Being 20

In early February, 2015, I will be turning 70.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about this milestone. I’m pretty sure 70 is not considered young or even middle-aged by anyone under, well, 70!

I’ve been living the senior, retired life for a few years now and it’s been pretty good. Free bus Wednesdays, discounts once a month at local drugstores (and you’ve got to believe we frequent pharmacies a lot these days), special status on VIA rail, and senior coffees at various cafes and bistros.

But my mind has been turning back to my childhood, my youth, and my middle years.

1965

I turned 20. I was finally out of my teen-aged years but not quite, according to the law of the land in those days, an adult.

  • I was in my fourth year at university, studying arts and education.
  • I still lived at home with most of my brothers and sisters, and I used to run up the hill every day in my effort to get to class on time. Successful most of the time.
  • On weekends and in the summer, I had to be home by 10:30, and I was!
  • In May, I graduated with an education degree.
  • I was hired, by letter, to teach elementary school in Edmonton, Alberta, about 3,000 km (2,000 m) from my home in Nova Scotia.
  • I travelled by plane for the first time. Halifax – Edmonton.
  • I started teaching Grade 1.
  • I met my husband-to-be on September 19.
  • At Christmas time we drove from Edmonton to Fort Smith, NWT, to spend Christmas with John’s family.
  • On Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) John and I decided to get married and go to Zambia, in Africa, to work as volunteers. (Our next anniversary will be our 49th.)

There were many changes in my life the year I was 20. I left home, travelled, and fell in love.

What could be more exciting than that?

Thanks for reading. Enjoy your day.

– Maureen

A Tale of Two Cultures

“Do they speak English there?”  It was the first question I asked when my fiance and I decided in 1966, to go to Zambia in Central Africa as volunteers with CUSO.  I figured if I spoke the language it would easy to integrate into my new life in Africa.  Little did I know.

A few days after we arrived in Lusaka I was given my assignment for the next two years.  I was to teach mathematics to high school students.  I always loved math in school but I hadn’t had a course since first year university.  Yikes!  I’d have to really brush up on my skills.  However, nothing could have prepared me for my first lesson, “rapid calculations in pounds, shillings, and pence”.  I don’t know what the students thought of me.  I kept asking how many pence were in a shilling and how many shillings were in a pound.  I’ll tell you that the calculations were anything but “rapid” that day.

At the high-school I learned that I was the “form mistress”.  ???  Hey,at 21 and married only a few days, I had never been the mistress of anyone or anything.  There were no “grades” or “years”, but Forms 1 through 5, and I was the mistress of Form One C! 

 After a couple of days we were going to have an assembly in the gym.  No problem.  What could be different about that?  All of the teachers filed in and took our seats on the stage facing the unnaturally quiet students, waiting for the arrival of the principal.  I thought it must some kind of joke played on unsuspecting new teachers but the arrival of the principal in cap and gown followed quickly by all of us standing to attention soon put me in the picture.  This was to be the way all of our weekly assemblies were conducted.  I was in a different country!

The next few days and weeks were full of misunderstandings.  I was told to go to the Building Society to deposit my pay check  ($84 Canadian/per month).  I would have thought it was a hardware store or a building supply company but it is a sort of credit union!  Mince was hamburg.  A biro was a ball-point pen.  To spend a penny was to go to the bathroom. Petrol (which was rationed to 10 gallons a month) was gas. We even had to remember to drive on the left side of the road.

About a year after we arrived, Zambia switched over to the metric system.  Now there would be Kwatcha and Ngwee, instead of pounds, shillings, and pence. For the general population, there was very little access to radio, the use of telephones was extremely limited , and of course, TV was almost non-existent. So the  government encouraged “each one teach one” to get the message out about the currency change. It actually worked out quite well and everything went smoothly.

I came to love and appreciate the African people. When we returned to Canada after two years, we had one large suitcase and a baby girl, our daughter Michelle who was born halfway through our sojourn there. But the memories of our time there will always be a part of me.