Sunday, 22 June 2014

I will never lead a strike, I think.

I am 23, I am in university and I will never lead a strike against an administration. Ever since I was a child I have been taught to listen and accept, questioning authority was unheard of.
I think my journey to who I am today begun 13 years ago when I was only ten. I was in a primary school called Chepkoilel. My mathematics teacher was a short dark skinned man who wore big spectacles. After every exam, he would cain us for every question we got wrong. The top five students would have to go with him to his office after class. I was among those students. In his office he would tell us to lean over his desk and hold the window grills. Then he took his bamboo made cain and beat us all over again for the questions we had failed.
We would then leave his office cursing and crying but we never went to the principal to complain. Instead every morning we would put leaves in front of the class because someone had told us of a myth. According to the myth, the leaves changed the mood of the person who walked over them from angry to happy. Every morning on my way to school, I would pray for Mr. Mwangi to miss class that day.
That was how my fear for anybody in authority begun. In 5th grade when Mwai Kibaki was elected president, I left Chepkoilel and headed for Queen of Angels.
In Queen of Angels life was pretty much the same. The teacher taught we listened and obeyed. If he said jump we would ask how high. When I was in 6th grade, my desk mate was made prefect. One of the things he did was to write my name as a noisemaker. Our punishment was to kneel in front of the staff room with cello tape over our mouths and our hands in the air. We stayed in that position for almost an hour.
Through punishment, authority silenced our voices and made sure we would never lead anything against them. Our class teacher, Mr. Kirui would make us wear our game kits after the results were released. He would then take us to the field and have us run around it ten times.
When we were exhausted, he would then have us do banana jumps and squats. Finally his icing on the cake would be to beat anyone who had not gotten their targeted pass mark. It was always almost everyone in the class. In my class there was a girl called Teresa. Teresa was very light skinned. I think I can compare her skin to a ripe orange. When she was beaten, her legs would have red marks of where the teacher’s cain hit. To this day, she has black marks on the back of her legs.
I joined high school in 2006. In Kabarak there was an unspoken rule. It was ‘come alone leave alone’. This meant that any demonstration would leave you standing alone. Student unity lasted in the dormitories only. When I was in form four, our chemistry teacher begun giving us exam papers twice every week that he expected us to complete by the following week.
His expectations left us frustrated and exhausted. So we wrote a letter. We told him our struggles and all 31of us signed it. We then marched to his office to give it to him. He took one look at it and threw it in the dust bin. Then he stood up and ordered us to get out of his office.
Good example of how I got my attitude towards strikes.
I remember thinking to myself, ‘Why bother when we all know nothing will change!’ The only incident that nudged the unwilling stone I am today happened in August 2008. There was a teacher, he was tall, dark and slender. I do not remember his real name but we all called him chief.  Because he used to call everyone chief.
Chief was the most feared teacher in Kabarak High school. He owned a bicycle that he used to chase people to class after lunch and supper breaks. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, all students were expected to attend chapel at 6:45 am. The chapel was approximately two kilometres away from the school. He would chase people from school all the way to the chapel on his bicycle.
In the evenings, he would creep to classes and peep through the windows. Any noisemakers were made to frog jump up and down the library stairs. The stairs had more than ten steps. Every time he was teacher on duty somebody would have to be taken to the clinic having been hurt trying to obey Chief.
The last stroke was when he hit a girl on her head for fetching water at a time when everyone was supposed to be in class. The poor girl began nose bleeding and had to be taken to the clinic. Her classmates got angry and spread the news and anger to the other 5 classes of the form 4 stream.
All form 4 students assembled at the Fire assembly place shouting for Chief’s dismissal. The students took his bicycle and had the watchmen call the principal. Chief never came back. That was the first time in all my years of education that the students actually got what they wanted.
Now that I am in university, I still ask myself, “Why bother when we all know nothing will change?” I am disappointed and sometimes mad at the administration. So what do I do? I sit down and complain to my friends. In class, I tell the lecturer then I leave class and head home. Tomorrow I will do the same thing till, one day; I will not notice the bad and ugly in authority.
After all I am not one who leads something that will end up with me being punished.
In high school, I read An Enemy Of The people by Henrick Ibsen. In that play, Dr. Stockmann discovers that the town’s main livelihood, The  Baths are contaminated and will make tourists sick. He thinks his discovery is a good thing and will come to help the town in the long run. He also has a solution on how to correct the situation. He takes his discovery to the mayor who is his brother. The mayor turns him down and warns him against telling the people of his discovery. Dr. Stockmann goes against the mayor and holds a meeting. At the meeting, the town people turn against him and call him enemy of the people. They claim that he wants to take away their main source of income. The mayor who is Dr. Stockman’s brother leads the people in alienating Dr. Stockmann and his family. The whole play is based on the phrase, ‘ The strongest man is he who stands alone’. It basically meant that the majority are always wrong. They just support something blindly.
But I look at it this way. All Dr.Stockmann gained from standing up to his brother and his town was getting alienated. He was humiliated in public; his sons were chased away from school and his own brother turned against him. He ended up being punished for trying to help his people. He lost.
That is exactly what I think will happen if I attempt to lead a strike. I will end up suffering and lose the fight. I am too fragile to stand that happening. Hence I will keep my head buried and wait and hope there will be a Dr.Stockmann who will stand up to the massive unmoving hills that are the authority.

Three Stars in Me. Sisterhood: Of strength, charm, loyalty and togetherness.

Three women are dancing on the dance floor. They all have the same dark skin, oval face and small eyes. They are the only ones dancing.
I am seated in a corner in the Hotel Hall watching them. Their eyes light up and they are smiling as they dance the same style. Two of the ladies are plump, tall and dressed in red. One of them is wearing a dress and the other is wearing a skirt suit. The third woman is short and very slender. She is in a blue shirt and black skinny jeans.
I want you to see the women through my eyes. The three women are my sisters. Ever since I was a child I have adored and admired and looked up to them. I want to be just like them. I take pride in their success and I feel pain when they hurt. They are Caro, Rose and Susan.
 Caro is the oldest and we call her big big. She is the one in the skirt suit. As she comes towards me, the room changes.  We are now in a hospital room looking at Caro talking to a patient in a bed. The door opens and a Japanese doctor enters, “Welcome to Japan. Your brother will be fine and in three weeks you can take him back home.” Her face that was frowning and eyes full of tears breaks into a smile and for a moment she stares at the man in the bed. She then picks her phone and makes a call. “ Mama, do not worry, your son will be well and we will be back soon.” She says.
I stand up and we dance as she holds my hands.
Caro is now seated in an office and the name plate reads C.E.O. A reporter is interviewing her on her life and how she got to be the Chief Executive Officer of The Institute of certified public accountants in Kenya (ICPAK) at only 34 years.
I close my eyes and see myself. I am seated in a couch, the walls of the room are white, and pictures of Caro and her family hang on the wall. It is late at night and Caro is opposite me, a wine glass in her hand. Her feet are folded under her .  The television is on but we both are not listening. “D, be careful about the man you marry. Make sure you have the same values and ambitions. Make sure you talk money, children and even the type of education you want for your children before you get married,” She says looking at me. I nod. I love nights like this when she opens up to me and tells me what to expect and how her life as a working mother is.
 On Father’s day we were in the same position. She opened up to me about her final moments with Baba (Father).
“When Baba was in Intensive Care at Aga Khan Hospital, mama kept saying the doctors are going to do an operation and he will be well. But I had many questions how were the doctors going to stop his main organs from failing? The doctor I went to told me he was waiting for someone in the family to accept that Baba was dying. Mama refused to think of that at all. I think what gave me strength was finally accepting the times we had and letting go of him. She said as I struggled to hold back tears.
As we dance, Rose calls her and she turns and walks away from me. Rose is the second oldest sister and we call her big small.
 Rose catches my eye and waves at me and I am pulled into her world. I see her in a long yellow kitenge dress pushing a two year old baby on a swing. She laughs and laughs as two other children rush towards her. The baby on the swing gets off and runs away. Rose calls to him but he keeps running. He has autism and does not respond to her call. He never responds when people call him. Now she races after him with two little girls,in pink dresses and pony tail held braids right behind her. She picks him up and hugs him.
“ Mama ona ninakimbia haraka kukuliko,” (Mum, see I am running faster than you.) shouts her oldest daughter, Leila as she pulls up past of Rose who is holding Brandon. Leila is five years and she is proud that she is not a baby like her brother and sister, Alyssa. Alyssa is one year old and the last born in the young family.
“Mama Leila amenipita! ( Mum, Leila has passed me),” Alyssa pulls her mother’s dress to get her attention as she says that with a pout on her face. Rose sets Brandon down and hugs her daughters as well while reassuring Alyssa that she is as fast as Leila.  
Then her phone rings. It is her mother. They talk for an hour and we hear her telling her mother that everything is fine and that she will talk to them. She then makes two phone calls. Both to her brothers where we hear her telling them off for not keeping in touch with their mother and command them to call their mother. She puts down the phone turns and hugs a tall man and together with the three children they walk towards a group of ten people seated at a dinner table. She is the host; she takes her place at the head of the table and leads the people in conversation.
Screams of “Go Sue!” bring me back to the Hotel Hall. Susan was dancing alone while Caro and Rose cheered her on. She inched her body closer to the ground in tune with Emmy Kosgei’s Taunet Nelel meaning New Beginnings that is playing. As she got closer to the ground, she begins to fade away. In her place was another version of herself. She looks younger and is in a white doctor’s coat. She walks into a children’s ward and bends over a child in bed. She whispers something to the child while checking her temperature. She writes down the medicine on the child’s medical chart and leaves the ward. This is Susan we call her small big.
She removes her coat and leaves the hospital. I am waiting for her outside the hospital. I have just finished my first week in University. We go wait for a bus with forty other people. A bus slows down and Susan hops into the bus, she was the first person to get into the bus. I am left pushing and jostling with the forty or more people trying to get into the bus. I finally manage five minutes later and our night begins. She is taking me out to clubs for my very first time. We end up in a club in town and she orders the same drink for both of us.
The music is wonderful, we stand up to dance and a man approaches us. He wants to dance with me. I move closer to Susan and wait for her to say something to him. In my head I am thinking, “ I am not dancing with him, I am not talking to him, I have heard enough stories of how women are picked up in clubs to be scared.” Sure enough Susan tells him off and he goes. An hour later he comes back to us. He offers to buy us some drinks. To this Susan asks him why he thinks we cannot buy our own drinks and why after telling him off before he thought we would ask him to stay now.
He shouts at her about how proud she is. She smiles and calmly tells him, “ Haujaona bado,” (You have not seen my pride yet).
Years later, she was posted to Nakuru and I turned up with 9 friends of mine. We had come to Nakuru for a high school reunion. In our plans, we forgot we needed a place to sleep when we left the school. So I surprised Susan by walking in with 9 friends and wanting her to host us. She did. She took care of our supper and we helped her with breakfast. She is my rock because no matter how desperate and sad I get, she always has a solution.
Those are my sisters and I am back to watching them dance. They share a look and slowly start dancing towards me. They pull me up and make me dance with them. There we are four women all with the same dark skin, oval small heads and small white eyes. They call me small small. Caro is strength, Rose is charm, Sue is loyalty and together they are my sisters.