When I was young and unsuccessfully trying to learn the English language in Karugo Group of Schools, KCPE results were announced three months after sitting the exam.
During this intervening period, young boys faced the knife, grew a stubble, started dating and their voices dropped to a low murmur.
Girls learnt how to finally wear shoes and burn their hair using a red hot steel brush. By the time the results came out, we had completely forgotten all about school and we had to be jump-started when we joined Form One.
My biggest regret is that after the results were announced and some of us scored respectable marks that allowed us to join full boarding high schools, the teachers and parents did not celebrate like they do today.
I watch with glee as the top pupils are carried high on the shoulders by their headmasters as the other teachers and parents break into vigorous singing and dancing.
Despite all the efforts that we put in, the best that one could receive from the headmaster was an indifferent handshake before you bolted out of the staffroom with your results slip.
Despite having finished one’s primary school education, the headmaster still had the powers to remember a crime you had committed back in Standard Four and proceed to cane your backside thoroughly for the same.
The most significant thing that I remember that accompanied exam time was the school educational trip that we fondly referred to as journey.
I have no idea why we called them journeys.
The only two people we knew who could speak fluent English as we grew up was the District Education Officer who was from a faraway province and the local priest who was white.
The journey happened immediately after the end-year exams. If your parents could afford to pay for your journey, you were considered to be a privileged kid.
It is the modern day equivalent of attending a famous school in the Rift Valley whose food menu has been doing rounds.
On a bad Monday the menu includes veggie moussaka, chocolate mousse, beef lasagna n’ ginger bread, while a midweek menu reads like braised beef served with rice, eggplant n’ cheese frittata and fruit kebabs, turkey tagine served with pita bread.
Parents who could pay for your journey are the equivalent of modern day parents who regularly go to Turkey and France to shop for shoes and mink coats. Noticeably, the children whose parents were teachers could afford to go for journeys because teachers in those days were among the few people who wore shoes to work and had active bank accounts.
My first journey was immediately I sat for my Class Eight exams. We were going to a place called Mwea Tebere so as to witness rice farming.
When I look back, and as I pass there nowadays on my way to more serious engagements, I wonder what we had come all the way to see. Maybe rice being dried by the roadside and stagnant water and a lot of donkeys.
Convincing Wa Hellen to pay the journey for me was as enjoyable as extracting a stubborn molar tooth. I had to present a full thesis on why I really deserved it.
In the justification I had to indicate which other kids were going, a detailed journey plan and how it was going to improve my small life. I also had to give the notice of the impending journey about six months in advance.
TOOK MONTHS TO STUDY THE PROPOSAL
She took a few months to study the proposal and made several significant corrections. During this incubation period, my behaviour index and obedience levels had to be zero to fault lest she withdrew the offer.
The day took forever to arrive, and finally it did.
By the time the year ended our school uniforms would be in a sorry state of repair, with black and brown patches randomly covering the cream shorts.
I therefore had to borrow a more presentable set of school uniform and shoes for this once in a lifetime expedition.
The uniform had to be pressed and starched the night before.
The biggest nightmare was accidentally burning a hole in the polyester shorts on the night before journey using a borrowed charcoal iron box. You had to deal with going for the journey in your torn shorts, and still compensate the owner of the shorts that you had damaged.
DID NOT SLEEP AT ALL
On the eve of the journey, I did not sleep at all. I spent half the night pressing the uniform and packing food for the journey, then the rest of the night waiting for dawn.
The thought of being left behind by the bus was nightmarish.
The bus was picking us up at 5am from a central collection point that was quite far from home. It was during the rainy season and the bus could not access some of the cattle tracks that we fondly referred to as roads.
Thanks to the heavy rains, my borrowed pair of shoes was already soiled before we even started the trip.
Arriving at the picking point in time was paramount. Going early meant securing a window seat so that you could clearly see outside and observe things like cars and tall buildings as we passed big towns like Ruiru and Thika. None of us had ever been to Nairobi, and such small highway towns filled us with excitement. The ride was spectacular.
I had never seen such a cute bus in my life, a brand new Isuzu bus that looked bigger than life.
When it moved downhill, it released ‘freno’, some hydraulic braking pressure release that almost made me faint with joy. I also thought the driver was so cool and I badly wanted to be a driver when I grew a beard. I have no idea what we saw in Mwea, and I was never interested.
That bus ride was just the thing that I had longed for, especially after we hit tarmac and all of us screamed with excitement at all that coolness and speed.
I also remember that we would loudly sing gospel songs when we neared a hill or bridge, songs to the effect that Jesus was the driver of that bus. We could not trust the driver in such instances.
TOO YOUNG TO KNOW
The journey was uneventful and the bus dropped us back quite late in the evening. It had rained afresh and the roads were impassable.
We were therefore dropped some miles away from home. The older boys and girls were walking some distance behind, close to each other and conversing in low tones.
I guess they were discussing and analysing the Mwea irrigation projects, but I was too young to know.
Although we had technically cleared school, the teachers demanded that each of us should write a composition about the journey.
Although we knew that we were not entirely obliged to submit the compositions, none of us could dare to renege.
Teachers wielded powers to show up at your home during dinner time and request to teach you a lesson using a thick whip, and sometimes your parents would gladly join in the disciplining exercise.
My only regret regarding this journey is that I never got to learn how the pure Mwea pishori rice is grown and processed.
Some of the products that I buy from the high-end shelves that bear the name of pure Mwea pishori rice taste like wet sponge.