By Victor Jawaseda:
Otuoma Primary School, Wichlum in Bondo. The year was 1995. Most of us who were promoted to join the fourth class were very happy. First, because we were to begin going back to school in the afternoon, secondly we were to evade the tasks that came with not coming to school in the afternoon and just to enumerate was “kwath”, “rego” and ‘rito oduma or riembo gwen from feeding on omena”. Perhaps the most memorable source of joy for those who experienced it for the first time like me was the promotion to use bic instead of the pencil.
Bic was and i believe is still the most popular writing pen in Kenyan primary schools. It also came ith its own challenges and innovations. I remember how we used to siphon ink from one pen to another just to help a needy or crazy fellow. Tell me if you never wrote some piece of paper with your nomenclature on it and stuck it inside your pen case which was transparent or if you were not creative enough to borrow a pair of campus from your elder sister in senior upper class just to engrave your name on your new precious tool of trade, the biro pen.
But joining the upper class was not a bed of roses. It came with a myriad of responsibilities. One such is the subject of my note-the white man’s language was to be your new dialect. For those who could not communicate in this language you had the option of using the coastal dialect of kiswahili. For most of us who were born by the lakeside, kiswahili was a real challenge! It was more foreign than English. The people we could hear communicate in swahili albeit broken were the fish mongers cum drivers of Asian origin, these waindis were often spotted .communicating in ‘over-over’ always without considering ngeli as we were later taught in the coastal language.
So for most of us English was preferable.
Ask those who teach in rural schools, they will tell you that in junior upper classes English is not English. At break time you could hear a sister go like, “This pen is mine for Omondi” that is to mean the pen belongs to Omondi. Such phrases were common as was” do me something” just to mention but a few.
1997 – class six.
A new headteacher. New things. To say one those new things-DISK! For those who never had the privilege of attending the same school as me, a disk was a wooden portable identity that was initiated to check on the defaulters on the white man’s dialect. I think ths was one of the good moves by the new management. Good here means from my present judgement, back then, it was punitive and would be called evil.
I hated disks but worse still i hated the tactics that the bearers used to pass it on. A fellow bearing the dreaded piece of timber would come close, then complain the local language, luo in this case, he/she would say, “Aol kawuono!” the unsuspecting you would make a quick innocent rejoinder,”an be aol!”. Poor you the fellow would brandish the 4cm by 4 cm piece of wood with the words” DISK STD 6″ From my reply it is funny to note that the first two words look English: An and be.
4.45 PM on weekdays, closing assembly. This moment was the most dreaded especially if the disk had passed by you. The grammar teacher would then track all the disk and all the catch from class four to eight. Four strokes was the punishment.
Soon everybody perfected the art of the white man’s language.
We come from far!
Victor is a Kenyan writer and one of Kenya’s brightest upcoming leaders. He is currently compiling his autobiography.