The Chaminuka Chapter

When I arrived at Chaminuka I was a boy threatening to become a man.

It was something different from everything that I had hitherto experienced. The organisation itself was a study in organisational ambiguity: a group of people, each coming from different backgrounds, thrown together by the bureaucracy and told to get on with it.

Well, we did get on with it. The Ministry of Youth cadres: disciplined to the point of brainwashed, alongside the Ministry of Agriculture cadres, mostly fresh from university: young, cocky and supercilious. That made for a resentful association, and plenty of fireworks along the way.

All was not gloom though. I loved the job. I threw myself into it with infectious gusto. It was my life, and I threw all of myself in it. I loved being the centre of attraction, being able to influence the next generation of extension workers going to the field. It was an incredibly important job, and hence I was determined to give my all.

Plus every good teacher is a show-off.  They thrive on the platform, the adulation and admiration. I liked that, I was good at what I did, I put 100 percent. I guess what followed was not surprising, but it did take me by surprise at the time.

For some reason, I emerged a leader at the place. I was very young, comparatively speaking, but I was committed, engaged and…reckless I guess. I was willing to get into scraps that I sometimes shuddered about years later.

I guess it was also down to chance encounter that our boss was a gentleman that we affectionately called Mudhara Dhabhezh, or formally Mr. Dube. He was a compassionate boss, a dedicated agriculturalist, a natural leader of men who had a huge influence on my younger self. Luckily for me, he saw a younger version of himself in me, and took me under his tutelage. We were kindred spirits, and where he saw a bright, dedicated junior colleague, I saw a brilliant boss whom I was prepared to die for. It was a match made in heaven, and the foundation for a highly productive team that we assembled for a period there.

Because the organisational set-up was loose, it was highly political. The hierarchy was obfusticated by the dual ministry, hybrid nature of the set-up. The Principal of the college was from the Ministry of Youth. The head of the agriculture operation, Mr. Dube was officially designated “Coordinator”. He was hierarchically just below the Principal, but even that was subject to re-interpretation, according to the sobriety status of the interpreter! If interpreter was drunk, that even changed!

Below the Coordinator, it became all jumbled and arbitrary. What I know is that I ended up fairly high up the totem tree. Not that I really cared, but it’s a development that I look back upon and wonder. I wasn’t looking for advancement, but I certainly didn’t mind.  A lot of other colleagues would rather I opt out of the promotions, but not me. If instructions were going, it would rather be me issuing the instructions.

We did our best, but the environment was not ideal. As 2006 gave way to 2007, things became worse. The economy was imploding; we were accepting beasts in lieu of cash for fees. We were ridiculously creative, setting up a pricing committee that would evaluate the beasts; establishing livestock sections to aid the training process.

And raising a lot of hell in the process. Maybe it was because of youth, or maybe it was just me rebelling against stuffy, antiquated, residual power alliances at the institution, I don’t know. I got into plenty of scraps, was the centre of many controversies. After one particularly feisty encounter with office apparatchiks, and had been threatened with spiritual harm, I went to the boss with steam coming out of my ears. He calmed me, and when I was going away, he flashed his devillish lop-side grin and remarked, out of nowhere:

“You know why I like you? You are penga-penga like me”.  As in “crazy” or “fire-brandish”. What a ringing endorsement from your boss!

Chaminuka was challenging. Looking back at it, maybe I liked the challenges. I revelled in them, pitting my wits against them.

Before I was done with the place, I had navigated many challenges. And it was not just responding to challenges, but we caused a few ourselves. Some really hefty, hair-raising challenges.

I guess I survived Chaminuka. But I left my mark on it too, stamped it with my personality a little bit. If life is a journey, Chaminuka was an important station along it. It is an institution with a colourful history and I met people who went on to become important in my life. I discovered a lot about myself there as well, and perhaps it was at Chaminuka that I glimpsed the ambition in me, acknowledged it and determined to do something about it.

If I arrived a boy, I left Chaminuka a man.

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