It was noon, the sun was extra bright and bitingly hot that which makes a European turn pink, the wind was strong like it could lift a crawling baby. Seated next to me was my eldest brother Richard, on my right was my mother freshly widowed and opposite where I sat was Moses a brother I followed not only in birth but most of the ways of growing adolescent boys. Rays of sun light passed through gaps of the main door to the sitting room with clear images of an aging door. Then there was this puzzling silence that was reminiscent of our last family meeting after burying my Dad only for the hissing beans being fried some distance away by my eldest Sister and the aroma of the dreadful K20 beans I have eaten for a good part of my life. I could tell because a mourner had offered a sack of it during burial to support the struggling family in grieve after burial.
Richard then cleared his voice so heavy with spittle of anger and bitterness to start the meeting. I could tell I was about to be told some sad news. My mind synchronised itself really fast but could not identify the subject of bitterness but my mothers face said it all. I then realised Richard sat on my fathers seat in a manner that he always sat before addressing us as we got back to school. He then continued,
“We have called you here to discuss your studies, we all know you have passed to the University but since government only pays for 4000 students we are here to see how you can pursue your dreams”
Talking of my dreams I could not withhold a smile but this was short lived by facts about the family’s status.
He continued “all of us know of your childhood dream to be a lawyer, we also know Dad promised you he would rather walk naked than see you fail to be a lawyer because poverty has been inscribed on his back for all to see but now he is no more and we have to move on. We have discussed and agreed that due to financial constrain the nearest and affordable institutions and where our late Dad at least had friends are Unyama National Teachers College about 500km away from here or Aduku Uganda Chamber of Commerce, so that in difficult times they can be there to support. You only take two years to complete your diploma and you will be here to support Mum. For Unyama you can walk that distance and with Aduku, missing requirements can be sent easily later on. What do you have to say?”
I sat back quietly in deep thought of the time, energy and hard work I put to become a lawyer and now fate seems determined to define my destiny. In the eyes of my mind, I could see my fathers face brimming in joy looking at my end of term results and calling me learned friend suddenly I felt my heart sink deeply to the bottom of my stomach with bitterness as if I had taken local herbs in my culture for reconciliation (Mato Oput) as I cursed death and poverty that looked like twin brothers and complement each other. In a blink of an eye, I saw mums shoe had slanted and taken the shape of one suffering from polio, she had barely worn any new dress over time and she was looking older than her real age then my words came to haunt me, words said decades ago to my teacher of English Edward and it was much more audible in my mind in the silence;
Edward had a canvas shoe he loved so much, little did I know that it was not love for the shoe but poverty dictating terms to my teacher whom we referred to as “Master”, he had visited the cobbler so many times and the shoe had taken a different shape and now looking like Mums and his I nicknamed it helicopter and it became his name to which he got to know and now it looks like he cursed me to the same profession where helicopters were fashionable and stylish.
Again, my memory flashed on the day I told our new young and beautiful teacher who taught Divinity and the topic was CHOICES OF MARRIAGE PARTNERS and with intent to pull her legs I raised up my hands and the sad words came out of my mouth;
Marry a teacher for she can not ask for what she can not get and this sent the whole class laughing and in anger she left the class. Now I am to face the same students who are as wild as I was or even worse.
In tears, I declared I would not take any of that and can not go for anything less than Law at the University, I told them our literature discussion group all made it and will go for Bachelor of Law I just can’t take anything less, above all a diploma in education is what not even in my life’s worst nightmares did it ever future in my dreams and now all you are saying looks like am having a bad night mare at noon.
Mum then chipped in, “My son, I am a widow left with equal number of my children as dependants from the extended family what do you want me to do? I have lived to see the poverty in this house from the time my breast had never suckled to now that my long beautiful hair that attracted your father has turned grey and I never turned back but now I feel weak and unable please understand our situation” with tears dropping down her cheek as she continued, “We can not send these dependants away for you to study because the little education your father had and made him meet me was sponsored by the extended family. You can still attain a diploma in education then personally pursue Law, what matters is not when you get there but how you get there. Your dream of being a lawyer was not only your dream but my dream as well. It will cost us five times more to study Law than to study education more so for five years, it’s a dream we are not blessed to have.”Dead silence ensured as Moses looked at me lost of what to say.
Moses in a slightly tough and authoritative voice then called me with my sir name “Aliker, the culture of death in our clan is that its abrupt and painful because it comes with responsibility and it never leaves one the same, it brings change, as you can see there is nothing we can do, as elderly boys to our remaining brothers, sister and step children you carry the responsibility like all of us here to make sure we give them an appropriate future, its what society will use to judge us in the future or else we all become a laughing stock to our graves. The hope of all these children are in us, there is need for us to sacrifice until it pains and most important in this trying moment for the family we need to unite, we can only be consulted but some one has to take decisions here, so like Richard said we have discussed and agreed that you go to any of this institutions and get back to support the young ones. Is there anybody with what to say?”
I then begged them to at least send me to Makerere University for any of the courses they can afford and pay the basics; I will fend for my self.
Richard then accepted without faith that, “We will try but should we fail don’t blame any body.”
The meeting ended and lunch was ready, I was so heart broken and a hopeless feeling filled me. My mind got saturated of good and bad thoughts. I excused my self not to take lunch not even my best dish of chicken could bring back my appetite I left for the boys’ bed room and thoughts resumed its dominance of my mind as tears rolled down my cheek. Lying on my bed starring at the roof my eyes came across a very old wall picture of Mary the mother of Jesus with a bleeding heart and suddenly some words came to my mind, “many are called but few are chosen” as these words were soothing my ego another Christian sentence cropped to my mind of the early days I used to take the church reading, it says “the lord is my Shepard there is nothing I shall want.”
These biblical allusions were very consoling and made me begin to look at fate optimistically. I reflected on the children I met in the internally displaced camps who did not have what to eat even when they had appetite and here I was with what to eat but no apetite, nothing to cover their nudity or where to lay their head and get good rest. I thought about the children who were denied their childhood, born in poverty natured in poverty and destined for poverty I felt lucky I could take decisions on my own but the fate of my fathers children could be like the children am reflecting on. Then I asked my self what is my mission in life? How can I get satisfaction in life?
I then saw my self as a responsible citizen and a parent with a small well managed family, so that I have more time for the children of my community, I saw my self inspiring many young ones with life full of values and I could see the respect and dignity in life I could achieve as a teacher. Its then that I coined a philosophy to guide me in pursuing my new dream “To spend the rest of my career building young peoples careers” Sleep then made me lay peacefully with a comical smile and a short sweat dream of students crowding around me in excitement as they consulted and called me “Master” Only to be woken up for super in the evening, using some humour and wit I teased worried Mum not to spoil a teachers good sleep just because of food, and all laughed really hard and their ribs arched in pain and guess what Mum had prepared the only remaining chicken for me to make me happy again.
UNDERGRADUATE STUDENT OF EDUCATION AT MAKERERE UNIVERSITY
Mum picked her only bed sheets and half of the average amount of money needed for the university to include tution, feeding and accommodation and living allowance and handed it over to me and told me “My son try your luck You have our blessing” This was meant to be the first degree in the extended family from the Prestigious Makerere University one of Africa’s best Universities.
After staying at a family friends place for two days I realised I was not the only struggling student and poor students from north and eastern Uganda resided in a nearby place call CHIKONI a.k.a CHIKS.With a few old boys I got easily integrated in to the ghetto of the University. For some one of my background it was easy to adopt, at least my difficulties were not written on my face and with an outstanding humorous and intuitive character, I easily got integrated and related well in my new found home. Every body was needy hence cooperation was by instinct and naturally we improvised our own type of fun that attracted even the financially stable who were referred to as MY LORD
My house was under a tree with the size of an extravagantly built toilet, trenches passed right in front and when it rained it washes sewerage, dustbin wastage and all types of dirt through the trench and it was normal. Our toilet that was shared by about 30households and because other houses did not have was left ever open becoming a public toilet as survival dictated in Chikoni.When you squat to use the toilet your knee protrudes past the door hence unable to close so it faced a wall for privacy. One could not stand up straight less his head touched the rusty dirty roof. The bathroom was extra dirty with mucous from spital, soap and dirt all over the wall. So one showered bending at the posture of one on parade standing at attention and it also served as the urinal just adjacent to the toilet. There was never any duty roster to clean it but depended on who wanted to use the sanitation next and how hygienically sensitive you were.
Necessity is the mother of invention but the father of crime, when it comes to feeding, my Chikoni inmates had a number of provisions;
First was to buy meal cards of the University from children of the rich at a “go away price” since they could afford meals from descent restaurants or buy them from dubious students who were either influential or had contact with University kitchen staff or those who had stolen them. At times you had to pay the University in charge who cross checks meal cards to avoid defaulters so that he assigns you a signal to use e.g. the American thumps up sign whenever you wereto receive a meal, if there are any changes then you miss meals that day. Some times those who sold out meal cards and are influential come first when its meat and by the time you reach that number has already been served so you miss. Others paid prostitutes, sluts and extremely poor single mothers who were inhabitants of the Ghetto to make sure they prepared any palatable food for survival for months ironically this characters were so honest and reliable since it was a way of making ends meet for them and could not quit their homes so that town was easily accessible for night missions. A few friends morally lost the struggle to HIV/AIDS there and sold their souls for a plate of soup. I had great friends both in the university and the nearby Mulago paramedical which hosted the hospital and where the medical students also did their practical, at the same time the paramedical hosted different medical diploma courses like pharmacy, orthopedics and laboratory technology. The few number of students at the paramedical as a government institute enabled them to always have enough to eat so whenever I ran out of cash I had to walk for 600m to have a meal I was so often there that other students thought I was part of them so much that I had developed confidence to move alone to the dinning to have food without my friends help. One day a student walked up to me and asked me why am not campaigning for a position in the institute because I carried my self like a leader not realising it’s because of deceit that am at their school.
Leadership is a calling and its divine in nature, it’s a gift that however much you run away from, you could find yourself racing towards it. One of the most vicious instructions I came with from home was to keep absolutely away from students’ politics, because it’s expensive, demands a lot of time needed for reading and very dangerous since people also die in the process. To me it was like convincing a dog to avoid bones. But the manner in which I was warned kept me quiet in the University up to my second year until events in my department made me break the silence.
The question of corruption, greed and fear of the biting fangs of poverty amongst those who taught us was affecting mostly the children of the poor especially those residing in Chikoni,We knew best the actual value of every coin we gave the University.
When we joined the University we inherited a problem between lecturers from faculty of Arts and that of School of Education, they were rivalling to have more lessons and since they are paid by the hour they spend with private sponsored students, it was worth fighting for and above all to claim credibility in the institute while School of Education lecturers felt those in faculty of Arts were not professional teachers and can not train students to become professionals since they were not. The Dean faculty of Arts and School of Education had failed to resolve the issue and students had missed lecturers for almost two months so the student leaders decided to invite Administration for a meeting with affected students and it turned rowdy, when all were not allowed to speak, against the advice of friends who knew the potential of my speaking power and the potential of it bringing me problems, I raised my hands to be given an opportunity to speak, suddenly there was silence and surprise as the boy who had never said anything in class for two years now had ideas to solve such a complex issue. Energised by the pain of a peasant I gave a spectacular speech identifying the problem,diognising it and making prescription, by then students were already shouting at the top of their voices and I concluded by warning our leaders that if they can not solve the problem we are going to take charge. That was how the problem till today was solved.
It was from this speech that I got nominated for the president for the students’ leadership against my conscience, against my family’s will and against all odds. Students’ leadership were a very costly venture my living allowance then was less than $5, the ladies paid for my registration for the contest. After getting registered I moved back and addressed fellow course mates why I will turn down the offer to contest. I listed them as lack of funds, lack of interest, not residing in one of the halls which was a prerequisite for one to win, coming from the wrong tribe to win an election, not being able to speak the language of the area i.e. Luganda, not being known etc.It was then that I saw first hand the power of the poor mans revolution. Its then that I believed those who have less are more willing to give than those who have more for a reason. Including the lecturers whom I talked against, offered support to my surprise apart from a few who took hatred to another level like trying to clandestinely deny me my degree. For one to win an election of that level one needed funds for logistics,postors,dress code, presidential life style, and above all the looks.
Interestingly, volunteers whose names I don’t know up to now offered money, I didn’t even have a suit neither did I ever put it on one day in the University but volunteers offered suits which I accepted to borrow thou they were not classic but second hand suits(suits worn in the west then sold to Africa) turned out to be a sense of identity with the poor man’s course, a few old boys offered their parents vehicles to take me around.
I ran out of logistics yet my chances of winning were getting clearer desperately I asked for logistical support from Mum that she could offer, my mother wrote me the smallest and most painful letter of my life in which she said they missed a meal for the first time and asked me to make her proud amongst other women by attaining that degree and not even a coin was enclosed. I felt so low and had to hide from my agents for two days and my volunteers circulated information that I had been abducted by security men, only to come out of hiding and agree to the lie and concocted the abduction story, this made me so popular and won the election. Sometimes in life things move so fast that they get out of your control I regret the lie because I tried my best never to be deceitful in my campaigns and unfortunately got compromised to lie. I won because I was believed to be opposed to government who are responsible for our sorry state of education and poverty stricken life.
The elections costed millions of shillings, so much that it was more than my tuition fees in the tree years at University. As President School of Education I got a lot of priviledges, respect, allowances and opportunities for workshops that covered up nicely for my living expenses.
The quality of education also left a lot to be desired, and it was on this ticket that I wrote my manifesto, the congestion was more than an amalgamated Universal Primary Education class in the internally displaced camps, cheating of exams were ramphant,the rich bought exam from the secretaries and copy typist while the poor looked for the answers, thigh power was the most certain way of passing exams to female students, deceit and deception was the order of the day and those were my responsibilities in the country’s most prestigious manufacturing unit of teachers. The question then is why would a student teacher who has never been loved show love to his students when he has no ingridience of love, how would the teachers give what they don’t have and didn’t acquire in teacher College. Where was the professionalism supposed to come from when college leaders are not ethically professional in their duties? Acholi have a saying, “the behind legs of a cow follows the front legs.”
Certainly, Uganda needs a model Teacher College that does not rely on only performance, economic status and its survival but a College more perfected in values and aspirations of its citizens, with a well redesigned College curriculum that enhances one to realise its fullest of potential and produces inspirational characters to motivate and attract its students to the profession. It’s only then that the profession will realise the dignity and respect it deserves from both parents and students. This is exactly what the early missionaries did and that’s why there is a big difference between the post office box teachers and the dot.com teachers
REALISING THE DREAM
Every teacher tends to teach in the way he was taught is a philosophy I realised during my teaching practise. I never applied for a job in an economy where unemployment was as certain as darkness followed sunlight. With a good leadership track record in high school and University, my former head teacher and friend did not hesitate to give me the job. My first day as a teacher I arrived and the teachers were for a staff meeting, excitedly and innocently I took a seat next to my former teacher, she smiled and greeted me. Then she asked “what have you come to do” and I responded “I have been given a position in the school as a teacher of Economics and Christian Religious Education “She smiled again and asked
“do you remember what you told me in class during one of my lessons” my reply was sorry I forgot, she laughed and said “marry a teacher she will not demand for what she can not get” That hit me hard and I felt it was a very unfortunate induction to the profession. I apologised to her and we continued with the meeting. Paradoxically my induction was full of discouraging remarks and experiences of those who taught me about the choice I have made to be a teacher, surprisingly for all this years they had not left despite their concerns. To them they could not tell whether their lives were an achievement or not. One sunny day, a teacher walked up to me and said “young man if you clock six years in the classroom just know its unlikely that you will leave the poverty trap” One female elderly and respectful Geography teacher in one of conversations said “the worst mistake you can make is to marry when you are still teaching, it would be certain you have gone for less”. These words stigmatised me about my second dream and the prospects of realising it.
In my first two years in what seemed to be early job excitement I was so motivated having been made the boys Administrator and a teacher in the School. The very sweet dream I had after the family meeting became a reality sooner than expected.
The headmaster was an inspiration in my teaching career, his reward system was exceptional, he was hardworking and didn’t believe in one who slept for more than six hours, he was a good orator, God loving and a parent to young teachers, very exemplary of a successful teacher. He was a well traveled and experienced man with a great family. The students love for him made them call him Daddy; he would use his humble background to inspire students about the hope for success if you worked hard and remained disciplined. He would take meals with the students to make sure staff and student fed on good meals.
Later, when prosperity and fortune came in, he turned to be the shadow of himself; he was so different from the person I met as a student and as a staff. Every time I felt like calling him Daddy my tongue felt strange in my mouth like one who wanted to confess to the lady of his life how much he loved her.(OUT OF RESPECT I WILL AVOID DISCUSSING HIS PERSONALITY SINCE THIS IS BASED ON A TRUE STORY)
As the years came to pass by I began experiencing what I had always been told. Teachers were so poor that they pretended to be busy in School to take free supper at School and reduce cost of living. Many times they asked students to help them with edibles brought by their parents to make the food tasty. Most of them were not married and complained they were too poor to marry descent women other than fellow teachers which to them was dating poverty with a daring courage; others described it as a blind man leading another blind one. In one incident the head teacher met a team of young teachers and asked us what are you talking about and no body could answer and he chipped in “young men I have given you jobs, employed more female teachers and I meet the cost of your daily meals why can’t you marry?” We all burst out laughing then one of us responded “Sir we are too poor to marry” the head teacher then added “get the problem if you don’t have a problem you don’t look for solutions” again we all burst out laughing. Now, are you surprised why a teacher’s life is like a fire extinguisher always doing away with his unending problems? What do you expect if you are mentored by one with such a philosophy, it means don’t plan, take the risk and expect to get out of it safe. Secondly it also means private investors are better off with struggling teachers because they are easy to manage and demand less. Government is on record saying we can never increase teachers salaries because it will cause inflation in the country, certainly this is lack of political will from a government that does not regard education highly its agenda, As if that was not enough government never raised the teacher ceiling for more than ten years meaning no new recruitments on teachers to get on payroll. Corruption and mismanagement has had teachers who have been dead for 10years keep on receiving salary implying there are ghost teachers receiving that money. When government was put under pressure to increase teachers’ salaries towards elections it was so minimal that it only helped to elevate them to the next tax bracket like its said in the bible to those who don’t have more will be taken away from them and to those who have more will be added unto them.
School administrators devised a time table that was too tight for progressive teachers to do other business to make ends meet. To many who had fallen out with administration their salaries were either delayed or denied. Allowances were given once a year for work done monthly hence forced saving, as if that was not enough you were not given your full due so that if you quit teaching you forego that money and the teachers were too poor to sue any one in court and sustain the cost.
One of the most depressing things in teaching was managing depression. Parents had a low opinion of teachers and despised them especially when students perform badly or get into disciplinary problems, yet when students perform well then they say the student worked hard, a teachers hard work is rarely acknowledged like the African proverb goes the monkey also sweats only that the hair on it prevents one from seeing it. So many low cost items like airtime, Small cups in the market for measuring grains and cereal were named after teachers. During courtship the most plausible reason for rejection was the profession not offering hope. One of the teachers shared with us how he was rejected after dating a university lady for 3yrs only to be told “I honestly just don’t look at my self as the wife of a classroom teacher living in the staff quarters at the inconvenience of students.” At university a friend also told me they competed with a fellow student pursuing Bachelor of Quantitative economics in convincing a lady pursuing Medicine for marriage, when he felt he was taking the day, the student of Economic opened up to the lady and said “can’t you see that by the time this guy will be riding a bicycle and sweating profusely going to class I will be working at the bank in an air conditioned room and you will be a doctor?” On these words he lost to the banker in the making.
Many times teachers have been accused of being the greatest abusers of Alcohol I don’t believe teachers drink more than others, its not so often that you find Alcoholic teachers abusing beers, its always the low cost gins or spirits that they can afford for leisure and can’t afford to address their hangover effect hence poverty and frustration determining their taste and preference and the after effect is a bad reputation, unfortunately the low cost drinks are much stronger, many refer to them as “kill me quick”
In my forth year, January 3rd 2007, as I sat in the staffroom students were still on holidays but there were teachers from all over country marking national exams in our school, I came across a an old news paper, on one page a number of celebrity characters were being interviewed of their new year plans and whether they had met their dreams last Year, none of them was a teacher and many of them had achieved a lot even those with minimal educational backgrounds. When I looked back whether there was any thing I should be proud of, I realised in four years not much of my life had changed in any case I was still waiting for a free meal from the school. When I looked out the teachers marking were moving for lunch and none looked like what I wanted to be at their age. The Church bell was sounded to imply it was mid day; it’s at this hour that I conceded defeat to my second dream. I picked a piece of paper and resigned from my teaching position. Again I felt like darkness at noon, my eyes were open but I was lost in my thoughts WAS IT RIGHT OR WRONG TO QUIT TEACHING is a question I will answer in the future.