Celebrating East African Writing!
Kenya Airways must have sensed our anxiety because our flight from Ghana arrived a half hour early. Yaani, Martin and I were out of the airport by 6:30am. We even had to pause by a cafe drinking coffee to kill time. Many thanks to Eric for his clever plan that channelled us away from the traffic heading into town. Our drive to Mlolongo Primary School was short and sweet.
So there we were at 7:30am at a newish looking school, built of unpainted concrete blocks except for the ubiquitous Kenyan-style white stripe marking the beam. The schools is 25 years old but moved to this site in 2013 and, with an average of seventy students per class, is already overcrowded.
The contact teacher on record had not arrived and no-one knew anything about the read-aloud or indeed, about Storymoja. The students start assembly at 7:45am on the dot and must be in class by 8:20am. Martin and I corralled and cajoled various teachers until one finally gave in and identified the deputy headmistress, a lady in black who was standing at the podium making stern faces at various ‘students who were not toeing the line during a vigourous rendition of the national anthem.
To attract attention, I stood by an elderly teacher near the front of the assembly, who stared at me with a bemused look, with what seemed low expectations. I doubt that the teachers believed at that point that we were really there to help the school break a world record, or indeed excite the children about reading.
After delivering a short sharp lecture to the students, the deputy headmistress invited me to introduce myself and explain what I was doing there, and then she exhorted the students to be silent and to pay absolute attention to the visitor, eh, me. Martin stood at a safe distance taking photographs that he will send separately.
But since they were gracious enough to allow me the stage, it was up to me to fire up the children and teachers. No fear, I said to myself, Storymoja is here. Reading is Cool! Soon they were all were reciting after me with great energy and feeling, acting, whistling, moving and making alien noises. When I mock-pinched the deputy head’s ear, she and the children giggled. And I am sure that the shouting at the end by 1,300 students and 40+ teachers could be heard at the shopping centre down the road!
Children chased after me and the deputy headmistress to learn my name or ask where they could get the book. Teachers were converted into enthusiastic supporters of the read aloud. The elderly teacher pressed me to give her the contact of someone who could deliver Attack of the Shidas to her pronto. And the duputy headmistress took me back to her office and promised to organise with the library teacher that students form groups to buy our books. In turn, I promised that someone from our team would visit early next week to tell them about Storymoja, help them form bookclubs (they have a cupboard library) and ensure they are invited to participate in all our events.