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BY: Juma Hemedi

Of all the teachers and headmasters to have walked the earth this side of the Sahara and neighboring Chania river in our primary school days, Mr Jamlick Kabuka was the one with the most impact on our Ghetto lives. He was the only one who was never intimidated by our "ghettoness" or the "high gangster index" of the Majengo, Starehe, and Kiandutu parents and residents.

Now if you don't know who Mr Kabuka was or is let me take you through the journey of my primary school. The school is sandwiched between U-shop and borders what used to be "Maendeleo" bar (whoever named this bar should be arrested for misuse of a good name). The other side is the Thika mosque. It borders Thika Primary and St. Patricks. The three schools were surrounded by chang'aa dens, bars, and estates that were unforgiving.

Our journey with Mr. Kabuka began when I was in class five, in a school that had no 'serious official uniform' any thing was okay as long as you didn't come naked to school. Shoes were optional as our parents would always argue whether we will eat or wear shoes. So we would wear "ngoome" (shoes made from worn out tyres) these shoes were made by none other than "Nyoka" (a cobbler whose real name I have never known to date, and who still repairs shoes to date opposite my former primary school)

Nyoka was the guy who would draw your foot on a piece of paper or carton to get your foot size and would get into the designing of the "ngoome" shoe like an architect would. Nyoka was the surveyor, mapping guy, designer, engineer and interior decorator. At times he would just look at your foot and decide which size would fit you. The shoes didn't have numbers on them. You just had to try all. If it didn't fit, Nyoka would pull out some shoe hammer and some pliers and screw driver. With these tools you would mistake Nyoka for a mechanic but this guy was the best "ngoome" maker in Jamhuri market.

Nyokas' shop was located near tobacco sellers (mbake") and something some old men used to smoke called "njiiri" (this was the rejected tobacco leaves that would be left after making all types of cigarettes including 'Roster') . So waiting for Nyoka to finish making your shoe or take your size was an exercise that tested your resilience in withstanding sneezing or how many times you would sneeze because of the tobacco ("mbaki").

But Nyoka continued with his work oblivious of the smell it was almost like he was immune to it. He would occasionally let out a luo religious hymm and one could not help but look at his white "Israeli cap" on his head with a long red cross. Nyoka would measure the raw materials of making the shoe the way a bomb maker would ensure all ingredients balance or else he ends up blowing himself into the next world. So he didn't want to be disturbed. Then he would get into his work as if he was about to discover the cure for Mumps "muungai".

Anyway Mr. Kabuka was transferred from Mugumoini Primary School to Thika Muslim Primary School, a school that had entrances and exits everywhere. You could come from your house on the other side of Majengo estate and cut across the playing field into the corridors of class six, staffroom and into the jamhuri market to buy "ngarango" and avocados in Jamhuri Market then use the same route back home.

So Mr Kabuka decided to close some of the many exits of the school and only maintained two, one for the students and the other one for the teachers near the staffroom. When the trespassers couldn't access their route, it was like they were denied their fundamental human right of movement. They came complaining that their access route has been blocked but the Headmaster was not moved.

So when the following day he banned the students from shouting "luuuuuunnch" when the bell for lunch rang, we decided not to comply and said "atajua hajui". We didn't know that day he would stand at our classroom door a few minutes before the bell rang. As usual we shouted "Luuunch!". Before the first person could get out he was in our class carrying all manner of torture paraphernalia. I can't remember which part of the body was not hurting that day from our behind, to the hands to the thighs, to the feet. As we received a beating of come and see. He decided to make us an example to the whole school.

But it was his decision to say that all of us had to wear "proper school uniform" plus proper school leather shoes and socks, that made our ghettos parents protest. They gathered outside his office their children in tow. And when the headmaster came riding his bicycle they waited until he had packed it and then like some uncoordinated choir started to talk. The headmaster pretended that he didn't even notice them as he opened his office and settled in his chair. We knew that today was the day for him to "lijua jiji".

A crowd of parents had now pushed their way into the office and were still speaking in an uncoordinated manner and saying that shoes are not a priority to deny their children access to classroom, we were silently celebrating as for the first time our parents were on our side and not the ones beating us. They were still talking when the headmaster stood up and made his way out through the angry parents. He looked at the one who made the most noise and handed him his bunch of keys. And told him if he wanted to run the school without discipline he can go ahead and become the headmaster. He took his bicycle and cycled out.

There was a deafening silence from the gang of parents who a few minutes earlier had made a lot of commotion. The shock on the one who was given the keys was more that his silence. As he didn't know what to do with the keys.

One by one the parents took their children to the nearby shops to get their children "proper school uniforms" including shoes and socks. It was the first day so many of us were getting to wear closed leather shoes and socks.

Mr. Kabuka had pulled a "Gangster" surprise to the Ghetto people.

Juma Hemedi

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