I went to a kindergarten in Kikuyu called Fair Lawns Nursery School. We were split into two classes – baby class and bigger-baby class – or something similar along more formal lines. We didn’t live too far off from school, so every morning, the shamba boy would walk me to class. Sometimes on the trip home, he would carry me on his back.
Musumba – that was his name - was from a little town in Bunyore (Vihiga County) called Luanda. Anyone who knows Luanda will tell you that residents are well-known for their love of the ‘holy herb,’ and this guy was no exception. I’m not sure if his eccentricity was created or accentuated by his weed habit, but the journey to school and back was always eventful.
We made frequent stops along the way, chatting to other groundsmen as they made beautiful shapes of bougainvillea fences, housegirls as they emptied out buckets of dirty water and watchmen as they sat by gates, chewing on matchsticks and watching the world pass them by.
The journey was always leisurely and unrushed, as if Musumba understood that for a young child, going to school was not supposed to be fraught with stress and undue tension. Class began at 8am or thereabouts and by 2.30pm, we were done. Somewhere in that brief period of time, there was a mandatory nap. As you can imagine, I loved school.
Our baby class teacher was called Mrs Potter, a white woman who as I think about it now, must have been part of the remnant settler community. I don’t remember much of what she said, but I will always remember how she made me feel. She made it seem like nothing was impossible. Learning was not a challenge, it was a joy. I felt super comfortable in her class. In fact, I was very much in a ‘comfort zone’.
She must have caught on to the fact that I was not really pushing my boundaries because one day, she called my mum and told her that I was ready to move into the bigger baby class. I was mortified. Instantly, the warmth of my cushy little zone began to dissipate.
I felt the chill of anticipated exertion seeping into my young bones. I didn’t want to work harder. But most of all, I did not want to leave my beloved Mrs Potter. She was the first teacher I had ever known. The first woman, other than my mother, who I truly adored.
Depending on who you talk to, I either moved into the next class or I did not – 30-odd years later, I honestly cannot remember the details. But I will never forget Mrs Potter. Whenever life tosses up a curve ball and I begin to question my ability to excel, I remember that she saw potential in me at that very young age. She believed I could do better, climb higher and go farther. And because she did, I know I can.
Most of us have a memory of a teacher who changed the course of our destiny. A teacher who seemed heaven sent to set us on the path to greatness. To make the kind of deposit into our lives that would continue to earn interest for years and years to come. Without these men and women, few of us would be where we are today. Good teachers are priceless. The least we can do is make an honest attempt to pay them what they are worth.
Julie is a Revise Editor at The Standard