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How Nzioki’s letter, my Moi gossip caught up with me

Friday March 20 2020
OKOPIC

Former President Daniel Moi. PHOTO | PEDRO UGARTE | AFP

By Austin Bukenya

Watch your tongue, watch your pen, watch your phone, computer or laptop keyboard. We hardly ever heed such advice. In any case, some of us just cannot hold back from telling you of what we see, feel and think.

Still, our words can seriously catch up with us, often in ways we did not expect. You may remember, for example, my telling you about the late President Moi’s generosity to his home schools in Sacho and Kabarak. I suggested that his concern for education was traceable to his original profession as a teacher.

I received several responses to my article, among them a letter from a Mr David Nzioki. After complimenting me on my column, of which he is a regular reader, Mr Nzioki reminded me of a workshop that I had once conducted for him and his colleagues in Machakos town. He is currently the headmaster of a school in Makindu, in Makueni County.

PUZZLED

I love being appreciated, and Mwalimu’s words left me feeling like a dog with two tails. But I was also a little puzzled, on two counts.

First, Mr Nzioki did not mention the date of the workshop he remembered, but it must have been a long time ago. What was so memorable about it that Mwalimu should recall it after all those years?

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Could it have been one of those occasions where I tell my teachers to read, recite, sing and dance for their students, or even stand on their heads if necessary, in order to make their lesson attractive?

Secondly, I wondered if a hint I had dropped at that encounter might have encouraged Mwalimu to persevere in our noble but trying profession all these years and even rise to the responsible administrative office that he now holds. Anyway, next time I am in Makindu, I will definitely visit Mwalimu Nzioki and share in his achievements.

This is, of course, a confession of my unreserved respect and admiration for all my fellow teachers who fully embrace their calling and work systematically to raise it to the highest levels of excellence.

Indeed, that is why I was always eager to share with my fellow teachers of language, literature, orature and drama my classroom aspirations, antics, adventures, and misadventures.

WORKSHOP CAREER

My friend, Mwalimu Winnie Ogana, once caught me out singing one of Okot p’Bitek’s songs with a dreadful non-Luo/Acholi accent.

I had thought that I had ended my workshop career, and I would only share my anecdotes on paper and online.

But then, Kapsabet Boys High School came knocking on my Kampala door! They were running a workshop for their language and literature teachers and their colleagues from the area, and they wanted me to be one of the facilitators.

I could have said “no, thank you” to the invitation, and explained that the assignment was too heavy for my old bones. After all, the Kampala-Kapsabet journey is well over 200 miles by road through either Busia or Malaba.

Absurdly, too, although there are international airports in Kisumu and Eldoret, you cannot fly directly to either from Entebbe.

Back to the Kapsabet invitation, however, the adrenalin in me was flowing. To begin with, my publishers, East African Educational Publishers, the sponsors of the workshop, offered to fly me through JKIA to Eldoret, from where they would drive me to Kapsabet.

GREAT

I could not say no. Ever since I published my first book with them, Notes on East African Poetry, in 1978, I have been part of the family, although they are yet to make me really great.

As for Eldoret, I could not resist the temptation of spending a night or two there. I have a long and deep attachment to the city, and there is a strong base of my devoted readers there. My regret was that, during my short stay, I would not be able to reconnect with all my soulmates there.

I also remembered Mr Nzioki’s letter and how he had cherished the sharing moment we had had at that workshop long ago. Should I miss this rare opportunity to share with my Nandi County comrades the few ideas I had on “How to become a better teacher”, which was their chosen topic?

Then I realised that the late President Moi, about whom I had been gossiping, had deep roots in the Kapsabet Boys High School, my hosts. He was a student there, from 1935 into the early 1940s, rising to the top rank of head prefect towards the end of his career there. Indeed, he never forgot his alma mater even as he rose to the top offices in the land.

His largesse shows in every aspect of the school, from the many magnificent buildings through the impeccably manicured compound to the highly motivated staff and strictly disciplined students. It was coincidental but certainly significant that Mzee Moi passed away on Kapsabet High’s Founder’s Day, February 4, this year.

SURPRISE
As I marvelled at the beauty and confidence of Kapsabet, I could not help feeling as if Marehemu Moi had heard me extol Sacho and Kabarak, and he wanted to mutter to me, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” Apparently, the old man did not only endow his own-founded schools but he also facilitated the development of other public institutions where he could.

Have you, for example, been to Tambach, as I have? A final surprise for me was when an old friend and very senior citizen of Eldoret, to whom I was narrating my Kapsabet experiences, quietly said to me, “I know about Mzee Moi’s efforts for education. He was my teacher at Tambach.”

As for what I said to the teachers’ workshop at Kapsabet, three sentences might sum it up. “Have a dream and act on it. Unimplemented dreams remain daydreams. Daydreams end up becoming nightmares.”
It sounded better in Kiswahili, with a play on “ndoto” (dream), “njozi” (daydream) and “jinamizi” (nightmare).

Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and literature; [email protected]

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