In Pursuit Of The Grade


My secondary school life was heaven… Of course there were bad students who monolised us now and then… And two female teachers who hated me because of my walking style.. You know my shoulders are broad so I walk with my hands a few centimeters away from my body… My chest is always in front.. And I have heavy, strong, fast steps..

That aside..

My secondary school was run by the British and Germans.. The Germans were very kind, did not shout and listened to an explanation before punishing you.. The British were very strict.. A word that was not well pronounced.. If you spoke very fast without thinking.. If you sneezed or yawned without placing your hand over your mouth.. If you did not have a handkerchief, you got a lecture..

In spite of all these the prefects ran the school.. The teachers came in when it was bad… Bad like mistreating someone until that someone cries.. Like there was this girl who came home from her school holidays fatter than fat.. Me and about eight other girls found ourselves in the principal’s office.. Explaining why we were spreading rumors that this fat girl was pregnant… And I thank God that it turned into a discussion with a little bit of counseling.. We were genuinely sorry. We knew it was wrong and we apologized..

My school was not a national school.. but it was very very beautiful.. With very well trimmed grass and trees along the paths.. If I remember very well, we had one prep time only from 7 to 9 in the evening… We had classes from 8 to 4. There was no ‘Do not step on the grass’ sign so every lunch time the students who did not need to read hard… Lay down on the grass.. At four the dormitories were open up to 7 pm… For those who did not want to eat the school supper and had something to eat in the dorm.. Bread and blue-band… Biscuits and juice.. We had three hours of freedom between 4 to 7..

Nobody cared how you spent your free time.. Behind the pit latrines.. Behind the dorms.. Behind the dining hall, near the convent.. Behind the church.. No one looked for you, because there was no fear of sneaking out of school or doing drugs…

We slept in cubicles.. Six people per cube… We had lockers that looked like cabinets.. Our bathrooms, toilets and sinks were beautiful.. We did not have showers, but the floors were decorated and well finished.. We had air fresheners in the toilets.. We had scouring powder and we scrubbed our toilets using steel wool..

Our food was excellent..the food was well cooked.. It had a lot of Onions, tomatoes, and spices.. We ate bread every breakfast with blue-band and jam.. Except on Saturdays and Mondays when we ate porridge made from Grade one maize flour.. There were eggs and fruits everyday.. We took tea at supper time.. And watched TV while we ate..

We did not have mid terms… but we did not mind, because life was wonderful.. We had visiting days… The parents who could afford… Brought the whole supermarket to school… Our friends shared the goodies with us.. We had very little pocket money because there was nothing to buy…

We sneaked out of the dorm at night to watch weekend movies in the dining hall.. Others sneaked to the dining cellar to play the turntable and dance… We had a girl who went to kiss a male teacher.. We had another who met the watchman at night.. There was a gentleman who sold us mandazi through the fence.. And not one person in authority knew.. Not the matron, nor the Principal. Not the deputy, nor the cateress [sp]… No one talked….

I hated mathematics.. I remember refusing to attend maths classes for three days because the teacher was boring.. I was not punished… The class teacher called me to the staffroom and told me that one day I’ll regret for not wanting to do maths.. [Failing mathematics at that time, automatically gave you a division 2… I failed of course]

The only textbooks we bought were the bible and dictionary.. The rest were issued by the school..

The school was perfect.. But I cried every opening day until I reached form four because I knew that was the last year…

Did my parents know the school was good? YES.. Did they know I cried every opening day? NO.. Why? because they left for work very early in the morning… before I left for school… Then I was called to hell, for ‘A levels’…

If tears were diamonds as a certain song says.. I would be very rich… I got unlucky and was taken to the oldest dorm in the school.. I think the bathroom and toilets were built before Kenya got its independence.. The walls of the bathroom were incomplete, shoulder high.. dusty, brown, full of scum.. Those days, morning prep had been introduced to schools.. It was difficult to take a bath early in the morning because there was no bulb.. I can not remember how the toilets looked because… there was no time I even imagined using them.. I went across the compound to other dorms, to take a bath and use the toilets.. Even in the middle of the night..

We never ate rice, we never ate fruits.. There was no bread.. Only grade 2 maize flour porridge and maize full of weevils… We were forced to eat the maize.. All of it.. If after meals a pile of maize was found on the table.. The student would be sent home to come with a sack of maize.. Woe unto you if you looked liked you came from a minister’s home.. You would be asked to bring more than two sacks..

I was a prefect… second term, in form five, my deputy was in form four.. We were supposed to take the pads out to the pit latrine every week.. Everybody in the dorm had their turn… But my deputy and I never had the courage to go to the loo or bathroom to inspect…

I do not know what side of the bed the principal got out that morning… But that was our unlucky day… We were called into her office.. That is when I learned, that the thick steel rods at the center of the original umbrellas… had wire cords from the top to bottom..

The deputy prefect entered the office.. She was whipped twice, started crying and was sent away… I had been informed that the Principal will never stop whipping you until you cry..

When I entered the office I forgot.. I never cry when I am beaten… So I forgot to cry.. She asked me to pull my skirt up to my knees.. She whipped my beautiful legs.. And whipped.. I was her favorite student.. That made me angry, shocked and confused.. I was whipped.. 10, 20, 30, countless times.. Then covered my face and pretended to cry.. She sent me away after whipping my back twice.. I walked very fast to class and sat on my chair.. I spoke, I told the other children I was beaten, and continued to stare at my desk..

Two days after, on closing day.. I checked my legs, and discovered that I had dark lines across my legs.. Clear liquid was oozing out some lines.. It was painful.. A student informed me that at the end of the principal’s cord were protruding copper wires.. That cut into the skin every time the principal pulled the whip back..

When I went for my school holiday in December, anyone who saw my legs never believed my story… They thought I’d committed a very bad crime.. Like sucking people’s blood like a vampire.. Murdering a teacher.. Or locking the principal in her office and spraying the office with fire ants..

Some suggested that I report the principal to the Education officer… But I knew I’d be wasting my time.. Because some students had tried in vain, because the principal and officer were friends..

We avoided getting sick at all costs… The staff thought we were pregnant or missing our boyfriends.. Students got hysterical now and then.. There was a rumor that the principal was mentally ill.. That if her head snapped when she was near you, you got a beating of a lifetime..

Two days to opening day, my last year in school.. I told mum that I did not want to go on with education.. I was tired and bored.. But she convinced me to finish school.. I remember I entered the Overland quick bus at 1.00, crying… Walked the three kilometers to school crying.. There was a boy who met me on the way and helped me carry my luggage to school.. He thought I was crying because my luggage was heavy… I entered the school gate, late, still crying.. I was happy to be sent home for two weeks the next day…

Anyway, I attended the last terms in the school like a robot.. I shortened notes for others to read just to pass time.. I dropped from As to Ds and Es.. I finished school.. I failed..

I met the principal in Nairobi, 4 years later and almost burst with anger.. I asked myself why she still lives… such people are supposed to die quickly so that the world would be a happy place..

At my age… If I went back to that school.. As a student.. And I found it just the way I left it, with the same principal.. I would burn it.. I would build a petrol station outside the school to make sure that every time they try to renovate it, I burn it.. That is my reason. What’s your child’s reason?

I have been informed that the school has been renovated and better now.. My heaven secondary school was handed over to Kenyans.. Things changed…

The experiences that I had in school.. Are what made me sit down with my daughter and have a long talk with her about boarding schools.. My daughter was called to Limuru.. The place is very very cold.. She has a chest problem… I assured her that I understood her problem, and anytime it was too much, and the school could not handle it, she could come home.

I could not imagine how life would be in the school.. I was upset.. I cried for two days.. Visiting day had already passed… And we were not allowed to call and ask how our girls were doing.. A friend of mine was happy that her daughter’s school did not have visiting days.. I could not understand how a parent could not miss his or her child..

But God is very very faithful.. His promises are true.. When my daughter came home for mid term, she was okay, and did not mind going back to school..

At the end of second term, she started complaining about school.. I waited for her every closing day to listen to her problems.. She did not like waking up at 4.30.. I did not get annoyed with her or shout at her.. Like I have heard some teenagers telling me their parents do.. I did not tell her that I survived, she will also survive.. Or she is lucky she went to a National school and some missed.. Or not to be lazy and turn out like me… I told her, I understood.. I told her about my heaven secondary school life.. We compared our lives in school.. I explained to her why the school introduced a thousand Prep times.. I was open and told her how I hated boarding schools.. And I knew they were uncomfortable..

Every time she came home, every time I visited her, we would talk about the hardships and I told her if she felt that she was not getting enough sleep, she would take her bath in the evenings..

When she told me that their brown uniform was a blessing from God.. They rarely washed it.. I did not shout and tell her she was dirty.. We laughed about it.. When she told me that, if they were caught sneaking anything into the school, they were not punished it was just confiscated.. I told her I did not mind her risking, I did not give her a long lecture about discipline and how hard I am struggling to pay school fees..

When she was sent home for school fees.. I went everywhere with her… I did not order her to hide at home. I was not ashamed.. I wanted her to know that it was normal for people to not be able to do some things… It was normal to be broke..

She almost gave up during mocks.. They had lessons from 6 in morning, to 9 at night.. On visiting day, she told me that her head was tired.. They were overworking.. That after the night preps, they were given topics to discuss which they had to do in the dorms at night.. They did not have enough time during the day.

I was uncomfortable because I also love to sleep so so so much.. I told her, August was a holiday month.. So she had only three months.. On visiting day, the last term.. I urged her to go on… On prayer day, I reminded her to be comfortable… I assured her that whatever grade she got, I was not going to scold her or think that she did not work for it.. That she had been sent home many times for school fees and had missed many lessons.. And I understood.. But as I said, God is faithful..

I am not a perfect mother.. But I tried..

One time 20 years ago, I attended a party where teenagers were doing drugs. That was the first time I saw cocaine.. The father did not know because he was always in the bar with women.. The mother did not know because she was always out for prayer meetings.. Recently.. I spoke to another teenager.. This girl was born out of wedlock.. After the mother was married and had children by a different man.. The girl who was born out of wedlock was not loved anymore.. So the only place she would get love was from young men around the estate.. Every time the mother found her speaking to these boys, she would beat her with so much anger…

Teenager number three was taken to a school that did not have enough water.. The people who woke up earlier used up all the water at the expense of the ones that woke up late.. If you made the mistake of arriving in the dining hall late you missed breakfast, because the students who woke up earlier ate your bread.. There was very little food served… and we expect the kids to learn on an empty stomach.. Some parents advice others that pocket money is not important.. Especially in boys’ schools.. One parent cried when she visited her son in school and the first thing the son asked for was forty shillings for bread.. The parent almost left the school with the son..

In another school a boy in form one never slept on a mattress the whole of that year.. Because a boy in a senior class always took his mattress away to sleep on two.. The parents of the form one boy did not know until the boy opened up to a doctor…

Another one never took his beddings out after wetting the bed because the other students were laughing at him… When the parent visited his dorm she discovered that the mattress had maggots..

When your child complains about the school.. About anything, please take some time to discuss.. Do not just brush it off and say that, that is how boarding schools are.. Or tell him or her that the other children are doing OK and that he or she is not special..

I know some of you do not even know what subjects your children are taking in school.. Have you ever sat down to compare the subjects you did in school with your child’s.. Do you openly show your child that education is not your business.. How do you expect your child to think that school is not a punishment if you are not interested in what they do…

When your child complains about school.. Instead of talking it out with your child in order to try and know where the problem is… you call the teachers and tell them to make sure your child is comfortable.. Do not try to tell me that is why you pay school fees.. So that the teachers can take over your duty as a parent..? Shame on you..

That money you pay for school-fees is for tuition and food… Nothing more..

So many of you are saying, schools are burning because there will be no leakage.. You mean to say… that you took a stupid child to high school..? Do not lie to yourself.. By the time mocks are on the syllabus is over.. Everything has been taught and learnt.. That child you call stupid is the one who fixes your TV when something goes wrong.. The child is the one that memorizes the lyrics of a five minute song.. Is the child who shows you where the problem is on your phone..

You get an admission letter for your child to a high school.. You throw it in a drawer or shelf and wait.. A few days to reporting to school.. You shop very quickly and take your child to school on the first day.. The child is admitted and you leave.. You do not assure the child of anything.. You don’t give advise.. You do not comfort.. Like you have taken a goat for slaughter.. Your work is done.

On visiting day, you are there five minutes to the deadline.. Or do not visit at all.. Your child stands at the gate from morning to evening waiting.. During the parents meeting you write a note to the principal to scrap off visiting days.. On midterms you are never at home… Don’t you think your child wants to see you and talk..

If your child is not afraid to commit a crime.. You as a parent has failed.. If your child feels like he can never pass exams without leakage, you have failed as a parent by telling your child that education is the key to a lot lot lot lot of money and a good wife…

It is not the teachers… It is not the government… It is not the Matiang’i rules, it is you.. Ask yourself why your child never tells you anything personal.. And ask yourself, if what is making you too busy to listen to your child is more valuable than your child…

A child who is not afraid to come home after burning a school.. Reveals an irresponsible parent.. A child who does not open up to the parent, reveals a careless parent..

Be there for your child.. Be there to assure your child that, though life is full of corruption… Your child can still make it.. So that they may have hope.. Even when school life is hard.. And the food is little.. And the terms are long.. And the books are many.. It will all come to an end..

A child who is shown love by the parent will never wish to offend the parent… The child will always try to avoid mistakes…