When I was 11-and-a-half I fancied a boy. I remember exactly why. He was the only one with a book bag that was graffitied. I did not know then that I was attracted to things creative, but there it was, Boy X and his green canvas backpack.
On it were the letters IBEACO, huge blocks of letters sketched out with a red border and completely coloured in with blue ink. The longsuffering intensity it must have taken to use ballpoint biro pens. I was so impressed by the owner of that creative intensity that I experienced my first crush.
It meant nothing to me that Boy X was impressed by the history lesson Mrs. (I forget her name) had taught us-- about the British company that had owned a chunk of land they would later call Kenya. The company's name was Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEACo).
Mrs. (I still don't remember her name), would always say "AibeakoOo" with such authoritative inflection that Boy X took it upon himself to immortalize it on his school bag. She also taught us about Tanzania and Kenya struggles for independence. But there was nothing impressive there because we were taught the word "maumau" was synonymous with hairstyles only worn by what my Dawida people call "weke mwabangi".
Mrs. (I'll never remember her name) also liked saying "Tippu Tip", that Arab guy who I thought was the only person who bought and sold all the slaves. The teacher either left out the lesson on American and British slavers because the book ran out of pages to publish more history or our syllabus only covered East Africa where Arabs controlled that trade.
In any case, the effect was that throughout my life until I got to college the image of the slaver in my mind was an Arab guy dressed like a Mukorino. I can attest that I saw many a high school play on stage that depicted the slaver as this Arab character. I wasn't the only one with funny heroes and villains in my head.
Sir Henry Morton Stanley was our discoverer without whom we would never exist, and Dr. Livingstone-I-presume was the bringer of our sin-cleanser without whom we would all burn in hell. Susi and Chuma were his good slaves for whom we thanked God.
These characters loomed large in our minds, perhaps the reason we idolized the West. Boy X's pride in his IBEACO graffiti had to have a foundation. No city kid in their right colonized little minds would sketch Mau Mau or Maji Maji on their book bag. What would their civilized parents say? "Unavuta nini siku hizi, eh?!"
Third term came around, and Mrs. (I surrender the struggle for memory of her name) took us on a trip to Parliament buildings in Nairobi for Civics class. We sat on those mheshimiwa seats and I swung my little legs above the ground as she told us that government had three arms like an Ogre. Completing my final year of primary schooling in that city school afforded me this rare experiential learning.
But I still did not have the first clue how to make friends with city kids who wore wrist watches and stuck out their elbow with sophistication to look at the time. Boy X never got to know that for a whole school term I had a crush on him and his book bag.
|South African school kids. Credit: Masterfile (Royalty-Free Div.)|