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Hills of Maparasha

Updated: 3 days ago




If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you will probably want to know is how I ended up there. How they all did. And why, they are still there.

It started with a phone call. It always does anyway.

“Mrs O, your promotion has come through.”

Her face creased up like a wrinkled cloth; her fingers stilled over the essay she was marking. She looked around the crowded staffroom and whispered back, “What promotion? I didn’t apply.”

In the Public Education sector, it is a well kept secret that an unsolicited promotion is a wrapped up transfer with a bow on top. Mrs O had been at her current station for years. She had built a life around it. Why were they moving her? And to where? It did not take long to find out.

“You will report to Bisil. There is a Secondary school there. In the hills of Maparasha. They are in need of someone like you. Come by and pick your letter.” And that was that.

A culmination of misery swept over her. She looked at the essay paper and saw she had doodled on it as if she had had a seizure while marking the paper. What did they mean, ‘Someone like you?’

She wanted to call back and say, “Whatever you think I am, you are wrong.” But once the letter is out and signed, the gavel has hit the table. There can be no reverse gear. This is how she ended up there. If I tell you about her transition and her journey to the school, you will see it how she saw it. I would rather tell you how I saw it when I decided to go visit her.

Whenever I mentioned to anyone that I was planning a trip to Bisil they asked, “Where is that?” Which could mean one of two things. Either I hang around a bunch of ignorant folk or Maparasha — which is in Bisil — lies just about where the sky meets the earth. I would say the latter.

Don’t let the nicely buttered tarmac fool you. When you get to Bisil town, there is a turn to your left. If you are not keen, you will miss it — like we did. When we finally got back on track we turned onto a road so rugged, you can’t travel on it with a full bladder.

The further we rattled on, the more it felt like we were going deeper into another world. In this world, half clothed children ran alongside the car, their faces decorated with innocence and glee. The colour of the grass slowly changed from green to brown to nothing. By the time we arrived at the school gates, after several wrong turns, our faces were caked in dust.

It is one thing to say, “I am Kenyan. Of course I have seen a Maasai.” But what most people mean is they have seen people masquerading as Maasai in restaurants and cultural activities, imitating their dress and dance. I used to be those people.

Now I can say, I have truly seen a Maasai. The original type.

The first one was the guard at the school. A tall, wooden gentleman dressed in an off shoulder maasai shuka. He held a sizeable rungu in his hand as he came to take inventory of who we were.

Once we were in the school compound, Mrs O came to welcome us and the first thing I asked her was, “Is that the school Watchman?”

“Yes.” She laughed.

“Where is his uniform?”

“We give them but they prefer not to wear it.”

I stood beside the car and did a quick sweep of the environment. The school stood solitary in the middle of nowhere. Some of the buildings looked bruised with a few lacerated windows here and there but it generally looked ok. Up above, the sky looked like a stretched out blue sheet with the bright sun stitched on it. No cloud in sight.

“Welcome, welcome,” she said as she ushered us to the room she had just walked out of. The room struggled to let light in. It had a few desks pushed to a corner because a young girl was cleaning up the floor. “This is our staff room.”

There were books everywhere. Some clothed the desks, others were pouring out of shelves. One wall was half painted as if the painter had started his work and then changed his mind half way. I tried to imagine how the teachers fit in there to mark assignments or take a cup of tea because it felt like my skin was melting off my bones.

She had a word or two with the girl and then took us to the next room, which was separated from the staff room by a cardboard partition.

“And this,” she opened her arms, “this is where the Principal and I sit.”

There were two desks seated at right angles to each other leaving just enough room for a person to pass through and stacks of books rising from the floor. She was used to it I could tell, yet she had the look of a host with special guests.

They had prepared lunch for us and it had been placed neatly on her desk. “Let’s eat first then we can do other things.”

My husband’s eyes roamed around the room; taking in the sights I guess.

“How many students do you have?” He spoke for the first time.

“Well.. we had 163, now they are 145 because we are phasing out the girls.”

“Why?”

“The school was reregistered as a boys school because the ratio of boys to girls was high. The girls started to complain that the boys ‘disturbed’ them and spent time chasing them around. Then covid happened and when schools resumed most did not come back. We had 48 girls, now they are just nine.”

I couldn’t begin to imagine what it felt like being in that environment.

“How do they perform?” I asked as I turned a piece of meat between my teeth.

“They have improved!” Her voice rose an octave, “they moved from 2.51 points last year to 3.09 points.”

“Wow,” we both sang in unison. And to put things in perspective I asked, “What is the average score/point for other schools?”

She shifted slightly in her seat, “Eight.”

“Aha,” the husband said, his eyes turned upward as if he was calculating the difference between three and eight.

“But you know these kids are disadvantaged in many ways,” Mrs O broke through the silence. “When I first got here, this place was a hot mess. Lessons were erratic because the students spent most afternoons fetching water or firewood. See there?” she pointed to the distant hills behind us, “the students had to go there to get water for the school.”

By now we were done eating and she offered us a tour. We followed her out into the parade spot which was flanked by two long blocks of classes.

“So to ensure the students remained in class we lobbied and soon Athi Water came to our rescue and dug a borehole,” she continued. “Now they don’t have to leave the school to fetch water.”

We walked past the classes to the kitchen. “We didn’t have a kitchen either. This is new.” It was a makeshift structure that belched out smoke from every corner. The school cook came out to greet us. Another lady in a maasai shuka.

“That there is where the nine girls sleep. Their dorm.” She pointed to a long lonely mabati structure that had a few pink pieces of cloth hanging from the windows.

“It must be hard. Being only nine with over a hundred boys.” I say to her.

“It is. Especially at night after prep. The girls have to run to their dorms or be escorted back because if lights out catch them outside..” Her voice trailed off then she continued, “We would like to be there for them throughout but there are no staff quarters. All of us are forced to live far away from the school.”

We walked together in silence.

“And right here,” she said proudly, “is the school farm. Previously it was a bush. But the headteacher and I figured we could use it to grow our own food and cut down on expenditure.”

She walked us through the one acre garden which boasted a variety of vegetables.

“You have done a lot here. Your team. It’s inspiring.” I said.

“It has not been without it’s challenges. When I first came here, I looked at this place the same way you are looking at it now.” Clearly our poker game face was down.

“It can be depressing, this place. The weather is static. It gets really lonely. Coupled with the fact that there is absolutely nothing else to do other than teach.”

So the teaching staff banded together and decided to make the best of their time there. “All of us who were sent here tried to leave at some point or other. Some managed. But when you spend so much time looking to leave you forget to use what you have in your hand to help these kids.”

I sighed.

“You know, you should talk to them now that you are here. Some of their stories will shock you.”

So I did.


Read the next story in the series here:






 


This is the introduction to a series I have called ‘The girls of Maparasha’ where I spoke to a few girls and the head boy in that school.


Currently, there is now a drive to transfer the girls to an only girls school.


Of the nine girls, FOUR are in form 4 and will sit their final exam in March.


The other FIVE are in Form two and cannot continue to stay in the school under the same circumstances. However their parents are not well off and can barely afford the fees. The girls are also afraid that if they drop out they will be married off.


There is a neighbouring girls school that they can be transferred to.


The fees for one girl, plus uniform and shopping for a year is 50k.


My aim is to raise fees for two years ie form 3 and form 4. That means 100k times 5 girls.


Help me help a girl in need


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6 Comments


Winnie Shie
Winnie Shie
Sep 30, 2021

Lovely. Waiting for the series

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MedRoom Eyes
MedRoom Eyes
Sep 30, 2021
Replying to

It started read the story about violet

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patricia.oketch
patricia.oketch
Sep 24, 2021

My heart sank. I cannot to imagine be the physical and psychological trauma that Mrs O and the other teachers went through. (This is Kenya.) Better still the story reads like we are in different nations. Thanks for sharing

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Agnes Akinyi
Agnes Akinyi
Sep 24, 2021

Nice introduction. Heading to part 2 right away.

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Ruth Masha
Ruth Masha
Sep 22, 2021

Finally, someone is back.

Looking forward to more of this

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Welcome back. Waiting eagerly for this series to unfold👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽

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