Infected and Affected
by Patricia Lukamba Waliaula / go back to Third Issue
I clearly remember that day. The day when my innocent bum got a thorough beating that cost me the ability to sit for almost three days and made me dread ever going back to school. So what or who caused such animosity upon me?
The day was 23rd of March 1991 when I proudly boasted of being in Standard Five at our local school, St. Chrispins Primary School of Little Angels.
I was known to be a leader of a notorious girls’ group and as much as my parents constantly handled cases in school when summoned, they never could make me quit this unpopular group. I totally pledged allegiance to my sorority.
We called ourselves the ‘Sinasinos’ which in my local mother tongue meant ‘What is this?’ It’s a funny, rather weird name but the reason behind it was because the girls and I just loved to laugh at anything and make fun of everything.
At one time we got into trouble for laughing at a Standard One pupil, in panic of being late, accidentally arrived at school only with his underpants on! The little boy, on realizing what others were laughing at, cried uncontrollably and had to be taken back home.
At another time, we put our whole class into trouble when we smeared cow dung on the teacher’s chair, and what humor and glee it was when he stood up and gave his back to us to write on the chalkboard.
Of course the teacher did not take it lightly and subjected us to more than enough torture where he banished us to the school farm for a whole day to do some digging in preparation for the planting season.
That was punishment to me because I hated the sticky feeling of sweat and the prickly effect of the sun’s heat. My girls and I just could not help getting into trouble. It was as if trouble was our middle name.
The Sinasinos were exactly that…disaster waiting to happen. It was on a Saturday evening having just left school for our weekend tuition and extra reading, and walking in a group, we decided to pass through the market place for some communal sugarcane before heading home. When I say “we,” I without a doubt refer to “we the Sinasinos.”
We arrived at the market centre and me being the sugarcane expert, having nominated myself as one, picked up stick after stick critically scrutinizing them as if that would have any effect on the taste.
I remember coming across a slender piece of sugarcane, picked it up and began laughing like an extremely mad man.
All attention shifted to me as laughing was our group’s trademark and no one wanted to be left out. My friends gave me the ‘what is it ‘look as other market users clicked and moved away murmuring under their breadth at how bad mannered I was.
“Hey, stop the suspense,” exclaimed an already irritated Isha who was our group’s vice chair lady. “Feed us in on the joke,” she endingly retorted. I tried to compose myself but still managed to let out few stifles of laughter and grunt here and there. Finally I let it out, “Looking at this slender piece of sugarcane, whom does it remind you of?”
A moment of connection silence followed then seconded by a chant of “Mr. Mwancha!” and the third sequence of action need not be mentioned; we all burst out into uncontrollable laughter.
Seeing the stir we were causing, we quickly paid for our identified cane and hurriedly walked away from the now growing irritated stares and mumbles.
Isha picked up the 411 conversation (as we called all our juicy rib-tickler pieces) and continued it.
“Indeed Mr. Mwancha has grown very thin theses days. I thought I was the only one who had noticed! You know what? Every time he holds up a piece of chalk to write on the board, I silently under my breath say a prayer for him that the chalk’s weight does not pull him down!”(Laughter).
“Have you also noticed that his clothes have become oversize and I could swear his belt goes round his waist three times!” (Laughter and more laughter).
“Ah Isha, I can see you have been very attentive in Mr. Mwancha’s Mathematics class!”
(Actually Isha always scored the least marks in this subject. It was now dawning upon me where she really had her concentration. Nonetheless, Mr. Mwancha was the best Mathematics teacher our school and Province had ever had, and Isha’s self-defense that Mwancha was the problem could no longer stand.)
Isha being the cartoon that she was continued her retortations causing us to laugh even louder especially when she began imitating Mr. Mwancha’s walking style and his uncontrollable coughing as he took us through his subject.
One by one we parted ways as each approached their home but still recounting the parting shot of the day.
The next morning during Mr. Mwancha’s class, Isha decided to carry forward the previous day’s event into continuation. She scribbled notes and circulated them amongst the Sinasinos members who once in a while would let out muffled laughter. This activity went on until when Mr. Mwancha unexpectedly turned around from writing on the chalkboard and saw me receiving a folded note from Isha.
I froze in my seat, my bladder almost letting loose, as I lost feeling in my legs and my hands became dead stiff. Busted!
Mwancha walked up to me not losing his gaze on the folded piece of paper, snatched it from my now weakened grasp and slowly opened it amidst the watch and silence of the other pupils. Pin drop silence engulfed the atmosphere. Upon reading the little note, he did the most unexpected thing that made me realize this time round, we were in big trouble. Very big trouble. His head raised up to the heavens, he took in a big breath, slowly let it out, clenched and unclenched his fists, again looked at me , with the note in his hand, took his books and other learning materials that he had come to class with and quietly walked out.
Phew! I thought. At least that was over and done with but I could swear during the Mwancha-and-me gaze, my Mathematics teacher’s eyes from a distance glistened with tears.
“Oh well!” I consoled myself. “Am sure glad that is over”.
By now the class was very noisy with pupils having surrounded my desk wanting to know what was in that note. The bell for the next class rang and all quietly settled down as the English teacher walked in. However, just before the class ended and we were dispersed for break, the school messenger walked in, whispered into the English teacher’s ear, and I was stunned when she called out my name and requested me to follow the messenger immediately.
I found myself in the Headmaster’s office, a place I always dreaded to be. He took a look at me and retorted. “What were you thinking?” I decided to play dumb and innocent as if I did not know what he was talking about until he pulled out the folded note from his table drawer.
To cut short the long story, I ended up confessing the names of all who had partaken in the notes writing and circulating. The beatings that we got made me regret ever being the chair lady and founder of the Sinasinos group.
But the next day was an even more dramatic one. We were called impromptu to assemble at the parade grounds, and the Headmaster went ahead to announce the sudden death of Mr. Mwancha.
Wails and tears immediately followed as the Headmaster went ahead to narrate how Mwancha had died. Mr. Mwancha’s family had woken up early to find him hanging atop the kitchen fireplace, and upon raising alarm, the neighbors rushed in to the shock, as the police were immediately summoned.
Mr. Mwancha had left a suicide note that I recall went something like this:
I have lived and suffered. I have tried tolerating the ridicule, humiliation and stigmatization,
but my ego and inner man can take it no longer. Perhaps my death may be a revolution for the
future of those living with HIV/AIDS. Take care of my wife and children. Till we meet again,
bye for now.
That was when I first got to hear about HIV/AIDS. And that was also when St. Chrispins Primary School of Little Angels began to see the effects of the lack of a professional Mathematics teacher. Mr. Mwancha had been the best Mathematics teacher that the school had ever had, making Mathematics seem simpler than the ABC and making everyone believe that numbers were fun and easy to work with. His demise greatly affected the school’s and pupils’ performance.
His wife had been a fulltime housewife and could not effectively provide for their children, as they had all fully depended on Mr. Mwancha as the breadwinner.
Mwancha’s death birthed a curiosity in me that made me make more enquiries on what HIV/AIDS was.
As much as I will never forget the stinging effect of the Headmaster’s cane, I will also always remember Mr. Mwancha’s burial day: a white coffin, tears, wreaths, and more wreaths.
As the coffin was slowly lowered into the grave, his wife and orphaned children stood nearby huddled together and moaning uncontrollably. The death of her husband and children’s father heavily weighing upon her. Just this sight was so remourseful and when the priest read out of the Bible, “Dust to dust, ash to ash. Just as we were created out of dust shall we return back to the same dust…..” I looked around, and even as young as I was, my mind reconnected; the infected left others affected.
I used my grabby dirty handkerchief to wipe the now freely flowing tears and mucus on my face and hurriedly ran to join the procession that was quietly walking away from the graveside.
I turned around to give the grave a last look and whispered under my breath,” Rest in peace Mwalimu."
All that was left of a great village legend and achiever was now represented by a great mound of soil and some withering leaves and flowers that struggled to remain open in the hot afternoon sun.
Patricia Lukamba Waliaula is a 23 year old law graduate of Moi University, Kenya. Currently she is on internship with World VisionKenya and enjoys reading and writing as her part time activities.