Have you read the one about the Jacaranda tree? No? Well, I don’t remember much of it, but I know that it was somewhere in one of the many English textbooks we read in primary school. Anyway, it’s Monday morning; the year is 2018. It is around this time of year; the Jacaranda tree is carpeting the ground and blessing everything under its shade with those beautiful purple flowers.
The sun is already up; it’s going to be a hot day. I am done getting ready for school; today is an assembly day, so, I need to hurry up before the bell goes. I pick my phone, handkerchief, padlock, and keys. I hesitate, look through my little tin house, and my eyes land on a black poncho.
I know I’m going to be steaming in it if the assembly goes for more than 30 minutes. I know it will. Today is different. We’ll have the scouts raise the flag, then two of them will lead the national and East African anthem. I love it when they do the second one. I love the depth of the words, other than being in Swahili; I think whoever wrote it took their time.
After the anthem, I think we will do a little worship or praise session, with a bible verse and everything. And then I will faint. Okay, let me explain. I am barely a month into my first teaching job. I have a lot of energy, and the young men I teach are pretty amazing.
Their smarts come in so many diverse forms that I am always in awe. I would be a fool not to try and experience that greatness as much as possible. So, yes, I am very new to the profession and the school, but I am the Journalism and Debate club matron. My employer also mentioned that I might help revive the school magazine if everything works out.
My club members are exceptional; the minute they heard that a teacher was willing to take up the club, they came ready. Those boys had dances; they had spoken word; they had songs. Because I am not one to dilly dally (I sure hope I used that phrase the right way) on opportunities, I am ready.
Today, they are doing the first news report at assembly, and I am going to faint. Yes, we have done our best, they gave it everything they had, they went looking for things worth reporting, they wrote them down, brought the work for editing, and I approved.
Today, I don’t listen to the person who was preaching, I don’t know what song was sung, but I hear the AMEN. It was the last word I would hear before my team stepped up to the ‘podium’.
There are three boys; one is in form three; he is intelligent. He knows how to express himself; he can hold a conversation with all the teachers in school, at least those willing to see him as a person, not a child. He is passionate about politics and writing. He has promise in his eyes. He is one of my favourite students. This one I want to keep even after school; he will write on my blog one day.
Then there is another one in form two who speaks so fast, my brain fries. I have failed to understand what he says, but I know that when his words stop racing, there is immense eloquence in his speech. This one is bold and cheeky; you have to keep your eye on him. He must have been reassured a lot as a child; I love his confidence in addressing things. This one can sell you anything; you should have seen him talk about Jurassic Park; his passion had me watching that movie for the first time, although I had it on my laptop for three months.
I think people who can sing are godly. No, really, the way their voices steal the attention of anyone who is around them. There’s this one who sings so beautifully; it is astonishing just how much. He also does spoken word. Now, when he combines the two, all you want is to give him all your money. I do not have any to give, but I hope he grows to earn from the magic he creates.
Today, these boys are going to speak for themselves, and me. They are going to show the entire school that the club is worth joining. They know this is important; I can tell from how they look. Clean shirts, well tucked in; their ties are the proper length. None of them is wearing a sweater. Although the cheeky one is wearing a white shirt, I don’t know if it’s because he is a prefect or a member of the St. John’s ambulance, they look good; like news anchors, ready to amaze their audience.
I am anxious; I am proud, I am confused.
I adjust my poncho to have the neck area covering half my face. This is either going to be great, or really bad. I don’t need the other boys to see how I react. I have a face that needs deliverance from reacting too loudly, so, I need to find ways to survive assemblies.
The first one starts reading his part; the assembly ground goes quiet. Those boys at the back who were talking about god knows what, lift their heads to see who is speaking. We have their attention, that’s good. I smile under my poncho.
By the time the last one speaks, everyone in the assembly ground is paying attention; if I gave an exam on the news, they would all pass. I think the anchors are done; it’s time to adjust the poncho so I can smile at them. These boys have made me so proud; they performed better than I expected.
The last one of them to speak shifts his posture, folds the paper he was reading, the one I had approved, and then starts reading something from the back. I told you I would faint today; you didn’t believe me. I have never fainted before, okay, I have, well, not quite, I pretended to faint, but that’s a story for another day. Today, I am fainting for real.
“Joke of the day, “he says it as if my life isn’t hanging on the next words. They had mentioned they wanted to add that segment, we had discussed it, but they hadn’t run it by me. I want to faint; I don’t understand boys, young men, or men; I just don’t understand them. I can’t predict what they find funny.
I hold my breath; the poncho is still in place.
‘A biology teacher is on duty. He finds a boy in the wrong, and wants to punish him, but he doesn’t know the boy’s name. So, he asks the boy, loudly, angrily, what his name was. The boy, maybe because he feels like he isn’t in enough trouble, or because he realized that he wasn’t in as much trouble as he thought, decides to be funny. He looks at the teacher, then at his feet, and says, “you keep telling us to name birds by looking at their feet, sir, look at mine and tell me what my name is. “
A laugh escapes my lips; it is louder than I wanted it to be. That was a good joke, especially since it was delivered in a mixed language. Some teachers are frowning; others are pissed. I think that was a good joke, a little offensive to some, but it was funny.
For a second, I think the entire assembly ground will look at me, and then I would faint. See, fainting is still on the schedule. But they don’t. The students are laughing so heartily; I wish I were on that side. Then maybe, I could also laugh. Being a teacher is hard.
I am so happy, the minute I am done with the first class, I am going to sit under the jacaranda tree in the field. I feel so alive, and it’s only fair to share the moment with something that’s alive and blooming.
But my joy is short-lived; Kenyan schools don’t like happiness. It doesn’t matter whether you are a teacher or a student. You don’t believe that? Do you think I am overstating the reality? Read Limitless Existence and then come argue with me; I know what I am saying, you will see that.
My employer, in his ever-intrusive manner, steps on the podium and starts congratulating the team on their excellent work. You can tell that his words are a set up for something. He turns around and thanks me, the matron, for doing such a good job.
That’s not so bad, right? That’s what you are thinking right now. There’s nothing terrible about being recognized for my work, right? So, why do I have a problem? Why do I always find a problem?
This man looks at me, and then he tells the school to acknowledge my efforts. But he calls me Ms. My Mpesa name. I want to fight, why would he use that name? I never use it. I don’t want it, he knows it, and he knows what he is looking to achieve.
Now, the entire school knows my Mpesa name. I honestly prefer it when people find out when they send me money. I love the shock they express. If you hear me say my name is Wahu Kariuki, you would not imagine I have another one. Could you guess what my other name is? No?
I know it’s going to be a long day; the boys will have fun with that information. I can see it in their eyes, how they were lost when he said Ms. My Mpesa name. How they needed clarification, and my employer gave it to them by saying it again. I cringed both times.
But I have to stand here and act unbothered. He might have taken my moment, but he is the man who signs my cheque; if I am lucky, he will be the man who approves the school magazine project. I will put my heart in it, I will coordinate everything, but because luck runs out, he is also the man who will stop it from getting published.
Today, I did not faint, but I am going to die from all the people who are going to call me my Mpesa name. The only thing I am going to hear all day is, “Good Morning, Ms. My Mpesa name. I might decide not to say hello to the classes I go to, but these boys play too much.
Today they are going to call me Ms. My Mpesa name until they get their fill. But then today we are going to have a chance to talk about consent, about calling people names they identify with. Today we are going to talk about the need to respect people’s choices in what they want to be called.
Today, we are going to learn about identity and why names hold so much value. This is a great chance to discuss how it builds on self-love when you are comfortable with the name you use to introduce yourself.
Then, I am going to lay under a Jacaranda tree, and share in its vigour for life.