More often than not, people tend to lay blame away from themselves rather than facing their shortcomings. After introspection, I place blame on boarding school for my being overly-independent – sometimes- obstinate, occasionally reckless and teetering among the extremes of introversion, extroversion or plain depression. I want to complain about it; about how I was snatched from my mother’s bosom, too soon. I should have spent more time at home with the cows and chickens, learning more about cooking, but honestly, boarding school was one of the best experiences.
Since its inception, the Catholic Church has invested heavily in school infrastructure and in education. Unsurprisingly, I went to all Catholic schools from nursery school all through to high school. As a top performer, the assumed career path in this republic is a doctor or an engineer, but not with hematophobia and jading through math. Anyway, I am no doctor nor an engineer, as my classmates imagined. Clearly, life had other plans. I am meme lord and scribe, so stay entertained. It would have been a waste of 18 years of basic education to leave school, taught mostly in English, having failed to perfect at least one thing. Mine was English. Somehow, all of us, doctors, engineers, writers and meme lords can be useful members of society, if we grasp the opportunities that life throws at us.
In Geneva last year- the first of many times I’ll breath some fresh, French, air (before COVID-19 and re-inhalation of our toxic morning breath), they asked me that very question. How do you communicate this elaborately in English?” I said, “In Kenya, the school curriculum is set largely in English.” They also asked me my level of education and knowing me, this undergraduate was supplemented with the three or so applications I had made to study oppression and extra-judicial killing, before settling on Monitoring and Evaluation. It is another degree I will probably never use. A little hyperbole helped the stiff conversation. If they would use English as a measure of the level of respect, then I earned it; that, plus the papers. Not to say that I am not back in school to look for them in the correct way, anyway.
The schools I went, lacked the oomph of Wahome Mutahi’s “ The Ghost of Garbatula”. Except this one time we had cases of “devil worship and forced Catholic liberalism with some Uganda Martyrs in high school. The rest of it was books, sports, music and drama. I found our high school a more relaxed than primary school,on the imposition of church practices. At least here, nobody made us recite the rosary every evening, seven days a week, whether we were sick or dying.
Having been brought up in a protestant home, I would have gravitated towards Christian Union and as a school leader, I was appointed as a church usher, for reasons I am yet to understand to this day. It is a role I never performed not even once. On a normal Sunday I would go to The Catholic Church. This was because mass was one and a half hours shorter than the Christian Union meeting, we had the same priest from form one to form four and he never shouted in church. I also loved drumming and just how structured mass was. It would also afford me the one hour I needed in the art room to create one two items that were both colourful and different.
One Saturday evening in form two, I overindulged in reading a forbidden novel and forgot to do my laundry for the week. I would have given the excuse of Saturday television but since childhood, TV never intrigued me. The one time I had watched television in high school earned me a one-month ban from the TV room for overstaying. I swore to never get in trouble for anything so trivial and 12 years later, nothing has changed.
Came Sunday morning, assembly and later, church. I had to apply the physics of the centrifuge but thick cotton is thick. My wet, navy blue skirt graduated just slightly, to a damp skirt. My memory falls short of owning a kamisi after 12 but that Sunday, I did wear a one. As a hockey player who always wore minute skirts to the pitch, a biker too was available. The equation was balanced by mothers’ union. I was ready to pray until the tongues of fire in Acts of the Apostles befell the entire school. Mass began and Father Francis went, “In the name of the Father, the Son… and by the time he got to “and the Holy Spirit, … I was asleep.”
I was woken up by the rambling of Brenda Paul. She had sung so wonderfully in my sleep, but I felt the mood change. Brenda still is the only other person in this world who is louder than me. After the music, she said, “mh, someone here smells like old books; there is this horrid smell of dampness that is choking me, wasichana mbona hamuogangi? (Girls, why don’t you bathe)?”
My senses were awakened! Yes, it was not old books, it was me. Having doubled over, and nearest to the source, the acridity tore through my nostrils. It must have been the boiled egg from Sunday breakfast. It had done its work and done it well. It all made sense now, that that huge relief I had felt during my sleep, was not the bliss of a child’s dream, but from my nether muscles, well stretched from doubling over in forbidden sleep, letting up. That fart wasn’t the loud ones, no. It had hissed through four filters and the moisture of the skirt therefore turning into old books
Girls recoiled and called God’s name. They scampered to extreme ends of the pew and I too moved with one of the groups. Victimization would emerge from identification of the culprit. Of course the narrative would be around haogangi (she does not bathe) but honestly, I used to take a minimum of two baths a day in school. I moved with them because it was not in my place to be the one left in the island of my own noxiousness. That would be declaring my culpability. It wasn’t me, just biology and perhaps some misplaced sleep.
It was time for the greetings part of mass, I smiled and greeted everyone that was near enough. They fanned themselves and covered their noses with sleeves of their pullovers. I continued to pass the greetings of the Lord because he invented diffusion for days such as this. I eventually did turn to Brenda to let her know that my skirt was damp and as expected, she went ballistic. To this day, she still is one of my favourite persons.