By Onyinkwa O via FB
There was drama on Friday at Cardinal Otunga High School Mosocho after a new principal ~ one Mr. Dennis Munyendo ~ arrived at the School to begin his tenure there. The Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Kisii, Joseph Mairura locked the principal’s office and left with the keys, effectively rejecting the new Principal ‘by action’ and ‘in toto’. In retaliation, the Kisii County Education Board removed Fr. James Obaigwa ~ an appointee of the Bishop ~ from the BOG Chairmanship. I itch to wade into the debate ~ and I will, eventually ~ but today I must tell you about the only other time in the entire history of that school that any staff transfer has ever been more dramatic than this.
There was a joke that ran, at Cardinal Otunga High School back in the day, that should a fire break out in the school at night, the best manner of assembling us all within 5 minutes flat was to ring the bell at the Hockey pitch. This was because the school hockey pitch was to us what ‘the great court’ was to the University of Nairobi back then’ and every one of the major school strikes ~ all four of them ~ that happened then, begun at the hockey pitch and were executed with military precision and efficiency that the GSU’s Recce Company would take note of. That is to say, every one of the four strikes ~ every last one of them, one every year ~ followed the exact same script ~ the fire drill.
Two guys would already be hanging around Form 3B ready to grab the school bell the moment the two other guys at the School main electricity switch did their thing. In the time it takes to blink, the entire school would be in pitch darkness, the bell would be ringing towards the hockey pitch, and the entire student population would be in an ‘orderly stampede’ following it there. In no time at all, everyone would be seated, silent and in the dark. The first order of business would be the singing of the School Anthem, which would then be followed by the reading of the ‘ten charges’. There were always more, but the ‘charge sheet’ somehow always had ten issues, eight or so of which were related to the theft, misuse or wastage of school funds and other resources.
We never failed to ‘register our displeasure’ with the school’s administration whenever we found any of their actions and decisions not consistent with ‘school tradition’. Cardinal Otunga was in transition. The Dutch Missionaries were leaving, and ceding all control and management to locals. The first two Kenyan Principals ~ predictably ~ considered their elevation to that ‘sumptuous’ office as their turn to eat. Many of their actions and decisions were therefore not consistent with ‘school tradition’. The onerous but honourable task of keeping them on the straight and narrow, for all the old, current and future generations of Cardinals fell bang on our laps. Let us just say, we did a pretty good job, never mind that it was ~ eventually ~ all in vain.
Not all our ‘expressions of displeasure’ followed ‘the fire drill script’ though. Sometimes, we just snapped suddenly and spontaneously if the situation so demanded. One of those situations was when we ‘tensed things up a little’ when they attempted to fell the big old indigenous trees at the main square, which was not consistent with the school traditions. Another was when we chased like prey, and permanently banished from the school premises the tens of new watchmen that the school’s administration had hired, whose job description appeared to be in breach of school traditions. There were many such similar incidents, but one came back to mind vividly the other day as I watched the NTV news item about the ongoing drama around the transfer of a new Principal down there at Cardinal Otunga.
In a bid to assemble a dream team of Kenya’s best teachers in what would be the Barcelona ~ or Manu U hahaha! ~ of staffrooms in Kenya at his private school Kanga High School in Rongo, the late Hezekiah Oyugi’s scouts had settled on Mrs. Kayeyera our French teacher to head their French Department. And Oyugi was not a ‘mtu hivi hivi’ sort of guy. Back then he was an extremely powerful PS, bordering on being a VP. He offered her a deal that no teacher in Kenya would ever turn down. And let us face it, this is Oyugi we are talking folks! She signed the papers and agreed to move. Everything went like clockwork until the Kanga High School van drove in to pick her stuff from the Staff Quarters. It was a sunny afternoon, there was a teacher in nearly each of the 15 or so classrooms, and the afternoon lessons were on, but as soon as word that Mrs. Kayeyera was leaving spread like bush fire across the blocks, everyone somehow knew what to do, as if by instinct.
Everyone left their seats and poured out to the lawns, with some menacingly requesting to have a polite word with the Kanga school van driver. The teachers upon being left holding chalks facing unoccupied desks, were quickly called to an emergency staff meeting that was graced by some members of the school’s B.O.G and one or two from the education office and provincial administration. Soon chants were being heard from Block C, the furthest from the Staffroom, but whose chants in times like those meant that the patience of the student population was growing really thin. The school administration panicked and called in the cops, but kept them out of sight as frantic efforts were made to calm things down internally.
Soon a decision was reached, the bell was rung and we were called to a special assembly at the main square. The Principal walked into the grounds with his entourage and spoke first. After the unnecessary pleasantries, his attempt to explain something was soon drowned in loud mumbling and grumbling as the students made it clear that the only reason they had heeded the call to a meeting was because we wanted her to say it in our faces. That she was abandoning her sons. You see, when we poured out of our classrooms, our anger was directed at the Principal and his administration for failing to retain Madam Kayeyera. We thought it was a ‘routine transfer’, just like the previous ones that had stripped our staffroom of all its best teachers, starved it of quality and staffed ~ actually stuffed ~ it with ‘trekkers’.
Before I proceed to what followed though, perhaps I must tell you a little about Ms. Kayeyera. Ms. Kayeyera was not just any teacher. None of her colleagues, or even the Principal appeared aware of this fact. In fact, up to this point of the story, it probably hadn’t even occurred to Ms Kayeyera herself that she was not just any teacher. She was Ms. Kayeyera. She was a Ugandan teacher who bore a resemblance to Whoopi Goldberg ~ without the locks ~ quite some. She taught French. And that is the most intriguing thing about her. She was a woman in staffroom that was 70% male. And an elderly one at that, in a staffroom that was largely younger than herself. She was a foreigner too. And she taught a foreign language. She was, technically the least likely teacher to have any serious social interaction with either the students or her colleagues.
But it is her that every boy in that compound felt a strong emotional connection to. And not the ‘strong emotional connection’ that teenage boys in high school feel towards the younger female teachers and the university students on teaching practice. No. Not that one. She had a pleasant personality and was a very likeable person. She was warm and had this unique motherly touch that inspired nothing but awe and respect. And she wasn’t faking none of that. She was as genuine as a Dollar bill in the Federal Reserve. She was real. So real that when one of the boys contracted an STI that he could not afford to treat, or afford to face his parents or relatives about, it is at her door that he knocked. And he wasn’t even doing French. That is why we decided that if this was a routine transfer, then nothing was going to be routine about this transfer.
To her perhaps, all she needed do was pack her stuff, bid her colleagues farewell and leave, just like all teachers who left before her did. But she was wrong. Either she hadn’t reckoned we would need some explanation, or she just couldn’t bring herself to face us with the terrible news. Either way, we felt betrayed. In their frantic bid to get us assembled, the administration had sent word out to us that it was Ms kayeyera who had sought the transfer to Kanga, but we weren’t buying that until we heard and saw her say so, in front of us. Now she surely had to, and in a far less desirable situation. By now, she was in tears. The Principal had no choice but to spare us his unwelcome banter, and motion Madam Kayeyera forward.
She was helped forward by a female colleague and with tears rolling down her cheeks attempted to mumble something twice to no avail. After a pause, she took in a deep breath, and with all the energy and focus she could muster, managed to let out something that sounded like “it was my decision, that leave!” before collapsing onto her colleague’s bosom weeping uncontrollably. There was pin drop silence for a long minute as those words sunk in. We had expected her to say just that, but somehow it numbed us all speechless when those words came out of her mouth. Shock was soon replaced by anger, and then acceptance and so on until we moved on.