News Story: Memories of Transkei, 1980
Trieve Nicholas with Doug Ritchie in Ikhwezi Lokusa, Umtata, Transkei 1980
By 1979 I was fed-up to the back teeth with learning about hydroxide molecules and invertebrate taxonomy. Marching around the corridors of a large school in the capacity of Head Boy wasn’t all it was cracked up to be either. Added to which, everyone was talking about getting a job or going to university after the summer term. Neither of these interested me much. I wanted to get away. I knew there was a large and different world out there and I desperately needed to engage with it and help others if I could.
Fortunately for me, a Project Trust representative gave a talk to our sixth form at about this time. Mentally, I’d signed up even before the chap had left the building.
After being put through my paces on Coll I learnt that I was being sent to Transkei. What? Transkei? I’d never heard of the place, and the atlas wasn’t much help either. Well, it doesn’t exist today, but in 1980, when I arrived there, it was a pseudo-independent homeland for Xhosa people, a fabrication of the South African apartheid system.
I was fortunate enough to be placed at Ikhwezi Lokusa School, in Nelson Mandela’s hometown of Umtata. Here, under the direction of Sr Mary Paule Tack and the other nuns, I soon found myself teaching, driving all over the country and coaching the Transkei paraplegic sports team. To help me settle in, I had Doug Ritchie, my Project Trust buddy. We were so different we were good for each other. Forty years later we’re still friends and share our memories of these wonderful, life-shaping times.
I now realise that I learnt way more from my Project Trust placement than I knew at the time. Learning to cope with the unexpected, facing up to emotional and physical challenges are the obvious lessons, but in truth the impact on me went far, far deeper. My time at Ikhwezi and the Xhosa people shaped the young Treive, and that influence is still strong today. My work in science and commerce has taken me all over the world, and there is no doubt that my behaviours, decisions, and communication style were significantly shaped in these formative years.
In 2018, I opened the battered diary I kept from my time at Ikhwezi. It was unsettling to hear my nineteen-year-old self talking to me, in my kitchen, in Winchester. Thirty-eight years had passed, but the experiences, people, places and events flooded back so rapidly it was emotionally challenging. And so, my second Project Trust journey began, as I started to capture my thoughts in a book. Things had clearly been fermenting in my mind for some time and soon I’d written more than sixty-thousand words, my first draft of A Nun and the Pig. Tales from South Africa.
My lovely wife could sense the emotional journey I was going on and suggested I return to Ikhwezi, now in South Africa, to complete the book. How right she was, the story needed to come full circle. So, in February 2020, forty years after my placement, I returned, a little nervous, a touch anxious. Here, much to my amazement I met Jenny Walshe, a Project Trust volunteer, doing fabulous work caring for vulnerable children. I felt an instant bond between us. The baton Doug and I had first brought to Umtata had been passed-on for forty years. It was exhilarating and humbling, in equal measure, to know of our small part in this wonderful journey.
Much to my delight, Amberley Publishing were keen on my story too and published A Nun and The Pig (www.amberley-books.com), so that it is now available worldwide as a hardback, paperback and eBook. Hopefully, the benefits of joining the Project Trust will be communicated to a new and wider audience, so they too can benefit in the way Doug and I have.
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