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For parts 1 and 2, see the Archives.

Some of my first-year composition students tried to distract me from the subject at hand the other day by asking me to tell them about Africa. I didn’t fall for the bait, but now I will.

When I was ten, my parents went as Presbyterian missionaries to the Democratic Republic of Congo (later Zaire, now DRC again), and during our three-year term, I attended the mission boarding school, Central School for Missionaries’ Children, along with kids from nearby Methodist and Mennonite mission stations. We called our teachers and dorm-parents “Aunt” and “Uncle,” which gave the whole enterprise a family atmosphere, with the good and the not-so-good elements of families—without, of course, actually being your real family. Most of the teachers there were kind, and very dedicated, though, and with only ten or twelve students in my class, we all got individual attention.

Another advantage of the boarding school setting was that we saw our teachers outside of class. When I was eleven, one teacher, Aunt Peggy, introduced the girls in my 5th and 6th grade dorm to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit by reading it aloud to us as a bedtime story. I will never forget the thrill as she reached the middle of the chapter in which Bilbo first explores the dragon’s cave, and finally,

Before him lies the great bottom-most cellar or dungeon-hall of the ancient dwarves right at the Mountain’s root. It is almost dark so that its vastness can only be dimly guessed but rising from the near side of the rocky floor there is a great glow. The glow of Smaug!” (205)

And then, she stopped! We begged and begged her to read more, but she refused. We reluctantly trailed off to our beds. I could hardly wait until the next night to find out what happened next. And that, gentle readers, is good storytelling.

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