Doris Lessing and Norman


It’s not every day that an amateur photographer’s picture is used to illustrate a Nobel Laureate’s work. While I can’t say that Doris Lessing is even aware that this online article exists, it’s still an honor for me that the UNESCO electronic publication, The UNESCO Courier, chose a photograph I had taken of Norman, a school child at the Clare school in Zimbabwe, to accompany their publication of excerpts from Lessing’s Nobel lecture, where she ruminates on schools she’s known in both Zimbabwe and London:

Doris Lessing: Is it so impossible to imagine such bare poverty? | The UNESCO Courier | ISSN 1993-8616UNESCO.ORG lessing02_250.jpg

“…I was there some days. The dust blew. The pumps had broken and the women were having to fetch water from the river. Another idealistic teacher from England was rather ill after seeing what this “school” was like.

On the last day they slaughtered the goat. They cut it into bits and cooked it in a great tin. This was the much anticipated end-of-term feast: boiled goat and porridge. I drove away while it was still going on, back through the charred remains and stumps of the forest.

I do not think many of the pupils of this school will get prizes.

The next day I am to give a talk at a school in North London, a very good school, whose name we all know. It is a school for boys, with beautiful buildings and gardens.

These children here have a visit from some well known person every week, and it is in the nature of things that these may be fathers, relatives, even mothers of the pupils. A visit from a celebrity is not unusual for them.

As I talk to them, the school in the blowing dust of north-west Zimbabwe is in my mind, and I look at the mildly expectant English faces in front of me and try to tell them about what I have seen in the last week. […] I am sure that anyone who has ever given a speech will know that moment when the faces you are looking at are blank. Your listeners cannot hear what you are saying, there are no images in their minds to match what you are telling them – in this case the story of a school standing in dust clouds, where water is short, and where the end of term treat is a just-killed goat cooked in a great pot.

Is it really so impossible for these privileged students to imagine such bare poverty?…”

Photo © Mark Taber
Child holding a Shona school book

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