His song expressed the dream of every child, including African children, born in smoke-filled huts in rural villages, who hoped one day to live a kingly life in the city holding a top government, or corporate job including that of president of their country.
I wasn't immune to such dreams.
I was born and raised in a small village in a remote part of Zambia, Africa. Dr David Livingstone crossed the Lwangwa River near this village in 1874 on his last trip to Africa. Illiteracy was 100 per cent. No wonder Dr Livingstone called Africa "the dark continent."
But missionaries who followed his footsteps brought some dim literary light that flickered like candles in a dark hog cave. With the encouragement of my father who had seen the missionary light, I went to village schools (whose classes were conducted under huge baobab trees), provincial secondary schools, a national college, and ended up graduating from a top USA university with a Doctor of Social Welfare degree. On my way up this academic ladder, I obtained a Masters of Social Work degree from Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University, New York.
This was a phenomenal achievement by any standards: I was only the second to receive a doctoral degree in my district and only the forth in the whole country.
I heard Elvis Presley's song played on phonographs, we called gramophones, when I was already in college, believed in it, and lived that dream. While I was growing up in the village, I did everything expected of children of that community: tending chickens (we didn't keep cattle or goats because of tsetse flies), chasing monkeys from our maize fields, birds from our rice and sorghum fields, trapping birds and small wild animals, and serving adults in exchange for the teaching they gave us. Then I began climbing the employment mountain like I did the academic one. As I moved up the ladder, I worked on jobs that demanded different skills and knowledge than what the village had prepared me for. Tough. But I persisted. Continued climbing, one step at a time, starting with a teaching job then the administrative job at the university and up the civil service ladder to the post of Permanent Secretary, the highest civil service position in a government Ministry.
My achievements in the world of academia and public service opened a new vista; travel. By the time of my retirement, I had criss-crossed the world from Davao in southern Philippines, to Omeo in north-east Sweden; Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, to Novosibirsk in the then USSR; from the Cape of Good Hope in the Republic of South Africa to Oslo, Norway. In performing official business that took me to all these places, I was also exposed to the diversity of world cultures. I became an international citizen.
By 1998 I had climbed to the top of my dream mountain from Kalimatutndu "the land of wild bougainvillea" to the top position in my country's civil service, and more.
"From a Jack to a king" Mission accomplished!
Not yet. "From a Jack to a King" Presley's song proclaimed. But I don't remember hearing a warning there could be a possibility the reverse was also true; that "all good things must one day come to an end," that you can go from a king to a jack!
That's what happened to me.
Just two days after my sixtieth birthday, I was struck by meningitis. While recuperating at home, I had a relapse which was more severe. I went into a coma for several days. When I came round I wasn't the same person: I lost my memory in general, lost memory of what happened during and after the relapse (I still have a gap like a missing tooth in my recovered memory of that period), lived Clair voyaging for three months, and lost my hearing.. And of course I lost my job. Worse still I was later diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.
The king had reverted to a jack!
To say the least, I was severely handicapped by the loss of hearing; my physical movement was limited, and I couldn't function in any of my previous jobs. The illness had turned me into an unemployable indigent. But that didn't mean I couldn't do anything else. I could. I was down but not out. Once I got to Los Angeles, I decided to read so I could regain my memory and write about my experience: I subscribed to several magazines and newspapers, joined a local library, and read profusely. Within months my memory started coming back. With that came my memory of my childhood love; writing.
I was born last in a family of five boys and three girls. Being a kwangu - the one who scraped the bottom of the pot - I was my mother's best and my father's favorite. My mother was a great story teller. She occupied me with her lively stories be they folk tales or stories of current events. She lived her stories and every day I woke up to hear more. My father read to me stories from his vernacular bible and taught me to read and write (or scribble) before I went to formal schools. The two teachers planted a germ of writing that lay dormant during the active period of my working life. Now it was time to go back to that beginning.
My rediscovered love was just that; innate. To make it come alive, I took writing courses with Long Ridge Writers Group and the Institute of Children's Literature, both of Connecticut, USA. I completed the courses in record time.
Then I launched into the
wilderness of writing for publication in children's magazines. After several rejections (which are normal for beginning writers) I landed some acceptances, published three stories in two US children's magazines, and one anthology.
With those clips and more to come, I can proudly call myself a writer. I can legitimately share my childhood pleasures with the world's children. I have done it again,
"From a Jack to a King" - One more time.