Secondary School selections 2018 are out. Now, every student knows where they will be spending the next four years of their academic life. Watching the news and listening to the reactions from parents, guardians and students alike; I cannot help but go back more than a decade ago when I received this one very dreadful hand written letter from my concerned friend Monicah. (And yes we are those fellows who still believe in old fashioned hand written, handcrafted everything even though we currently live in the .com , we still wrote and still can write each other looong letters with our siblings being our post office and post persons. Then just in-case you are wondering, our envelopes had some of the best artistically written addresses I’ve known among our colleagues. I still have them saved somewhere).
It was between December 2007 and January 2008 . Kenya was going through one of the roughest times in our electoral history and we had just finished our primary national exams. Results were out. My parents had sent the text several times and it took nearly 24 hours to get feedback and yes I was a bundle of nerves. Come morning the results were in dad’s phone and they gave it to me but first my parents made it clear they were proud of me either way. They had seen my honest effort, they knew I wasn’t playing in school, never called in for discipline cases. If anything I was good at disappearing in any large crowd. I will not speak up, I won’t be caught fighting for anyone if you wanted to chat me up great if you didn’t want good. More time for me to figure my life out that is, if there’s anything to. You don’t hear her but you know she’s there and yes don’t cross her the wrong way. That was me through school.
I was focused on making that target mark. The one that all teachers and the education ministry raves about. The one that opens world of opportunities for you because apparently in my country if you made it to certain schools your life has been made. It’s an upward life thereon. And if you did not make it the national or provincial schools, then you are doomed for life and will amount to nothing. It’s a terrible gospel that’s being propagated by parents and teachers alike. At that time it was hammered in by how the ministry and the media announced and made such hype of the results from those schools. Therefore it was every students’ dream to be there.
You can probably guess already I did not make it to those schools. None! Zero! Not to any from my list and I was devastated, depressed for two years after that, I was angry, feeling betrayed, I closed in far more than I usually am. All that was left was sail through school and just be over and done with it. I couldn’t wait to be out not because of an assumed ‘freedom after high school’ but because my environment felt like torture and so much more. So, the letter I received from Monicah my friend told me her mom had gone to check which school she was called to and also checked for mine. She found out they had I think sent her to a boys school which was an error and I was sent to this one school that …wow let’s not even go there. She tried to intervene for me but the ministry refused. And my friend was feeling devastated on my behalf. I remember it was around 6:30 pm when I received that letter from my postman a.k.a brother the lights had just gone out and I’m sitting on the bed thinking I should fix my net now.
For the first time in my life I tore open her letter little did I know its content was going to tear my heart the same way and scar me for life worse than that envelope. I broke down wrenched my heart out to God. God how? First, I miss my target mark. Second, I miss all my schools of choice and of all schools in the country it had to be this? I mean, it was this gift I wanted to give my parents and I had felt like God owed me something at the time. I was to report at the end of January. Weeks after that I cried when I heard the name of the school, I wept when I thought about it. I remember my dad telling my mom ‘ talk to our girl at this rate we might end up admitting her to hospital. This is not the end of life’.
As is custom when you are done with a school you have to go and get clearance from what is then your former school. I walked to my senior teacher’s office, talked to my former class teacher and also visited the principal of my new school to become and I accused them with so much pain and anger for plotting to mess my life. They said no it was the computer that does random selection. I said no. Computers are controlled by human beings so you guys plotted this whole thing! Aren’t you tired of having me here? Because there were times I felt like I was under a microscope being observed by everyone including my classmates. E.g. what’s her breaking point? Why is she so different? I was a paradox of sorts and so they wanted to keep watching me. Actually once in high school one of my former primary school teachers called me in to ask If I had a boyfriend that’s distracting me from doing better in her class or participating and I was this close to lashing out at her. But left the words to swirl in my head. Like how dare she? And you said you weren’t monitoring me? Look at me! Do I look like a face that’s ready or willing to entertain any guy? I pressed my lips together took my book and said no thank you. I nearly said no but if I did you would know. If there’s anything I have is an agreement with the principal to ship me out of here in the next term. Looking back I think that was crazy but hey! A girl gotta fight for her dreams. Interestingly several years some of my classmates admitted this very fact and we laugh about it all the time.
Imagine this 13 year old girl who matches to her principal to be and accuses her of plotting to mess her life even before she gains an official admission to the school. As grace and patience would have it for me the lady was calm and collected. Mrs. Okumbe was just the winner. Wherever she is bless her heart she made life more acceptable for me. Sat me down and was very gentle. She said you know God loves you either way. With the political situation in our country now my dear it’s safe for you to be closest home. I said but if God brought me this far why won’t He protect me in those schools? I’m his daughter right?
She finished with all things work together for good and I will make sure I personally buy your uniform just to be sure you will be here when you are supposed to and I will make sure you get a transfer when things calm down but you must promise to work hard at stay at the top. Work hard I did. And for the next four years I was working hard to exit the school. Never competing with anyone but myself.
Up until my third year, all I wanted was an out such that when I started get recommended and literally forced into senior student leadership positions in the school it made me really angry and I felt as though those were bribes and extra plots to make me stay and I still made it clear I. Was. Not. Staying. My first interview into school captain-ship was one word – hilarious. Story for another day. My first day to school with my mom was another story all together. Four years after my first encounter with my first principal she did send me a greeting card and success for my oncoming national exams. I had to smile and made sure I thanked her. At the time, she had already left the school to be a university lecturer.
I happened not to be the only one in that dilemma. I met some of my old classmates there some joined later. First walk into class and I thought. Wow! Your computers accidentally fixed me here and for good measure you brought some of my old classmates. Interesting! Everything I said when asked to speak in class during that first month left people wondering who is this girl? But as weeks went on I could tell even though they did not speak it my classmates were equally fighting similar battles they all just expressed it in different ways. Some were called elsewhere but they could not got because their names did not ‘suite’ those regions, or simply the environment was hostile. My penpal friend’s school was even crazier. The students would literally only make friends with and sit in groups of people who spoke similar dialects for their mother tongue or ‘their people’ were political allies.
Later, I would be doing my usual visits to my former high school and many others mentoring, teaching life skills and just being part of the life of the many girls I came to look at as family along the way. I’m sitting in the staff-room with one of my former teachers and she tells me how happy and proud of me she is that despite the name confusion and drama I went through accessing results to my final exams among other things, I still did something with myself while waiting. I told her Ms. Mwangi , you know this wasn’t in any of my choices. I did not like being here but I came anyway because I love learning but everyday I came because I was counting my days out. She turned and said what? ( in staccato like she often spoke) ‘’I – would – not – believe – it! If you had not mentioned it. Where did you want to go? I mean?! Look at you doing all these things, you’ve flown to where most of us teachers and some of your classmates have never been’’. I said yes but it’s the truth. Then she asked quietly. ‘’Do you think if you went to those schools of your choice you would be here being the you that I know’’? I shrugged.
So, here’s to everyone who does not get their first choice or maybe your assumed dreams seemed to have been snatched from you. Soldier on. Make the best of life. Compete with none. Trust the process. Trust God. It might seem bleak sometimes but something will come out of it. Be you remain as authentic as you can be. Sometimes, rejection is a re-direction. Other times, you are rejected because they cannot afford you. Those who got sent to schools that they did not choose or marks and grades that they feel they did not deserve, school and life is what you make it. It’s not about the school and there’s no guarantee anywhere. Out here unless you say I went to xyz no one knows, no one cares. What you do with what you got is what we look at.