The Msema Kweli, and the Mad Woman who Wanted A fight

Written by | Musings, Quick Reads

On a whiff of randomness the other day, I opened a facebook group for my primary school.

Karunga Primary School, tucked somewhere in Kiambu, is where I spent eight years of my life learning everything from ABCD from Mrs. Dorothy (she had that musky old-woman smell) to present and past participles from Miss. Virginia. You know what happens when you start a group like that, people start remembering, photos start appearing, the friend requests start flowing. I still have my khaki shirt hanged somewhere in my parents’ house and numerous photos of my class.
It also makes one remember small things…

The lastborn of my sisters left primary school when I was in class four and in those four years where we had to go to school together every morning, I think the number of times I got to school before the bell rang at 6.45 pale in comparison to those I had to stand in line for the whipping or to run several times around the school field (outside PE lessons, this was considered a punishment).
When she finally did leave primary school and I was left to tend to myself, I still couldn’t make it to school on time. I was a teachers’ pet though, and I was a lazy thing so looking for any alternatives to getting beaten was the order of every morning.  I sneaked into school several times through a hole in the fence. I think I should add it was Kei apple fence, complete with thorns sewn meticulously into the wire mesh by the school factotum, who was the school gardener, fence-trimmer, carpenter and mechanic, and worker extraordinare. Sneaking in was therefore a ninja affair, the kind of slow motion you see in scenes where Angelina Jolie is working the laser system. I survived that, and I survived Mr. Mwai, our science teacher who had a small stiff rubber cane he christened (the) ‘Msema-kweli’.

A cane, and the concept of pain, is supposed to be a deterrent towards the act for which one is being punished. The msema-kweli, shaped like Africa with oblong sides on the North and South (One for grip, the other for contact), did exactly that. It was a short rubber cane, as long as the grown man’s palm but not as wide (Physics comes into play here). It integrated science into your palms as heat and pain and sometimes made you aware that keeping time  and getting 70% in a test were not requests. He died several years ago, Mr. Mwai, but I am sure someone somewhere has preserved that cane he whipped generations of students with, and always fished out of his back pocket when you did something wrong (it gave us a false sense of security because he could not use anything else to beat students. That is, until he reached for his back pocket and the sense of security levitated out of the room). I also survived the female teacher who had surname like mine (her husband and my old man are distant cousins and share the same second name) who used to hide her car behind the classes so you would get to school late and think you were safe, only to run towards the class and find other unlucky culprits kneeling behind the school tank.And we fell for it, every time.
There are several anecdotes as to why our time-keeping got worse when she got to class six. It all started with a woman who, for the sake of this article, we shall christen Wamatumbi* (I know, a mouthful, it means ‘one of the eggs’). Wamatumbi was a mentally disabled woman who lived next to our school. I dated her sister later, for a day or two I think, but that’s a story for another day. My sister has always been a healthy child (read fat*) and has therefore always seemed more mature than her current age….and Wamatumbi*, if she is still alive, is a very fat woman too (women, stop cringing, as the captain of this story, I am allowed to call women ‘fat’). A heavyset woman who had a retarded look on her face, like one eye was bigger than the other, ogling at you, waiting for you to make eye contact so that the fight could start.
One day, my sister was leaving school when she met out antagonist. They did not know each other so well but I suspect that at Wamatumbi had at one time been a student at our school. Still, Wamatumbi called out my sister’s name. You know how, as a society, we like to treat the mentally or physically challenged, if we are not directly related to them, we try to walk past them as fast as possible. That is exactly what my sister was trying to do, but Wamatumbi had a better idea.
“You! Stand there we fight.” Wamatumbi shouted.
“I am sorry, I do not fight with people who are bigger than me,” my sister replied, trying to walk away as fast as possible.
“Are you calling me fat?” an increasingly agitated Wamatumbi asked.
“No, no, I was just saying you are older than me, so I can’t fight you,” My sister should, at this point, have done the clever thing and asked for a lawyer.
“Aaaaah, so you are calling me old huh? You are insulting me? I will show you….” Wamatumbi replied as she gave chase.
Now picture this, two fat women chasing each other, actually, one woman chasing two girls (My sister was walking with a cousin). You can see it, hear the screaming and thumping of legs as one person looks for a fight and two girls run as fast as they can?

As they run towards home, everybody stops to see, some sadists laughing, some pastor praying, kids getting out of the way, a story to tell.

The heaving, the thuds, as one unhealthy woman chases two unhealthy ones. It was a hilarious sight but they got away, proving that equally matched opponents can never defeat each other.

Where our antagonist lives is directly behind the fence of the school, next to one of the two access points to the main gate. This meant that we risked meeting her anytime on our way out of and headed to school. To solve this situation, our headmaster, a well-groomed man with a shining bald head who was said to do more than teach beautiful girls, allowed my sister to use a smaller gate reserved for teachers.

The gate, for it is still there, allows one to cut the distance by around 300 meters by accessing the school directly from the main road and into what used to be the school shamba instead of following the school fence all the way to the main gate. This meant that we could enter the school without using the common route, where a teacher would be standing at a vantage point with a whip every morning at 6:46, rearing to transfer the potential energy in her body into kinetic energy on a poor boy’s behind or poor girl’s hands. That’s something I can never get, to this day, why girl’s would be whipped on the hands and not on the bottom like the boys. Someone mentioned something about their sexuality but still, anatomy shows that on average, women have a greater layering on the bottom than men which would make them better equipped to handle such beatings. Anyway, those are years gone…
Still, to access this ‘special gate’ meant using the longer route to school which meant that we were late every morning. We devised ways of hiding it, there was the few times I ran to the back of the class, called out my desk mates name and handed him my bag, then pretended I was heading back to class from the washrooms. It seems wrong to call them washrooms because they were just two sets of pit latrines and three walls with a trench at the bottom.

One set of pit latrines, the one used by the girls, sank into itself during the El Nino rains of 1998. We just got to school one morning and there was no toilet, only a huge gaping hole with lots of shit and maggots (I see you cringing) where the Ladies once stood (You.See.What.I.Just.Did.There?). It meant that we now had to share the toilets, and there are stories…of happenings…

They finally built new modern toilets at the turn of the new millennium, the kind with a plastered sewer system and filled with water to break down the sewage. They are the kind that, when you are taking a dump, you can hear the distant sound of your turds or the trickle hitting the water. If it sounds disturbing, it’s because it was.
Yours truly had gotten to school late more than a few times, but on almost all accounts, I would be freed so my sister would be beaten on my behalf. I suspect the teachers knew it was her fault, all the time, but it also meant that from that time on, she had no qualms leaving me behind if I delayed by a second. To be whipped double your ‘bill’ on a cold morning for your small brother is a touch price to pay, but she used to bully me at home so I guess, debt paid?

Still, as she went to class six and her eyesight started failing, I became her second set of eyes, always keeping an eye out for Wamatumbi* and another guy who we shall call John came into the picture, albeit momentarily. The story of John is sadly funny, he approached my sister once in the thicket as she was headed home. Now, any guy who has a crush on a girl knows that the best time to make his feelings known is when and if he can find her alone. Find her with her girlfriends and you are in trouble, women tend to be cruel in groups, alone, it is easier to make known your feelings without the distraction of her hotter friends. Approach a woman alone in the thicket when darkness is falling and the situation changes, Cupid, changes into possible rape, and we have a whole different scenario.
“ How are you?” He asks, walking slowly towards the now startled girl.
“Poa sana…” she replies, trying to walk away as fast as possible.
“ Please stop, I need you, sorry, I need to talk to you, I thirst for you (his words not mine, even worse in vernacular), I have always thirsted for you…” our would-be rapist says, bowing as he does so, as if ashamed at making his cravings for this girl known.
“You know, John, its John, right? (Ouch) When we thirst we drink  Jesus (Huh, what now?), you should try it too.” This is the same girl who only went to church because it was the usual thing at home.

He increases his pace, thinking of his next line, he can’t lose her, no, not today.
“Can Jesus really satisfy my thirst for you?” He asks, desperately now.
“Yes, yes he can,” she answers as she looks back and suddenly breaks into a run.
John never bothered my sister again, not because he gave his quest but because she never used that route again. It was a cursed route because it led directly to where our earlier antagonist lives and it goes to show that life, and even fellow thickset women, have never been fair to thickset women. Luckily, unlike her, he did not chase after her which perhaps means he was either not as ‘thirsty as he thought’ or he was ‘too thirsty’ to run after love (sic!).


Last modified: February 3, 2020