The P. 1. class at Nakaale Primary School was having trouble paying attention, as usual. The one hundred plus kids sat/stood around the room on broken pieces of brick, benches and desks, each one fidgeting and chattering. Even the windowsills were full of squirming kids, each fighting for a seat. The cement dust that filled the air was causing the kids to cough and sneeze all over each other. The kids were all squabbling over the slates and slate chalk that were being passed out, fights that could only be broken up by a switch.
I stood at the front of the class, chalk in one hand, slate in the other, trying to properly demonstrate how to draw the letter “A”. I had a switch tucked under one arm that I kept having to bring out and shake at the kids, banging the stick on the desks to try and keep order. None of them were listening.
“Lomongin! Listen! – No, Moses, stop that! Stop yelling, Petero! Emmy, sit down. Moses! Be quiet! Lomongin, I told you to be quiet!” and so on. My sisters roamed the classroom with switches and slates, trying to maintain order. The slate I was holding was giving me trouble. I was having to hold it over my head so that all the kids could see it, and still it wasn’t big enough.
Inspiration struck. I handed my slate and chalk to Anna and dashed out of the classroom, skidding over the pitted, dusty walkway to the P.3 classroom. As I had suspected, the class was having “reading groups” and the teacher was nowhere to be seen. I pointed to a cracked piece of plywood that had been painted black – the blackboard – that was leaning against the wall in the front of the room. “Can I use this for P.1?” The kids looked at me askance, and I grabbed the plywood.
“You.” I pointed, “And you. Carry this desk.” Two of the P.3 boys rose and picked up the desk, following me out of the room.
As I entered the P.1 classroom, the plywood held over my head, the entire class leapt to its feet and burst into a simultaneous cheer: “YEEEAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!” I had the P.3 boys set the desk at the front of the room – amidst the clapping and cheering – and we set the plywood up on it, using a rock to keep it there. I turned to see all of the little P.1 kids on their feet, applauding and yelling, huge grins on every face. I assumed my stern teacher face, trying desperately to keep my authoritative air.
I raised my switch in the air and waved a hand. “Be quiet, sit down.” The class complied, still beaming wholeheartedly. They sat like a hundred or so little angels, each one looking up at me expectantly. I turned back to the plywood – a ragged, chipped piece that sagged pathetically against the wall. I raised my piece of chalk and began, tucking my switch beneath one arm.
“This is the letter ‘A’.”