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.
This is a beautiful piece. I would say, though, that you shouldn't take Dr. Stockmann's fate as the end. Maybe Ibsen was going to write a sequel to the story. Maybe Dr. Stockmann's victory is written in Norway's history. And even if not, many people have walked alone and then became heroes. Like Mandela. Like Wangari Maathai.ReplyDelete
Secondly, striking is not the only way to end something that is unjust. Even writing is a start. All struggles start with words and ideas, it's just that we're taught history badly and never told about the ideas of the world's greatest soldiers. So you've started the struggle, and good for you.
The last thing - this is the story of how our education system is such a mess. Instead of building people, it destroys their hope, psyche and creativity. That should change.
Kudos, and keep writing!