MWALIMU ANDREW: A week of petty staffroom squabbles

Saturday October 31 2015

Finally, Nzomo, our beautiful colleague from

Finally, Nzomo, our beautiful colleague from Nunguni, arrived in school last Monday morning after travelling over the weekend. ILLUSTRATION| JOHN NYAGAH 

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Finally, Nzomo, our beautiful colleague from Nunguni, arrived in school last Monday morning after travelling over the weekend. We were all happy to see her as her presence would relieve teachers that had stepped in to fill her spot in the classroom.

“Karibu,” said Sella when she saw Nzomo back. “At least I will have time to read.” Sella is a student at Maseno University and had, grudgingly, taken up most of Nzomo’s classes. The two are anything but friends.

With Nzomo around, I planned re-assign Saphire’s lessons but other teachers would hear none of that.

“Why would you want to redistribute? Is he sick?” asked Mrs Atika. “I see him every day so please do not start giving us his duties.”

Lena, her bad hair notwithstanding, also refused to take up any of Saphire’s classes. “We have never shared his salary,” she said.

“Unless he is dead, I will not take any of Saphire’s classes,” said Nzomo. She had not heard of the story of the death and resurrection of Saphire, and Lena told her the story, but then added: “You should be the last to say you won’t assist anyone having been assisted while you were away.”

The next day, Saphire passed by the school, and after a few minutes in the staffroom, went to the toilet – and never returned to school. That was just before tea break.

With our lunch club having collapsed, most teachers were taking maximum advantage of the tea, and taking several cups of tea to compensate for no lunch. The staffroom was therefore full at tea time. To make ends meet, Mrs Atika was selling ndumas to teachers and a few colleagues took some on credit. Since I did not buy any ndumas and had no other escort, I took three cups of tea – but I was not alone.

A few minutes later, Lena, who had left the staffroom just before tea break returned? She was carrying two mandazis – I don’t know from where – and when she went to take tea, she was surprised to find the two flasks empty.

“Kwani mmemaliza chai?” she asked. No one answered. “And this is the second time this is happening this week,” she said.

Looking at me she said. “Dre I need your assistance. Sijui kama watu wanaoga chai or what? I have now missed tea for the second time this week.”

Having been one of the teachers who had taken three cups, I could not say anything as other teachers would remind me of the number of cups I had taken.

“But why were you not there when tea was being served?” asked Mrs Atika. “You are breastfeeding and know very well that you need a lot of tea so where had you gone?”

“Atika that is not the issue,” Lena said. “The tea has always been enough for us.”


I called the tea lady who said she could make more tea but it would be “strong tea” as there was no milk. “Kama ni strong tea wachana nayo,” said Lena.

“For the sake of your baby, please be carrying your own tea or milk,” Mrs Atika told Lena. “I used to do so many years ago when I was a mother.”

“That is not the issue Mrs Atika,” Lena said. “The issue is why are teachers taking other people’s tea?”

Oscar, who had been quiet throughout joined in the discussion. “If Lena can’t make her hair, do you really expect her to carry tea to school?”

“What you smoker?” asked Lena. She then told him words that I can’t write here. Luckily for us, tea break was over and teachers left for their classes. As I went back to my office, I could sense a lot of tension in the staffroom, and wondered what was causing this.

Teachers had been telling one another things they would not normally say. I don’t know if it was because the pockets were malnourished but I had observed that teachers were quarrelling over small things. I planned to call for staff meeting to cool tempers. Before then, I decided to start the process early by talking to each of the teachers individually.

I called Oscar into my office. He was chewing gum when he arrived, but the gum could not hide the smell of a cigarette that he had just finished smoking. From the smell, I really doubt it was normal cigarettes. It must have been something more potent.

“How has been your experience since you joined this school?” I asked him.

“It is great,” he said, exposing his charcoal black fingers that hold cigars more than anything else. While he was still speaking, we heard noises from outside. We looked out and saw Sella walking quickly from Class 7 to the staffroom, followed by Nzomo. The two were hurling insults at one another, causing a commotion in the whole school. We went to the staffroom.

“Life was better without you,” said Sella. “You should have remained huko Kunguni ulikuwa.”

“Don’t bring me,” said Nzomo. “Nunguni is a better place than this useless village school. Who are you to attack me in front of the pupils?”

“Ati your students!” responded Sella. “Who was teaching them when you were away? I was the one”

“You were not teaching for me you fool,” answered Nzomo. “You are paid to do that!”


“What is it ladies?” I asked. “What is this that we can’t discuss without disrupting the whole school?”

“You ask her why she came to attack me in class when I was teaching?” said Nzomo.

I asked Sella why she had gone to Nzomo’s class as I had left her in the staffroom.

“Tell your girlfriend to tell you what she did for me to have to go to her class.”

“What did you say you ugly woman. How can this useless deputy headmaster be my boyfriend?” said Nzomo, leaving me confused as to whether to be happy or sad.

“Everyone knows that Dre is your boyfriend,” added Sella. Before we knew it Nzomo removed her shoe to throw it at Sella. Luckily Oscar acted fast. He held her hand mid-air. By then, other teachers had come to the staffroom.

“What is it you ladies?” asked Mrs Atika. Using her motherly skills, she took them to the HM’s office where I joined them.

“You are the cause of all this Dre so you won’t assist,” said Sella. She then explained that the chalk we provide at school is of low quality as it had a lot of dust that makes her sick.

“I spent my own money to buy dustless chalk which I have been using but this fool today took my only remaining piece of dustless chalk without asking.”

“Chalk is chalk,” said Nzomo. “Your name was not written on the chalk how could I have known that it was yours?”

“But everyone knows that I am the only one here with dustless chalk,” said Sella. “If you want to also use dustless chalk, get a rich husband to buy it for you. Dre can’t afford such.”

Tempers only cooled down when Bensouda arrived. “Let me handle this since I can see you are part of the problem,” she told me as she ushered me out of her office. I was happy to be out. After about half an hour of talking to them, the two ladies came to the staffroom, each of them clicking and none speaking to the other.

When later that evening I shared this with Kizito, also a deputy headmaster, he told me that his school was not better. “For some reason, teachers have become sensitive and I am spending quite some time resolving conflicts. We need a commission of inquiry to find out why teachers are behaving this way.”