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The Noble Profession: Reflections from my childhood

Posted by Popular Ombudsman on April 25, 2009

It was a day like every other. We woke up early, washed our faces, hands and feet and applied vaseline (“ritinko”) before putting on our green “jinja” uniforms and dashing off barefoot to school. It was during the cold season so a little watery discharge from the nose was inevitable during these morning runs. Occassionally, an unlucky bloke would hammer a toe against some stone on the rough road and the impact would make the child curse, limb and be irritable most of the day. The nail could peel off in the course of time and a new one grow, but the few days’ throbbing pain was quite memorable.

In addition to the challenges above, there was the endless demand for “mauritius thorn” from the master on duty. This meant stopping somewhere midway to school and with bare hands, tearing off three or four full length branches of a live shrub which is generously endowed with unforgiving hook-shaped thorns and pulling them in a cloud of dust to school. Everyday was parade day. The first assignment was always to pick all the rubbish visible within the school compound and then proceed to parade. This routine was fairly predictable and we were comfortable with it.

Parade time was usually a comedy of sorts. The teachers would come dressed in various ways, and proceed to address the kids in various languages. There was no requirement that they use English or Kiswahili because some teachers were specialists in teaching the vernacular. Besides, a few of the teachers could not teach coherently in English and for one who taught Kiswahili, he had us recite the eight parts of speech term after term after term ad nauseum.

Quite a few of the teachers had illicit affairs with the bigger girls. They could send them to fetch water after parade at three thirty in the afternoon and then quickly go to their houses and hide waiting for their prey. I now realise that these individuals should have been called paedophiles and not teachers. Indeed, some ended up marrying their pupils! That perhaps explains the fact that only a few of my female primary school classmates went beyond standard seven. Everybody whispered about these little things but nobody dared to speak, for the whole mob of teachers would descend on you with canes without number. So we held our peace. Later on, the government introduced some gymnastics in physical education. One teacher in a neighbouring school was notorious for forcing girls to do cat wheels and all sorts of abominable head stands wihout adequate gear and seemed to get some strange satisfaction from the humiliation of these poor souls.

There were some teachers who were permanently drunk, we used to joke that they took a glass of chang’aa for breakfast, another one for lunch, and several for supper. This was due to their alcohol breathe even when they came to teach during the early morning lessons for candidate classes called “preps”.

This particular day, we had gone through the routine and the Mathematics and English lessons were coming to and end. You see, those teachers inspite of their infirmities knew that Mathematics had to be taught early in the morning when the brains were still fresh. It was in such circumstances that word spread that the Inspector of Schools had come incognito and was already in school. What a revealing moment it was! Those teachers who had proper schemes of work and clear lesson plans went about their work without bothering whereas the chang’aa drinker took off through the fence we had just repaired using the “mauritius thorn”. As it turned out, the Schools Inspector was not leaving in a hurry. He wanted to inspect the teaching quality of a good sample of the staff complement of the school.

He went to the headmaster’s office and picked several lessons on the timetable and asked to be facilitated to attend them. The first lesson was in our class and Mr. Drunk was to teach geography. The headmaster looked for him all over and could not find him. Some athletic boys were sent in all four directions to search for him and alert him that he was needed. He was not in his house. Remember most teachers used to stay on the school compounds. One boy though knew where to find him… right in the chang’aa brewery which was near his home. He shot off and quickly informed him of the impending doom. Mr. Drunk was agitated. He quickly downed the glass and walked back to his house in school. On his way, he stopped at the shopping centre and bought a good roll of cotton gauze. Only he knew why he needed cotton gauze at that moment in time.

After a short while, he showed up in class. The inspector was seated at the back with his notebook and the children were waiting. Only a few minutes were remaining before the end of the lesson. So he was asked, “were you aware that this is your lesson?”
He answered “yes sir but I cannot teach, I have a serious injury and I am unable to handle even a piece of chalk”.
He was asked “who knows about your injury?”
He answered “the headmaster knows”.
The inspector, a slow and methodical person was not about to let him off the hook, so he asked ‘Mr. Drunk’ “according to the attendance register, you were here today morning and no health issues were recorded against your name, so when and where did you get this injury?”
‘Mr. Drunk’ said, “you can ask the headmaster, he knows”.
Needless to say, ‘Mr. Drunk’ was later forced to remove his fake bandage in the headmaster’s office and officially warned. A few months later he was transferred to another school. The headmaster must have worked in mysterious ways to rid his school of Mr. Drunk.

Therefore do not be surprised that some teachers recently disappeared from school when they heard that the minister for eduction was their unwelcome guest! Maybe their headmaster does not have the mysterious ways of our primary school HM!

-Next instalment: a fight between two teachers!


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