No One Associates With Witches by Celestine
“I hid from class and missed school most of each week. This was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.”
My name is Celestine Angote. I was born on the 12th of January, 1999 in Kakamega county of Western Kenya. When my father was 22 years old he built a hut and married his girlfriend (my mother). He was in a hurry to marry her before somebody else took her. He neither had a job nor a plan for their future. My grandparents did not bother to advise or help him. I think he should have look for a job first and tried to save some money. He had been a promising student who passed grade 8 exams very well. Though he qualified for a National school, he only ended up in a lowly day school because my grandfather could not afford that kind of school. My father was very disappointed, and I think he kind of just gave up on life and decided to go along with whatever came up.
The young man had nothing but courage to start a new family and the responsibilities of parenthood. Nobody took them seriously or expected it to go far.
I joined Standard One at the age of 6. The teachers in rural schools at that time were very harsh to pupils. It was hard for me to get along with them. I hid from class and missed school most of each week. This was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. I got into worse trouble with my mother. She wouldn’t understand my predicament.
She browsed my books every day. She realized that I had skipped classes. She whipped me and reported it to my teacher who forced me to stay in class and face the music like the other pupils. However, by the end of the year, and to everyone’s surprise, I was the first in my class. This changed the teacher’s attitude towards me. Mrs. Ejicka began to understand me and treated me kindly. I, in turn, began to trust her and listened carefully to all the help she gave me.
“After this, I realized that teachers can be friends. That in rural Kenya was great news to children.”
On seeing that I was the teacher’s favorite, the other pupils hated me for it. The older ones bullied me and threatened me. They stole my books and pencils. One day I found my entire bag missing! I couldn’t go home to face my mother without my books, pencils and rubber. But this time I was 8 years old and in Standard Three. One girl told me whom she saw taking it. Instead of reporting to my teacher (she had already gone home), I decided to get my bag by myself. The problem is I didn’t talk. I just grabbed the suspect’s bag and fled with it home. He chased after me all the way home where my mother watched in amazement.
My assailant changed his course when he saw the look on my mother’s face. Her hand was always quick with the cane. That night the cane did the talking while I did the howling. The next day she accompanied me to school where, to my surprise, Mrs. Ejicka smiled and produced my bag explaining that it had been found on the roof of one of the toilets. She listened to my story and didn’t punish me at all.
After this, I realized that teachers can be friends. That in rural Kenya was great news to children. Thank God these days law prohibits corporal punishment.
“Eventually I got hungry at the unfairness of it and picked up a rock the size of a tennis ball…”
School life became better and more so my grades. But my relationship with my peers did not go the same way. When I was in Standard Four, about 9 years old, I found two boys of my age beating a Standard Two boy. The younger boy was helplessly begging them to forgive him. I was torn between helping him and minding my own business. Eventually I got hungry at the unfairness of it and picked up a rock the size of a tennis ball.
I caught one of the boys on the back of his head, and he screamed in pain. The other bolted and disappeared from the scene. That left me and the small boy to explain our injured school mate. However, we didn’t wait around to do any explaining. We went our ways without looking back. That evening, I was feeling guilty and shook with fear so much that I couldn’t eat my supper at all. My parents thought I was ill and brought me some aspirin.
Strangely, the story never surfaced. Our injured friend showed up in school the next day and he was alright. I almost went to him to apologize, but considering the rough character he was, I kept to myself.
“I was too terrified to scream, or maybe my mouth filled with water. The current caught on, and I was on my way…”
One afternoon, my friends and I went to graze my grandfather’s cows near a fast-flowing stream. At first we played football until it was too hot for us to go on. You can guess our next action would be swimming. I didn’t know how to swim at all. I just stood beside the river and watched with envy as the rascals had great fun in the river. When it became too much for me, I started to beg them to teach me how to swim. I had to overcome my fear of water just to jump in legs first. However, one of my friends was too playful, and he pushed me into the water. I landed in the water with a great splash. I was too terrified to scream, or maybe my mouth filled with water. The current caught on, and I was on my way in seconds. A more sensible boy wasn’t taking chances with me. I felt his strong arms pull me up. I was soon out of the water and receiving “first aid.”
My father learnt about it several days later. He became very angry, but as it was an old story, he only barked warnings against dangerous friends. I couldn’t really avoid my friends because we had to do fun things together. After all, children must play. A few days after the drowning act, we were back there – this time fishing. We caught some mudfish and crabs. I can’t remember what my friends did with theirs. Probably roast and ate them at home. But I kept mine alive. Two mudfish and one crab. I put them in a can of water.
“She screamed her lungs out and ran around like she really had gone crazy. You know girls…”
I carried my creatures to school and put them in a corner. At break time, something unfortunate happened. One girl, while playing with her friends stepped on my can, spilling its contents. The crab clamped tightly onto her leg. She screamed her lungs out and ran around like she really had gone crazy. You know girls – soon all of them did the same. In the stampede that followed, someone fell down as the others escaped over her back. She got injured in the process. Teacher spilled out of the staffroom and how amazed they were to see what was happening!
To cut a long story short, I was held responsible for all the mess. I received numerous strokes of the cane mercilessly. My father added a few more and that supposedly settled the matter. Two or three days later someone cried, “A snake! A snake!” and all hell broke loose once more. This time, no one was hurt but though no snake was found, a new problem arose for me. Rumor had it that I had the snake and I used it for witchcraft – No wonder I passed the exams! They alleged that I used magic to pass exams. It was not fair to me at all! So then I was left without friends. No one associates with witches.
“The man, by mistake, directed him to Hamomi… I had to work harder to be in first position.”
Later in the evening when I went home, I explained to my father. I told him I was not happy. To my surprised, Father listened quietly and then declared that he had understood everything. You see, he was proud of my number one performance. My younger sister followed in my footsteps and she too became top 5 in every term. Father was very proud of his two children. It hurt him to see me insulted for not good reason. He felt like he had become nobody in the village. He wanted to do something to get some respect. Right on time, his friend, who was a guard in Nairobi, promised to help him also find a guarding job. Father was very happy and was soon not to be seen in the village. A few months later we were in Nairobi too. Father’s biggest headache was to find us a school. There were only 2 public schools in Kangemi slums and they were full. We needed a private or a non-formal school, one that Father could afford.
Since Father was new in Nairobi, he did not know which way to start. He went round looking at all schools and comparing their charges. He was not able to choose any of them. Then he was given a map to a public school across a valley. He got lost and asked someone on the road for the way. The man, by mistake, directed him to Hamomi. That was in 2008. I joined grade 3. I made many friends in a short time. The children in Nairobi are cleverer than in rural villages. I had to work harder to be in first position.