me at Malawi Institute in Domasi. "We don't stop at MIE but Domasi," they informed me. When I highlighted, I found a man at the station. I asked him where MIE was and how to get there.
"There," he pointed. "I can take you there by a short-cut. It is not very far. I agreed involuntarily. We crossed a small tributary and entered MIE campus. He took me through the back side of MIE until we reached one of the administrative buildings. I paid him some token and thanked him for his assistance. At last I had arrived. I had known a little bit about MIE.
The Director for the Research and Evaluation Unit had visited TIE some time ago. We had also met in Nairobi for a conference in qualitative research method. As I stood there waiting , an MIE officer greeted me. He noted that I was a visitor but why didn't I have a host? He inquired about my visit and I said that Mr Jere should be informed about my arrival. He took me to the director's office to wait for him.
He was informed by the secretary that the director was attending an urgent meeting. The officer followed him in the meeting room and delivered the message. "What!" shouted some members at the meeting. "A Tanzanian from TIE has arrived?" There was a sigh of relief.
The meeting had been called to discuss how the visitors would be received at the airport. No flight or arrival time had been received and this was bothering them a lot. Mr Jere was relieved to attend his visitor. Meanwhile, the remaining members continued to finalise the visitor's visiting schedule.
When the director joined me in his office we hugged and chatted for a while. I informed him about Patrick's failure to catch the bus and that he would join me a day or two later. He introduced me to the head of the Research and Evaluation Department, Mrs Kishindo with whom I would work for the entire visit of two weeks. I was provided full board accommodation at MIE rest house.
I learned from Mrs Kishindo's briefing that my former teacher, Mr George Michongwe was a member of her department. He was my History teacher when I was in Form Three at Old Moshi Secondary School. I was among his best students and he was disappointed when I dropped History in favour of Additional Mathematics. Unfortunately it was not possible to take both subjects simultaneously.
Mr Michongwe had served as Minister in Dr Kamuzu Banda's regime and had fled to Tanzania after misunderstanding between him and Dr Banda. We met again at the University of Dar es Salaam in the Education Foundation course.
He still blamed me for not studying History that would have made me famous. However, he praised me for perseverance and working hard. I worked briefly with him when I was conducting research at Klerruu Teachers' College where he was a tutor. Patrick arrived four days later.
He joined me in visiting the Examination and Certification Board and University of Malawi in Blantyre where we visited the Centre for Social Research. We were also given an opportunity to visit Lake Nyasa which they called Lake Malawi. At the end of the tour, Mrs Kishindo did not hesitate to say," I did not know that you were so cooperative, meek and understanding.
Mr Michonwe had threatened us by saying: You'd better prepare yourselves. If he is Beniel Seka I know, then he is going to challenge you. But I have found you are ready to help in looking for solutions to pertinent problems."
MIE allowed us to spend a night at the prestigious hotel called Capital Hotel along Chilembwe Road in Lilongwe at its own cost. We were very grateful for that. When bidding us goodbye at Lilongwe after escorting us, Mr Maliakini, on behalf of MIE administration said, "You really surprised us.
But you have also shown that it is possible for us to come to TIE by bus. In that way, we shall be able to make more frequent visits. We wish you a nice journey back home."