This past weekend my friend Brian Tororei aka Chung Wing (yea, the guy is as athletic as a descendant of one of Chairman Mao’s subjects) went for a weekend challenge in Poror High School, Eldama Ravine. The guy did manage to negotiate himself into getting a Friday afternoon off from work. You see, Chairman Mao’s descendants have superb negotiation skills. That explains why they are taking away African business from Cousin Barack. Anyway, Toro managed to leave on Friday. I did not even think about asking for leave, because my desk was overloaded with work. In fact, I had even been toying with the idea of going to the office on Saturday. But I am not one to miss out on stuff like that so I promised Toro I would join him on Saturday morning.
So on Saturday at 5.30 am I was at Nyamakima. I found myself a nice comfortable seat in the driver’s cabin in the matatu. The plan was, when someone came, I would step out and allow him to take the middle seat between me and the driver. After all, since I came first, I was entitled to the window seat. That’s how it works, no? That would allow me to snuggle on the seat and sleep all the way to Nakuru. And I had lots of sleep on my eyes. But by some jinxed luck, the person who came was a mama, about 50 years old. She was carrying her hand bag, a Tuskys paper bag and a light blue plastic container that was lined with cloths so I couldn’t see what was inside.
“Kijana wangu si unisongee tafadhali niweze kushika mzigo?” she said, her eyes milking all my pity reserves dry. It’s amazing how these mamas are able to see through my bald head. You see, my bald head, together with my bearded face and my stout body give me an older look that I exploit to the fullest when I want to command respect. And yea, more often than not I get more respect, even from older men, than the ordinary 26 year old gets. But mamas are rarely fooled. They see me for the age fraudster I am. So what do you tell a pleading mama that is exactly the age of your mother? I quickly cast a glance at the back of the matatu to see if I could secure myself a seat in the main cabin, but it was too late. The matatu was full. So I reluctantly moved and allowed her to take my precious seat.
Now, there is everything wrong with that middle seat in the driver’s cabin. First, even for a short individual like myself, the leg space is non-existent so your leg muscles have to endure sustained cramps. Then it has no back rest, so you can’t lean back and catch a wink. Then the seat is just above the engine. That means that as the journey progresses, your backside gets heated to very uncomfortable degrees. To make matters worse, the mama decided to entertain me with stories I couldn’t relate to, perhaps in a bid to repay my kindness. But I always have a solution to that. I switched off my mind and put it on autopilot. That means she got obligatory murmurs like “eh?” “halafu?” “enyewe” that kept her happily talking while my mind roamed freely around the globe. Autopilot always works for me because one can never tell am not really listening. Except my mother. That girl can tell even when I lose concentration for a second.
I got to Eldama Ravine at about 11.30 am. I was received by Toro and the school CU patron, a cool guy called Fred. You know the way President Kenyatta went to receive Obama and the Pope at the airport? Something like that. Except that my Airforce One was an old matatu that creaked, jerked and whined all the way from Nakuru to Ravine. Whenever we hit a pothole, its seats would come off, do a dance in the air before falling back.
But seeing the boys had a refreshing effect on me. It brought back all the memories of eight years ago, when I was in High School. The old uniforms the boys wore on Saturday, the unwashed bodies, some boys wearing sweaters without shirts or t-shirts inside. Yet, everyone appearing on Sunday afternoon all washed up, new uniforms…some had even miraculously acquired perfume. Yea, Sunday afternoon there was a rally, and the girls were around. The things women make us do! Really, nothing has changed since I was in high school.
I remember one time when I was in form one, and there was a form four discussion going on. The senior students were all smartly dressed because the girls were coming. But there was no point of form ones sprucing up-we were the school slaves responsible for mopping, cleaning window sills, sweeping the compound, carrying chairs amongst other jobs. As I was passing by the dining hall, some form four students hijacked me and a friend. They made us hold hands and start dancing around shouting “pamoja tuangamize umalaya” over and over again in a rhythm. Their amusement was made greater by the fact that the girls were watching from the edge of the field, not very far away.
There was no point of defying. In my day monolisation was real. On my first day in school, I was approached by a form three student:
“Mono unaitwa aje?”
“Uko na majina mawili kama housefly?
“Edward Mwenda Maroncha”
“Uko na majina matatu kama tsetse fly?”
Then came the cobweb. This entailed him placing his outstretched fingers on my forehead and bringing them down my face in one, swift stinging motion.
Other times a fourth former wanted your sugar:
“Mono uko na sukari?”
“Kidogo tu ya kukunyua uji kesho”
“Unatumianga vijiko ngapi kwa uji?”
You would open your box and he would see your 2 kgs of sugar. He would calmly scoop 2 spoonfuls and put them in your cup. Then walk away with the rest. After all, you had said you only had enough for the following day.
But there were good days. Like when we trounced Materi Girls, Chogoria Girls, Kyeni Girls, Nguviu High, Meru School and other regional giants to come second in Eastern Province. Only Precious Blood Kilungu was unbeaten. We danced all the way to Chuka town. Some even suggested we dance all the way Chogoria market, to make our local rivals, Chogoria Girls, “feel it”. The local MP bought us a bull and the school board sponsored pilau. You need to understand that the main item on the school menu was boiled maize and beans that had more water and weevils than the actual edible grains. Sometimes we ate ugali (or rice, which was a solid mass like ugali anyway) and beans. Friday evening was the special day when we ate ugali, cabbage and meat. By cabbage I mean a pool of salted water with a strand or two of cabbage floating on top. And meat meant one small chunk of boiled beef or pork. Two if you were lucky. So getting a bull and pilau was a big deal. In fact, there were no classes or preps that day.
I hear these days Ikuu Boys is offering bread at tea time. During my time, the social strata of the school was established during tea time. We were offered only tea, and you had to rely on your resources to acquire snacks at the school canteen. First there was the elite. These took out full loaves of bread. Then there was the varied middle level that ranged between those who could afford three quarters of a loaf to those who could only take out a single ngumu at 5 bob. Then there was the burning class. Taking tea without a snack was called burning (kubibia) in our school lingo. Of course there were those like myself who dithered between the burning class and the lower reaches of the middle class. And by the way, when I say ‘tea’ I mean a sugary light brown fluid that you could potentially see through if you poured it into a colorless glass cup.
The CU was a highlight for me. Having come from the bowels of the village, it is from the high school CU that I first heard the song “Above all”. The Nairobi guys did try their best to wean us from Esther Wahome and Jemima Thiong’o by introducing us to the likes of Don Moen and Hillsong. But the village has a way of embedding itself into your genetic identity. I did not hear of Casting Crowns or Chris Tomlin until I came to college-in Nairobi. In fact, I did not know any single foreign musician other than the two I was introduced to at the CU. Ok fine, that’s not true. Because I knew Rose Muhando.
If you were in Ikuu Boys during my time you cannot talk about High School without mentioning Mr. Benjamin Mugambi Kanga. The guy was feared, respected, and hated with equal measure. He was the Deputy Principal when we came in, but he rose to become the Principal when we were in form three. The guy was a living legend. The mere mention of his name instilled the fear of God into even the most stubborn teenager. We could even tell the creaking sounds of his old pick up from the main road, a kilometer away from the school. One thing you had you had to admit, the guy was smart. There is no trick any of us could come up with that could surprise him. Of course there were a million jokes about the dumb things he allegedly said:
“I saw a packet of boys smoking a group of cigarettes”
“You were wearing a tinji (radio) while listening a tunja (trouser)”
Back then high school was certainly a prison. But looking back, it does seem like we had a lot of fun. We survived. Honestly speaking, I am proud to have passed through Ikuu Boys, or rather, IQ B. Gracias!