Because of dyslexia, he couldn’t figure out the actual difference between 9 and 6. Or 7 and the letter L. They were all the same. And no matter how many times Mrs Banda insisted that letter G faces the right, Bando would find his letter Gs facing the sky. This of course was one of the reasons why he was always on a row with the teachers.
Then one day, he lost his bag together with all the books and text books in it. Telling his mother didn’t even for a second cross his mind since he was certain she would flog him thoroughly for being careless. The next day however, Mrs Banda didn’t want to hear any of it; all she wanted was the homework she had issued the previous day, done and submitted.
“I have never really known why Mrs Banda hated me as much as she did. After beating me up for losing the books and claiming that I was only lying, she went further ahead and bad mouthed me to the other teachers. When she did that, the other teachers got into a habit of beating me up for nothing, or for flimsy reasons. I loathed school and everything about it.
Multiple choice questions were introduced when I was in class 7 and in the first examination that was administered, something funny happened. The papers would of course be ranked and read from the worst to the best performed. Everyone knew that my name would always be read among the first ones. But when the teachers came to return the marked papers, I did not receive any of mine. Instead, I was called to the staffroom and every teacher beat me up, one after the other, because I had scored 460 and they thought I had cheated.
I was taken to the headmaster’s office the following day for another exam and I scored a whooping 503 out of 700. You realize that the multiple choice questions did away with having to write 7 as L and 9 as 6 and vice versa. It was simple because all I had to do was mark the right answer. Turns out I was a bright child.
The headmaster gave me a note to take to my mother and I simply threw it away because I was certain it would get me in trouble with her. She found out eventually though. And she asked me where the note was. I came clean hoping she would forgive me. Mother beat the daylights out of me. The following day after break, one of my classmates told me my mother had come to school.( She had been called several times to school and so most of my classmates knew her).
I couldn’t focus in class for the rest of the day because I kept waiting to be called to the staffroom for another beating. No one came in to single me out of class though. At 4pm when classes were done, I went back home and found my mother in a chirpy mood. She told me that the teachers had called her in so that they could ask her what she had done to me since I had began doing so well. She didn’t apologise for beating me up; but she cooked a scrumptious meal that night. I guess that was her way of apologising.
The experiences I had make me desire to become a better parent to my sons. To show up for them in ways mine could not. I choose to believe them and in them, and that changes everything inclusive of their perspective on life, school and etcetera. Because of this, they ooze confidence just from knowing that someone has their back.”
Bando is not his real name. However, he’s a prolific writer and naming this article a tale of two children was his idea. Bando happens to be my first cousin and over time I have come to love how he handles parenting. He seems to have it all figured out. While I was wondering how to package this story so as to present it to you guys today, I figured he would be the best person to help out. So I approached him and told him the story. I then asked him for ideas on how to begin. He looked at me for a second then said, “I don’t like the story.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because you failed that boy. You should have gotten to the bottom of the issue and not just swept it under the carpet,” he says.
“What should I have done?”
“Listened to him. A child cannot just decide one day that he doesn’t want the school he’s in for nothing. Perhaps he was being bullied or something but the environment had become too toxic for him to communicate. I know of a boy who was being sodomised in a school by prefects who were the headmaster’s favourites. He couldn’t get help, not because he didn’t want help, but because there was no favourable room for him to address the issue.”
“I advised him the best way I knew how to. I told him to go to school because it would be best for everyone…”
I will let you in on the story. Then you’ll decide whether to side with Bando or me. It all began on a Saturday while I was doing the laundry and during my laundry break (yes, that’s a thing) I walked up to my cousin’s( a different one) because the avocado trees in his homestead were the only trees that still had fruit. Chances were high that I would find a ripe avocado at his.
He was out for work but his wife Fiona was in. I was surprised to find her son Hugo who had reported back to school three days before that. His mother explained that Hugo had not been feeling well but would be going back on Monday. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked him how school was. Said school was fine. I remember asking him whether he felt bad having to go back to school after being home for about a year. I even teased him, inquiring if he still knew how to hold a pen. He only giggled and Fiona came out of an inner room with two avocados, which I gladly took and left.
ALSO READ; DOE.
On Sunday, Hugo was said to be missing. He had taken the phone he had been gifted over the long quarantine holiday and announced that he was leaving for the shopping centre. He didn’t come back at night. Nor the next day. We all tried calling him but none of the calls were going through. He had either deliberately switched it off or barred all calls.
Fiona was worried to the bones. Particularly because he hadn’t told Baba Hugo that Hugo had come back home from school. She knew he would get mad at the poor thing and or beat him to a pulp. Which is why she decided to handle the issue alone. On Monday, the you tried calling me but I wasn’t available notification from hugo popped up on Fiona’s screen.
She immediately called before he decided to go under the radar again. ” I don’t want to go back to that school,” he said. There was a lot of noise in the background, it sounded like he was in a bar or something. She picked up voices of people speaking in Kisii.
“Where are you? Come home first and then we can talk.”
“I’ll only come back home if you’ll assure me that I will be going to another school,” came his response. Then he hang up and did the thing to his phone.
Eventually, Fiona had to involve Baba Hugo because she was beginning to get overwhelmed by the situation. Turns out that Baba Hugo only got angry and disappointed. Disappointed because his wife had chosen to keep the whole thing a secret.
“I bought new uniform for that son of yours when he reported back to school and I already cleared his school fees. I really don’t have more money for whatever he is aking for. You sort this issue out, because you chose not to involve me from the beginning. Makes me wonder if you have kept other secrets. Perhaps bigger ones. Look for him and take him back. I don’twant to know how and I don’t want him coming into my house when he should be in school. He’s all yours,” he had told her.
Fiona was on her way to Kericho town to have Hugo get tracked when Millie her cousin called to say Hugo had arrived at hers. She came back home and she asked me to accompany her saying that perhaps I could convince him to get back to his senses. Together, we left for Millie’s.
I was ready to interrogate, advise, talk and even cry out to the boy seeing how agitated his mother was. We found Hugo asleep. Feeling impatient, Fiona had no second thoughts about going to wake him up. For all she cared, he could create time of his own to catch some sleep and not when she wanted to demand for answers. Not when she wanted to know why he had brought misery upon her. She dragged him to the living room where I was seated.
” Where have you been? Eh?? Where?” She demanded.
The boy remained silent and just stared at her. Then I looked in her direction, hoping to capture her gaze, which was focused on Hugo. Fortunately, she looked my way and I shook my head to signal that that was probably a wrong way to go. She looked at me, not certain what to say next. I looked back at her, my eyes eloquently saying that not all wars are meant to be fought with lethal weapons. Then I cleared my throat.
“Your eyes look swollen. Are you okay?”
“Yeah. I think it’s just the backlog of sleep.”
“Okay. You’ll get sleep some time later. Now, can you tell us why you no longer want to go back to your school?” I asked.
He went silent. Then he looked down to examine his fingers. From where I sat, I could see that all his nails had been bitten short. He sighed deeply and at that point, I was more certain than ever that Hugo was disturbed by something but he didn’t think it was worth it to share what he was going through.
” I don’t know what you are going through, but the solution is never to run away. I want you to face it. There’s really no perfect school and so that means even if you shift to another, you’d still find fault with it and would want to shift again. Sasa will you keep shifting your entire life? Hugo, everyone has been worried sick about you when no one knew your whereabouts. When you have a problem, the best thing to do is to talk about it with someone. A problem shared is half solved. Si you know that?”
He nodded, and I was elated because I was beginning to feel like I was winning him over from whatever ugly thoughts had set camp in his mind.
“Are you being bullied in school by anyone?”
” Are you homesick?”
He went silent again. To cut long story short, Hugo finally agreed to go back to school, without disclosing what the real issue was. Fiona was relieved nonetheless, because Hugo going to school was good riddance.
I thought this would make a good story, until I told it to Bando.
” You asked that boy to persevere in his suffering. And he might as well get depressed or begin having suicidal thoughts,” he had said, making me feel less proud about myself.
God, how I desired and still desire that he was wrong especially about the suicidal thoughts part. However, I later thought about it and I saw where he was coming from; an average of 10.5 million children get enrolled in primary schools in a year. The number dwindles as these children approach high school. It gets worse as they get into the tertiary level of learning. A huge chunk of students fall through the cracks of the system.
Students drop out at an alarming rate, because of various reasons. It could be bullying, abuse from teachers or financial issues. Who speaks up for these voiceless little humans who get swallowed by the system? We all know abuse from teachers is real. Teaching is one of the professions people get pushed into when they aren’t eligible for their careers of choice. Then individuals who hate children and have no passion to teach are churned out.
“How do I do this story without vilifying teachers?” I had asked Bando.
“How do you write about the police without addressing police brutality?” he’d asked. ” You vilify the bad ones because they are villains. And you appreciate the heros. It’s that simple.”