Celebrating East African Writing!
I get very nervous when I’m expected to stand in front of people and speak logically about anything. I mean, if I am in front of 2 and more pairs of eyes, it is very likely that I can’t even remember my own name. Yeah, I know it starts with a J. I have several theories about the reason for this type of fear. I bet you have your own. But believe me all those reasons do not solve any of your problems when you find yourself standing in front of a bunch of hormone crazy teens, I don’t mean you.
So when I woke up and found myself as the new volunteer teacher at a tiny school somewhere beyond ‘Kwaheri Nairobi, Karibu Kajiado’, I figured I was in a whole lot of trouble. I was. First of all, it was a high school. If you break down and cry here, the kids will make fun of you mercilessly, unlike in Kindergarten, where the babies would either stare at you in total shock or toddle over, pat your arm and say, “Pole toto, silie…” Just like their mama tells them when they cry.
Then, it was a boys’ boarding high school. There should be a rule against sending trainee teachers or volunteers to boys’ boarding high schools. Combine weeks of not seeing a female, apart from the workers and the only other female teacher, with raging hormones and general male boorishness and you have the perfect teacher trauma situation.
The first class I was sent to was the Fourth Form. I was substituting for the English Literature teacher. When I walked into that room, and found 48 eyes, half of them with gleeful mischief shining, the rest looking totally faded with boredom, I figured I was in a lot of trouble.
I think started out pretty well. Yeah, that is until I decided I would give them a writing exercise so I could sit down. I eyed the worn out blue table, and wondered for a bit if the wooden chair would hold my weight. I had already suffered from a bit of ‘the spoilt brat’ treatment in the staffroom. (Well, I was volunteering. Most of the people who volunteered there were either white and foreign or rich and bored. I had been out of a job for so long I thought I’d go mad if I stayed home one more day. So I volunteered at the school that had denied me a job a month earlier.) Anyway, I did not want to appear ‘spoilt’ to my own students, (bad idea!) so I quickly sat down.
I thought I had engaged their minds quite well because in a few minutes that they were all busy scribbling down their thoughts about Coming Home by Marjorie McOludhe. I was very pleased with myself until I decided to stand up and see what they were really writing about. That was the end of my bliss.
After a few seconds struggling to part from the chair, I looked up to see all the faces, including the ones that had looked dull now bright with merciless glee. I struggled a bit more in panic, until I felt the rip of my long prim skirt, and looked over and under my shoulder, to see that I was a few inches away from free, with my ass bare for them all to see. Right then, for the weirdest reason, I wished I had worn one of my better panties. As it was it was white on red polka dots, grandmother large under wear that generally formed a wedgy between well…
The tears were scalding hot, the anger boiling, which also meant there was no room for coherence. I must have been quite a sight, hopping out of that classroom, with my skirt stuck onto the chair, dragging the chair, down a corridor that now seemed endless, to the staffroom where all the male teachers burst out into even more cruel laughter. The lady teacher was a little more sympathetic. She helped me into the store, then went to her home which was not far from the school, and got me one of her extra large skirt, then sent me home, obviously not expecting to see me anywhere near the school again.
I probably would not have gone back, except that I am Juliet, told you it starts with a J. I have four brothers. The glue in chair is a classic bully set-up to bring down an authority figure a notch or seven. My brothers are older than me, but they have done this to me, and when I cried from humiliation, the eldest asked me, “What do you think the world will do to you, kid?” Totally cruel.
Anyway, the next day, I woke up, puked my guts out, and settled on my fade blue jeans and boots. I did not show up for morning assembly so everyone, students and teachers had written me off already. When I walked into the staffroom the silence was palpable. I looked them all, 7 men, and one sneering woman who terrified me the most, and yeah, my innards were flooding with fear. I sat down prepared my lesson and by the time the bell for the third lesson before break rang at 9.30am, I was ready.
The boys in 4th West burst out laughing when I walked into the class. I launched into my lesson with all the seriousness I could muster. It threw them for a few minutes; that I had come back and I was going on as if nothing had happened. But that did not last long. Soon enough the hormones kicked in and the merciless teasing begun. What happened next is the reason I am not in a High School Class teaching Literature.
The boy was seated at the very front of the class. He reached out boldly when I was talking and touched me, on the arm. My skin crawled, and all the anger from the previous day exploded, fuelled by inkling that he was behind the glue in chair set up. He couldn’t have figured out what I was doing, but 25 years with four and ¾ brothers saw me step up behind him, lift him right out of his chair and sweep him off balance with one kick to the back of his legs.
As he fell, I envisioned scenes of teacher-student violence. The other case scenario which terrified me more was him falling head first, hitting his head on the floor, his head cracking, prompting an intra-cranial heamorrhage, resulting in brain damage, death and my arrest for murder. (I really should stop watching CSI). Anyway, the boy fell, looked up at me in shock and rolled to his knees begging for forgiveness. I packed up my books, went to the staffroom, packed up my bags and left the school, for good.
Yeah, if should ever go back to teaching, I will stick to Kindergarten kids, who are infinitely more demanding and difficult to teach and train, but whom I have spent 42 months learning how to deal with. Judging from your expression as you read this; I am guessing that you will not let me anywhere near your precious little baby. Well, then, I hope the writing career picks up.