The Teacher

My languages teacher in primary school was probably my biggest inspiration ever. She taught us English and Kikamba, both part of the school syllabus in that part of the country. I think Swahili too, although I don’t quite recall any Swahili text book. She was from Taita, and I know for sure at her home she spoke Kidawida (Kitaita) to her kids while teaching 3 languages in school.

One day, the annual school drama competition came around, and my languages teacher entered me and 2 of my siblings in the poetry section. My big sis chanted a Swahili poem in the lyrical shairi tradition for which she got a trophy. ????Wastahili kupataaa pongezi ziso midhaniii(?)… Was that the one?

I remember watching her do her little curtsey with such finesse you’d think she was born curtseying. I don’t recall what language my brother’s poem was in, but he got his trophy too. Those little trophies went up on display in our living room everywhere we moved. A reminder of what a teacher can do for kids- leave little monuments of inspiration.

Then my turn came. Same languages teacher assigned me a Swahili poem as well. I was a bitty 3rd grader. I remember as clearly as if it were only yesterday, how every day after classes this teacher would take me through rehearsals, make sure I memorized all the diction, achieved perfect enunciation, and here’s the exciting part – the props!

She made eye glasses which I would lift up and put on my eyes at the appropriate line, and a key I would hold up and turn just so. Elimu ni ufunguo / Katika maisha yetu… I got that poem so down pat I aced all the local competitions.

Mom and dad drove me and another boy from a local school to the big city to represent our village, township, division and district on the national level. Not bad, not bad at all! My teacher did that.

That teacher is my mother. I told you before my mother was our languages teacher in school. You just weren’t listening. Our rehearsals were held daily just outside the kitchen. So you see, Mao was also my first stage director, the person who awakened the storyteller and performer in me.

A memoir in honor of this World Teachers Day | Oct 5th, 2023

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