LIFE BY LOUIS: The steep playground at Karugo Group of Schools

Monday April 22 2019

Playing uphill was like climbing a tree while juggling a ball. ILLUSTRATION| IGAH


Closing day is treated with the sensitivity of a busy day at the stock exchange market. Schools closed last week and I went to pick my son as requested.

There is a flurry of activities, a culmination of a series of threatening letters and text messages from the school to the parents to the effect that failure to pick your son or daughter during closing day shall attract dire consequences.

The school management seems to derive a certain amount of pleasure from seeing us around the school for as long as possible.

The closing ceremony may take well over half a day as we are shuffled from one subject teacher to the next and finally to the cashiers’ office to be reminded the shame of our school fees arrears.


Luckily, our employers understand that closing day is a day of national importance, and you just need to mention to your boss that you will be attending closing day and you are waved away with a sympathetic look to go and take as much of your time as possible.


What also strikes me is the access security enhancement during closing day. The perimeter wall is fortified further with additional mean looking security guards, and the access security control procedures would rival those of a strategic military installation.

Everyone is frisked thoroughly and taken through an interrogation to establish their relationship with the kid they are coming in to pick. While this is a positive feature, it is the security guard’s attitude that makes you feel like a suspected kidnapper with a heavy price tag on their neck.

Even the regular guard whom you greet and engage in small talk every morning treats you with strange suspicion.


The school’s management probably fear that a parent with a high appetite for land will grab their playground or claim ownership to the lush backyard which is riparian land.

We never had the luxury of a perimeter fence or security guards at Karugo Group of Schools. No one was interested in grabbing the school’s playground that had the gradient of a straight wall.

Our playing field had such a steep gradient that during a football match, there was always one team that was playing downhill and the other uphill.

If your team did not score all their goals when it was their turn to play downhill, they were better off forgetting about winning the match. Playing uphill was like climbing a tree while juggling a ball.


The two opposing goalkeepers never used to see each other because they were literally playing from two opposing sides of a wall.

They also had to be on an all-time high alert because an opposing striker seemed to emerge from an embracement like a well laid out ambush. If the goalkeeper did not have the impulsive instincts of a cat, they were more likely than not going to be caught off guard by the fierce strikers.

Sometimes a boy with powerful legs would kick the ball and it would disappear over the ridge into the nearby river.

Because there was only one ball in the school, the match would have to be stopped for several minutes as a search team was dispatched to retrieve the ball.

A further five minutes were wasted as the ball was kicked around for it to shed off water and dry off a bit for it to be usable.

If the search team comprised of a team that was playing uphill and the match was not in their favour, they would quickly arrange for the ball not to be found.

That way the match had to be suspended indefinitely until the headmaster felt benevolent enough to buy another ball.

This would involve some ad hoc contributions from the school’s caution money kit that had to be approved by the school’s board of directors.

The process to replace a ball would drag on for a whole school term.


The effects of the playgrounds gradient were no less dramatic during athletics. Running around the field was equivalent to going for an outdoor hike. As a result, a few years into school we developed thick legs and powerful thighs.

The worst form of punishment that you could ever get was to be sent to the river to fetch water for the teachers’ kitchen. The steel bucket weighed about ten kilos, and hauling it uphill was a task that is currently only reserved for hard core criminals in a correctional facility.

Sometimes you would bring the full bucket all the way to the top of the hill, then decide to put it down for a few well deserved minutes of rest.

Due to the uneven ground the bucket would tipple over and roll down the hill and all the way back to the river.

Apart from retrieving the bucket from the river, you had to face the unpleasant task of hauling it up again.

An activity that would ordinarily take a strong man just a few minutes ended up costing you an hour.

Punishment for taking too long to finally deliver a bucketful of water to the kitchen is the story for another day.


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