Pakati Memories…part 1

Allow me to begin by mentioning certain musical things which happened in the time leading up to my departure to Zimbabwe in early 1989, that definitely had an influence on me. They stretch back into my College days when as I said in the recent blog post, I met a Zimbabwean musician and his family here in Bradford, the city in which I have lived mostly since 1984.

The band he played in were called ‘Somebody’s Brother’, and I went with several fellow students to see them play wherever they were on, over a period of several years. Cecil Zinyuku (from the Headlands area of Zimbabwe) played bass guitar & sang, and I remember their wide mix of music did include some African songs from him.

Every year there was a music Festival all across the city in lots of venues, and I also remember seeing some African acts playing. Most notable were Mahlatini & the Mahotella Queens of South Africa, and my favourites, the Real Sounds of Africa of Zaire (from DRC), then based in Zimbabwe. I also listened to a radio DJ called John Peel who championed Zimbabwean/African music, especially the Bhundu Boys and the Four Brothers. Paul Simon’s Graceland album of 1985 had opened my mind to African music, and by the time I got to Zimbabwe I was already a big fan…

So, as I set out for Zimbabwe in January 1989 I was at least partially prepared, though a long way from being ready for what came to pass in the 32 months I was there. Here are several of my recollections, feelings, thoughts and experiences, some of which have been told in shorter posts much earlier in this blog, including among others. Where possible, I will tell them in chronological order, but as I am now 30 years older, I may not be that accurate in my memory!

As I described in the last few paragraphs of the previous blog, my journey from England to Zimbabwe was broken up with a brief, unscheduled stop over in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia. My first taste of Africa was not as I expected…but it did make arriving in Harare that much better, as it was a much more modern looking city than Addis.

My first taste of Zimbabwean food was on the day I arrived, a Tuesday, at a training centre North of Harare. Sadza – made from the staple, maize – with chicken, vegetables and a sauce/relish, was not to the liking of all of us there (we were 12 newly-arrived volunteers), but I took to it immediately. The training had initially been planned for the whole week, and was meant to include a fair amount of language learning. The delays caused by the stop-over meant VSO chose to cut out a lot of the language time sadly, as there were many more practical things to do, such as health briefings, acclimatising to the city, buying necessties, meeting staff & other volunteers. Then the preparations for the Saturday departure loomed large – but one night out in the city to watch the Four Brothers at Jobs Nightspot was just too tempting…

My arrival at Pakati was late on the Saturday, 14th January 1989, as I was the last of 3 volunteers being dropped at their new placements. Sunday was my first real day there, and I was welcomed and shown around the school area by Mr Nyamauya, the Deputy Head, and introduced to some of my new colleagues.

I first set foot inside a classroom at Pakati Secondary school on Monday, 16th January 1989, the 30th anniversary of which was celebrated by formally launching this blog/website, project, email address fundraising page and twitter account to be followed soon after by and involved a radio interview on BBC Radio Humberside’s Sports Talk programme. That broadcast eventually lead to the delivery of IT equipment to Pakati schools last year.

In all honesty, I remember very little of that first day, other than the looks on the faces of the students as they struggled to understand how I spoke at first. I have a vague recollection of an early lesson with a large (to me) Form 3 class of what I think was around 70 students, all crammed 4 together on benches/desks designed for 2. I was a Maths teacher, and I think it was about triangles!

Life at the school was very different to anything I had experienced before…I shared a house with two local colleagues, there was no electricity or running water, and the nearest shops were about 40 minutes walk away.

There was a borehole some 50 meters behind the house, and I did have some basic household equipmemt to use from VSO. We used parafin stoves and gas to cook & power a small fridge, candles and parafin lamps for light, plus I had a small solar charger and rechargeable batteries. We used one room for bathing, with the windows covered, as we had a tub and were able to heat water on the stoves. I learned to adapt very quickly.

After the initial shock and excitement of arriving, I did settle down, gradually getting used to my new situation. The Head, Mr Samakomva, had shown me round the Ministry of Education offices locally in the first week, but I also spent my first weekend in Harare with other VSO volunteers, making friends and learning how to survive, including getting around by whatever means possible…

I got used to living at Pakati, and for the most part, thoroughly enjoyed myself there. I have to admit I was a bit lazy in terms of learning Shona, but in mitigation, Zimbabweans generally are very good speakers of English, and among the students who weren’t so good, they wanted to practice their English by talking to me. Among the staff, all spoke good English.

My two housemates were George Mutatapasi (Brown cardigan, centre of front row) and Regis Chirape (Check jacket, front row, end right). Just in front of me holding a text book is Mr Nyamauya, whose daughter Cynthia shown below is now 33!

Mostly we did our own washing & cleaning, at least to begin with. Eventually, in return for paying school fees for some students, teachers would get help with chores…

So, in the early months, I settled down to life at Pakati, adapted to the change in pace of life, got used to the weather, understood more of how Zimbabweans spoke, and lived, especially out here in the rural areas. Getting to and from work has never been easier!

In the next part, I will talk about things like classes, sports, entertainment, animals, travel, tourism, and many other things besides….what better way than to end this part with sunset at Pakati in 1989!


My name is Chris Walker, and between January 1989 and September 1991 I worked, through VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas), at Pakati Secondary School in Murehwa South district in Zimbabwe. I was a Maths teacher for 2 years, the Acting Head for the last 8 months there. I have also taught in Botswana & the UK, had 4 years working for VSO, and have been a Civil Servant in Bradford since 2005.

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