My twice-weekly early-morning run is now 8km as measured by the tachometer in the College’s pickup-truck. As I ran out this morning, the mist lay heavy on the fields like lazy eiderdown. The air smelled of smoke and I heard chanting, even though it was still 6:25am.
At the junction with Komarock road (where the boda-boda crashed) I could see smoke rising from Tala High School, a boys school also established by the Catholic dioces. And that’s where the chanting was coming from. I remembered the story Sister Pauline told me on our first trip to Machakos, as we passed a certain school, she explained that that school had been burned down by students and many had died. Arson attacks on schools have been a problem in Kenya lately, a few schools have been burned down. Just this week the lady who runs our cybercafe had been reading in the newspaper that her old highschool, in another part of Kenya, had been raised to the ground by students who, the article said, were frightened by their upcoming mock exams. I reflected upon the fact that exams are getting close and looked at the plume of smoke above Tala High.
Chimney smoke, I hoped, from a badly prepared breakfast. My run continued, and so did the distant chanting.
As I passed the school I noticed a landrover parked nearby and a saloon car of some sort speeding away. It looked fishy. I see the school at that time twice a week and I’ve never seent that much activity there. I ran on.
A group of tiny kids dressed in tan uniforms ran with me as far as their school, Ngluni Township Primary School, where I turn round in a big slow arc and begin jogging back toward Tala. As I approached Taka High again there were groups of boys walking by the road. I stopped and greeted the biggest group.
“Good morning to you”.
“When I passed this way before I heard a lot of shouting from your school”, I pointed in the direction of the smokey rooftops behind the acacias. “What was happening?”
“It’s a strike”, “We are on strike”, they said.
“A strike!? Why?”
“The new deputy principal”
“What about him?”
“He’s too strict”
“He introduced a lot of rules that are too strict”
“Give me an example of such a rule”
“If you roll your sleves”, said one of them, holding his bare forearm aloft for emphasis, “you get suspension!” he said.
“For two weeks!” added his colleague. They continued:
“Standing in class”, said one, “Suspension!” concluded another.
“Anything”, cried a third, “he’s too strict!”
I imagined them with their slevels rolled down in the heat of the day and said “Power to you!” and ran on my way.
As I passed the school there were lots of boys leaving. Lots! There are over a thousand boys at the school, the road to Tala market was lined with them. They were carrying towels and plastic bags. I turned off on to the maram road back to college. On the way the children from the primary school next to college, in their bright red, yellow and blue uniforms, ran with me all the way to my gate, which was locked!
There was a padlock and chain on the gate through which I had left for my run three quarters of an hour, or so, earlier. I walked, sweating, back through a crowd of silently astonished red, yellow and blue. There is another gate to the college compound, next to the dining hall. That was also locked. I rattled the chains, like the ghost of Christmas past. Some of the ladies were preparing for breakfast and one went to fetch a key and let me in. As I walked past the hostels the matron called me from her window.
“You were locked out?”
“Yes, don’t you want me any more?”
“We locked those gates in case the bos came in from Tala High School”
“Oh! You know they have gone on strike?”
“Yes, we heard them and the Sister told me to lock the gates. I have seen them from the end of the road, they were shouting, and stopping vehicles.”
“Do you think they would come here?”
“You know, boys are stubborn”, she replied, “they have burned the store and the offices”.
So that smoke I’d seen had not been burnt ugi.
When I came to work this morning Sister appeared at the door to the admin block:
“I’ve been to Tala High School”, she said, “the damage they have done there can’t be repaied in a year! They have burned the school and the deputy principal’s home, and broken all the windows of the classrooms.”
I just gave an astonished look.
“It started at 3am”, she continued, “but they were insighted by some of the staff”.
Apparently there had been some sort of problem with the old deputy principal and he had been removed. Sister said they ought to have removed all the staff who were involved in that problem because they would bear grudges and take sides when the new man arrived. I don’t know what has really happened there, what is really behind it, but it looks like term’s over at Tala High; school’s out indeed.