Today, being a day that a lot of history is being narrated, I can’t help but take my mind to almost fifteen or so years ago… My hands clutched at my mother’s skirt wishing that she would reconsider and take me back home, I even promise that I would help her with her work. My mom, being my mum, laughs it off and hands me over to Miss Sarah, a dark-skinned lady with a hearty laugh, she assures me that everything will be alright. She carries my backpack and leads the way to this new class.
Miss Sarah enters holding my hand and the whole class stands up to greet her in uniform. I almost hide behind her but think otherwise, I know this first impression will stick with these kids and so I gather all the courage not to cry or make a fuss. Miss Sarah greets them back and tells me to tell the class my name, I say in whispers, “Charity Wanjiru,” everybody turns to look at a particular girl and starts murmuring. Apparently this chubby girl appears to have my exact name. The teacher uses the first come first serve analogy and decides that I will go by my surname, which I actually did not like. Muchiri I became.
such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country
In those times (yeah, it’s a long time ago in my head) a kindergarten girl having a boy’s name wasn’t particularly a popular thing, it was a disgrace and a group of pupils that had decided onset that they didn’t like me made sure I knew that every day. To add to my predicaments is the fact that my uniform was peculiar, by peculiar I don’t mean the good kind: I had a light green collar instead of the jungle green one, my pullover was handmade unlike my classmates’ which were from the Kenya Uniforms, my shoes were literally boys’ shoes and actually didn’t require shoe polish, just a little rag and water and they were shining like the Dumu Zas Mabati. Oh, and my hair, let’s not talk about my hair. I honestly thought that my mum hated me, why did she have to do everything this wrong. I was a misfit.
I made one friend, a boy whose name I think started with an M. I can’t quite remember much about him apart from the fact that he brought me a mandazi daily, and I could share his mandazi with him. Interesting though, is that I could remember a boy who actually didn’t have much to bring me, I actually think he did even know me, he had better things to occupy his mind than remember the girl with a boy’s name, weird physique and weirder uniform. He was the first boda (like the champion in our class and other streams). This he became by beating up the biggest boy in class, Isaac Wandera ( I feel guilty now for not remembering my mandazi boy). I sort of now think that it was just luck on his side that day but since Wandera didn’t ask for a re-run, Cliff Ochieng’ became the champion. I remember him because I had a huge crush on him.
Cliff becoming the champion in my class did not go well for me because he would take his team to a corner behind the class and do all sorts of mischief. I was the class monitor and I had an obligation to report him else the whole class suffers. I couldn’t report him and many times I had to write my name on the list of the noisemakers, and my mandazi boy would write his too, we would both be the sacrificial lambs for the class. We always received a beating because I couldn’t let Cliff hate me or worse beat me up for writing down his name. This boy was the pure definition of evil, he would kill you with the very words that would come out of his mouth. Since I had too many faults that I knew too well, I didn’t want him to echo them to the whole class, I steered clear. I felt caged, almost choking for air.
We got reshuffled in the following year and my knight, my mandazi boy, was taken to another class leaving me with my crush’s gang and the teacher’s beatings to contend with. I resigned from being the monitor and some tall calm boy called Paul something was given the role which he took up half-heartedly. The break-time was bearable since I had my friend with me, and his mandazis were still coming. I eventually decided that I didn’t like Cliff in any sense, he was a dictator of sorts, he was no hero. He was a coward trying to rule his “subjects” with fear and humiliation, reminding his subjects of how unworthy they were.
Today being a historic day of how we got independence fifty seven years ago, I feel obliged to say how is it we actually got to be colonized in the first place, not Kenya alone but for Africa as a whole; This happened when a certain Lord Macaulay’s addressed the British Parliament on the 2nd February 1835, he said, “I have traveled across the length and breadth of Africa and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such caliber, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone on this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage and therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Africans think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation.”
Fifty-seven years later, though free on paper, Africa isn’t really free. The nations are not free; the people aren’t free. The reason being we have been made to think that the other continents are better than us. This narrows down to the eight-year-old me thinking that I actually wasn’t good enough. Thinking that it was always me with the problem, my uniform, my surname, my height. I was my worst enemy, I hated me. If it had a toll on me then, don’t think it doesn’t have a toll on the adult, it is actually magnified when you grow up, the urge to measure up, the need to be wanted, the zeal to make a name and prove to all those that thought we were good for nothing that we are worth a second look. Looking deeper, I realize that it is not to them that I want to prove to but to myself, I want to prove to the voice in my head.
The shackles fell, but not for long, other shackles cuffed her in her teens and she outgrew them soon
The nation is free but the subjects are not, the eight-year-old me is not free, neither is Cliff Ochieng. If Cliff is left to grow like that, he will conclude that he has to incite as much fear as possible to those around him in order to survive and I would live with my face on the ground thinking am not good enough, and so once again Lord Macaulay’s theory stands out, it almost echos in my head, “make her think that she is not worth much. Make her always second guess herself, make her live with her head down, make her think that she only deserves the crumbs being thrown at her, take away her mandazi boy.” And to Cliff Ochieng, I hear the advice to the colonists, “give him a false sense of freedom, make him believe that he can get away with anything, make him think that his value is proportional to the power he has, and he will never have enough.”
I don’t know much about Cliff Ochieng now, I don’t even think he remembers my name, to think that he’s ever told a story about the girl with a boy’s name is unthinkable, I did not exist in his world fifteen years ago, how would I exist now. I think he would speak of Daratu Roba, the Somali girl with long silky hair, she was beautiful but dumb, but who cares, no one cared that I topped my class.
Fortunately, I know what happened to the girl with a boy’s name. She actually ended up liking the name as she aged. And another thing, she outgrew her uniform, she doesn’t even wear uniforms and currently, her hair is all grown up (I know my girlfriends will laugh at this). She outgrew that cage. The shackles fell, but not for long, other shackles cuffed her in her teens and she outgrew them soon. She’s momentarily free and she knows that there are other shackles that will try cuff her, that Lord Macaulay would prove right soon enough but not for long because with time she has known how to spot the shackles early enough, even before they cuff her and so she misses them at times. This time she has a BFF one that the teachers can’t reshuffle and so she will manage.
Today she gets the perspective that the “faults” were not to humiliate her, she was peculiar and still is but in a good way
Today, the year being half full, she reflects, like her young nation, she must remember where she has come from, she must remember how far she has come and so she can’t throw in the towel. Today she must count her blessings, her achievements, her failures. Today she must get perspective, ask Him why her, not grudgingly but with thanks, why her, why did he set her free, why did He choose he, why His life for hers, the life of God. Today she gets the perspective that the “faults” were not to humiliate her, she was peculiar and still is but in a good way.
Today she chooses to defy the theory and actually realize that she is worth much, that the girl with a boy’s name and the weirdest uniform is loved, she realizes that this love is unconditional, like the mandazis she used to receive on a daily basis, she doesn’t have to do anything to keep them coming. Today she chooses to accept who she is, everything that she is, her physique, her height, weight (she’ll work on that though), her temperament and personality, her skin complexion, and her hair, especially her hair. It is today when she finally decides to free herself that Madaraka Day makes sense.