Izingane

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Looking back, I remember that day in high school, when we were made to look into forms and fill out our preferred courses and the preferred universities. The teachers must have seen angels in our faces as we ticked those high-flying career paths, like me ticking doctor as the first preference at a time I didn’t know to differentiate an endo and exoskeleton. Nobody knew I would end up running after clients with a backpack and boxes of network cable. Nobody would think that someday I would fall into writing as a hobby, and hide somewhere in a tiny room in a shy little known neighborhood in the outskirts of the city, punching into a laptop whose shift key fails at times, that this writing would have to squeeze itself in between mhindi-time, as we call it?

This morning in a matatu to work I had a small personal meeting. The bone of contention – ‘What would I choose differently if time was reversed?’

A part of me suggested law, a part the rest of me doesn’t listen to much, so the suggestion ended there. Who would want to be famous only when there were people fighting over something, or someone? Well, people would, but not me.
As we slowed down into a forming traffic snarl-up, a brilliant idea came up. Teaching. Yes, stop that, I said teaching. I can make one heck of a teacher, am noisy, I talk much, I can act up at times, I can refuse to mark papers because the student was late to submit, I can storm out of class because a student flipped the bird… (am not saying teachers do this).

Teaching is fun, so much fun unless you age fast and have no sense of humor.

I would, however, wish to be a different kind of teacher, with a different kind of class of students. Not the same old same old kind of students. Not students like a Brenda we went to primary school with, who had her act together always, homework on time, passed her exams, wrote her compositions well. Ooh, she always had white socks folded into two lines at the top. Her shoe was always polished black, her hair pinned to the side, and none of her books had dog-ears. I would hate to teach a class full of ‘Brenda’s. It would be too normal, and too normal loses my attention. I would sleep in the middle of teaching the difference between omnivores and carnivores since they would all know. I would get worked up getting into class and all the ‘Brendas have done their homework, they all have their hair well done, they are clean, none of them got late. It would actually suck.

My preferred kind of students you ask? Damaged students.

I would love to teach a class of what many would call lunatics. Those students whose teachers sit in staff rooms discussing how bad their behavior is, and how and why they should be suspended. I would like to walk into such a meeting and request the teachers to round the students together in one class and make me their class teacher. They would all laugh and think am ‘bananas’, but I would smile back at them as I place my teaching aid on my desk.

‘Am serious fellas, I need those students’

‘You are kidding me! These kinds of students are brought here because the parents are tired of them’ Mr. Kamau would retort. Imagine a Mr. Kamau who is the class teacher at the worst performing class 6 stream.

‘You don’t know how these students are.’ Madam Jane, the disciplinarian would jump in.

‘But am serious, I would love to teach them.’ I would say with a finality, as I fold my shirt and settle down to prepare my next class.

I want to walk into a class as a teacher and find a student wearing a hoodie because he has an ugly bandage on the head. I will ask and he will tell me he lives in a dangerous neighborhood, and he happened to be walking in the wrong area when the rock was hurled. He lives a life of fear outside school, and he gradually starts growing a thick skin. He will have anger issues from then on and will divide the class into east/west coast. Students will always report he beat so and so up, broke a window or two kicking a ball excessively, other teachers will complain that he is rude and doesn’t answer questions.

Another student I would like in my class is the tiny girl. The girl who has down syndrome, but everyone thinks she is bewitched and retarded, a reason why her mother in the village shipped her to study in town where people are less superstitious. She is a student who has seen it all, a girl who has always been considered the undeveloped one in all levels of life. Her studies will be a mess, since she has been made to believe she is inferior, and will often stare in class, trying to figure out how it would feel like being normal. Her puberty will come late, her chest will be flat while her classmates get perky and the others will make fun of her, they will think she is late even when they are the same age, and only she will know that she is, in fact, older than them.

I want to teach a student whose parents fight, a lot, a whole lot. The kind of kid who thinks of home and feels like death would be a more cheerful thought. He will fight his demons alone, and will always sleep during class time. This is the kid I will find in class after 5 O’clock. I will ask him why he is never in a hurry to go home, and he will say, silently almost inaudibly.

‘I fear home, daddy always beats mummy, and mummy then calls him bad names.’
‘How many times does this happen?’ I will ask, confused.
‘Everyday. Sometimes I get beaten up also, and I have to hide in my small sister’s cot.’ He will say, with his eyes teary. ‘Can I stay at your place teacher?’

He will always come to school early and will get a badge at the assembly for punctuality, and only he and I will know the battle we are trying to help him fight.

I wouldn’t mind a spoiled kid too, an overweight kid who has never lacked, one who wears better shoes than I do. The kind of student who will be dropped at school and picked in those cars we see in wedding shows. He will have the ego of a Philippine Tarsier, and the ability of a sloth. Yes, he will be very lazy, too lazy to wave away flies on his lunch. His grades will be pathetic, and he will be rude. The kind of student I will scold and he will say ‘my mother cannot tell me that’. I will almost tell him am not his mother but then will remember I wish I was his mother since she has a lot of money and flashy cars. Well, her husband will own all the loot, but you know how it goes with marriage, Micasa sucasa. Teachers will hate him, but I will try not to. I will like indulging him, to see how deep the arrogance sinks, how much his parent’s wealth has ruined his ability to learn.

I want the kid everyone considers ugly to be in my class too. The kid grows on and accepts she is ugly, so she lets her hair stay unkempt. She reduces on her cleanliness, since nobody cares. The boys in the class will snob her. This girl, unlike the first girl with the down syndrome, will get into puberty before the rest of the class. Her mates will leave her out, the boys will call her ‘Miss-huge’. They will hate her forehead (i think foreheads are cute), hate her hair, hate her nose, and claim it’s quite excessive, her ears, and somehow associate her eyes with an ugly comic character. They will call her many funny names and she wont hate them, she will hate herself.

My final student, who I will make my class prefect, is the kid with low esteem. He will hate everyone and everything will spend most of his free time scribbling things on a piece of paper then tearing it apart. He will be a victim of his childhood, upbringing, and society. Everyone will be critical of him, whatever he does will be analyzed, and he will hate the limelight. His parents will be critical of his position two in the exams, so the next term he will become third in the class, a trend which will go on until he has more students ahead of him than behind him at the end of term exams. He will be bright, but his confidence will be nearing nil, and will never sit next to a girl. He will slowly give in to the pressure and let go, people will talk and he won’t listen. He will work hard to become the monster the society thinks of him. He will stop watching Ben 10 and move into nastier comics, those with guns and blood, not mere ink shooting toys.

Children fight battles we grown-ups can’t, not because the battles are too big, but because the kids are not yet developed enough to take the pressure. I’d love to teach such a bunch because they are the real definition of real. They are the kind of kids who can never get boring to be around since they are used to living life on high adrenaline, positive or otherwise. They are the kind of students you would sit under a tree with till late in the evening, and let them talk to you, tell them what they are going through, lose track of time, and the following day they walk into your office and just smile, since you did what nobody else ever did, hear the story from their side.!

And, don’t be scared by the title, it’s just Zulu for ‘Children’.
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wamugi,
wamugi@tuketi.co.ke

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