In school, primary school, there were those guys in your class who were a bit advanced in age. Guys who were bulky than most teachers. Guys who had repeated almost all grades/classes. Often, their repeating would come as a result of getting very low marks. Even as low as 100/700. Other times, it would happen as a result of getting into a kerfuffle with a malicious teacher who would see to it that they did not proceed to the next grade. In some incidences, some were demoted to a class lower which would then take them an year or two to clear. Sorry to say but some of the teachers were practical jokers. These are teachers who could beat you up senseless claiming that they met you on the way during the weekend and you ran away on seeing them. They claimed that you must have committed a heinous crime and that’s why you ran away. Then, the next time you met them, the previous canning fresh in your mind and the pain in your buttocks still raw, you would not run away but rather you would go to an extent of greeting them. Then come Monday you would be flogged again for refusing to give way to the teacher when you met during weekend which is a very bad case of lack of good manners.
I remember a few guys who repeated class 4 having made it to class 5 and actually attended class 5 lessons for a few days. They came to class a minute or two after the lesson had started and the teacher told them that coming to class late was a std 4 behaviour and thus they should go back to class 4. They went back to class 4 and repeated a full year. Today, when I reflect back to this incident, I always wonder what these boys told their parents when they went home that evening but then I remember not every parent kept abreast of their kids’ progress in school.
In retrospect, these guys were not as thick as they appeared. It is true that they could not comprehend or solve the most basic of arithmetic problems or an elementary concept but this was harsh a yardstick to measure their level of general intelligence or lack of it thereof. There was one such guy who owned a kiosk when we were in class 7. A fully fledged kiosk which doubled as his cubicle. A shopkeeper and a cubicle owner in class seven when most of us were still sleeping in our mothers houses.
There was a classmate who was to be found in the evening and on weekends running the kitchen of the local butchery. He was an expert in making mutura and “shaking” bone soup. He ‘shook’ bone soup in a 5 liter Jerry can until it turned whitish. Another one prepared samosas in one of the local hotels.
By class 6 or class 7, they would effectively drop out of school probably as a result of disillusionment for having to cope with learning the-arrow-points-to-the eater, body parts of a locust, life cycle of a housefly and such stuff. These were guys who had entrepreneurial skills from a very young age. ‘Engineering’ was deeply ingrained in their blood and as such they probably looked forward to being taught practical stuff. Not which animal was eaten by which one or how many stomachs a cow has. Remember they were specialists in horology. They carried geometrical set containers full of watch components. They could repair an out-of-order-watch with their eyes closed. They had a local lingo for all the inner parts of a disco watch. Some were even in Kikuyu. When your watch got damaged, they would sell you ‘spare parts’ or fix it for a fee. Of course the whole repair issue was a hit and miss but it used to work at times.
The white plastic casing where other components were fixed was referred to as a fabrate, the display as mercury, the circuit board as transformer, the Integrated Circuit (the black bump on the circuit board) was referred to as gatoro (a pinch of mud) while the component connecting the display and the circuit board was refered to as tufa (file). The capacitors and the quarts oscillator were referred to as mȗtȗngi. For those who are not familiar with the components of a digital watch, see image below.
I cannot scoff at these names because to be sincere, I personally came to learn of the proper names and functions of these components years later while in college.
Something else they exceled at is gathering bunches upon bunches of keys. The guys always carried not less than a kilogram of keys attached to a key holder which was then hooked to one of their khaki shorts front belt loops.
When it came to music systems, they owned not just your ordinary radio but a car radio and a chloride Exide battery. They had big earthen pots or jelly cans where woofers would be fixed to achieve a strong effect on the bass response of the speaker. Those who didn’t have car batteries had long troughs that would accommodate up to 20 size D torch batteries. These batteries would go through an assortment of treatments in a bid to keep them going; from boiling to burying under hot ashes, leaving them out in the sun, and pounding them lightly.
Sometimes, a guy would drop out of school for about two years and still come back to the same grade. Mostly, those who pulled out these stunts went to places like Mweiga, Narumoro or Nanyuki where they got employed as herd boys. The parents who cared (most did not) would embark on a mission to look for their lost kids. If lucky, they would trace them and force them back to school but they would not last long before another expedition. I remember a guy who was brought back to school by her mum tied to her back with a rope like a log of wood. He had been missing for almost one year before being traced someplace in Rumuruti. If you heard him wail in the process, you would think that he was being slaughtered. Surprisingly this guy was not thick headed and would go ahead to finish class eight with decent points.
Before I go too far, CS Matiangi’s endeavours to change our education system from exam oriented to skill oriented is very much welcome. What these guys needed was some form of vocational training to hone their skills in what they naturally excelled at.