When I was 10, with knobkerries for knees and fan like ears, I had teacher called Mr.Munderu.God rest his soul in eternal peace. There were teachers, and then there was Teacher Munderu.Note the caps in ‘Teacher’.He took to teaching with the zeal of an Old Testament prophet. If he said one and one was eleven, not even the local dreaded Chief could undo that.If he said the sun rises from the West,it would rise from the West for us 10 year olds.
As young boys travelling in the village lanes towards being men, Teacher Munderu was our constant North.
Perimeter is all the way round
One July morning he whipped all of us one hundred plus souls out into the parade square. He then made us go round the whole school block shouting ‘perimeter ni muthiururuko!’Perimeter is going all the way round. Any child who lagged behind had this mantra hammered into his or her thick head with his well-worn cane. By lunch hour we were still going round the block shouting hungrily ‘perimeter ni muthiururoko!’ It’s only when the area Education Officer’s Enduro motorbike roared into the parade square and Teacher .Munderu disappeared into the staff room that we crawled back to class.
Not an attack of Alzheimer’s, however acute, will erase from my grey head what perimeter is.
First World War
One lazy afternoon, Teacher Munderu was teaching us about World War One. For the entire afternoon that the lesson-or you can say the war-lasted, the whole classroom exploded with the boom boom of the British Maxim Gun. Like a B52 bomber, Teacher .Munderu swooped on Eutychus, the tall mean boy who sported a beard at Class 4. He then brandished two chairs over our scared heads and smashed them to pieces like torpedoed German U-boats. Like a fearless Austria-Hungarian soldier at the Battle of Somme, he aimed his bayonet at the swollen tummy of my cousin Tony who always sat at the front so that he could always get Nyayo milk packet first.
Then he grabbed him by his tiny neck till veins on his forehead threatened to burst. Swiftly, he turned him upside down, sending the guavas he had stolen at old lady Jerusha’s scattering on the floor like grenades from some GI’s pockets.Lawd-First World War was bad! Being taught about it by Teacher .Munderu made it even badder.
When Teacher.Munderu announced that the next lesson would be about Second War, I conveniently got very sick. Well, I used to have this recurring attack of tonsillitis from eating too many stolen guavas, so it was easy to feign a grave tonsillitis attack. I would rather endure a tonsils jab from the huge matronly Sister Teresia at Kiangunyi Catholic Mission than endure Teacher Munderu’s Second World War.
Despite all this, I couldn’t wait to grow up and don a bushy beard like Teacher Munderu’s.And play Bob Marley’s music from a huge stereo like his and have crib of my own like his full of books about Jomo and Steve Biko and Marcus Garvey and such fiery men. Man, I couldn’t wait to be a man and be free.
Apart from Teacher Munderu, our other friends used to be dogs. With my cousin, we had motley of perpetually hungry dogs-both tame and stray- that always followed us like shadows. When we ate, they ate. When we swam in the treacherous Mathioya River, they swam. When we took a beating for stealing mangoes, our dogs took a beating too. There was even this old dog which would volunteer to take a beating for its Master, since it couldn’t fight for him. God rest its canine soul in some dog heaven.
Carlos the Jackal
Then there was Carlos-the mongrel we had named after the famous terrorist-the Jackal. Of course we got the name from Teacher Munderu. We told the boys that his mother was a leopard and his father a mountain lion and that he had jaguar aunties. But Carlos was no more than bag of bones and his tail was permanently between his legs. He had fleas enough to infest a small village. He was not living to his famous billing. Some bright boy who had miraculously survived Teacher Munderu’s First World War thrice as he had repeated Class Four 4 three times advised us to feed the meek canine on a meal of wasps. Henceforth, Carlos would scare even the devil himself.
We had to consult the wisest man around. One idle Saturday morning when guavas were out of season and thus there was nothing tempting us to steal it, of we went to Teacher Munderus.We had to hurry. It was on Saturdays like this that Aunt Keziah started kneading dough at two pm and gave an offer we could never refuse-to go down to the ill-tempered mama near the river and borrow her frying pan in exchange for her first chapati.We lived for Saturdays and Aunt Keziahs chapos offers. Even if she sent us to pick the frying pan from hell,we would still have done it.
Mwarimu,is it true that if we feed Carlos with wasps he won’t be afraid of even the police?
Teacher Munderu glanced at us, our dogs and saw hunger. He promptly handed us a bunch of bananas. A busy mouth can’t ask pesky questions. Then he got into his crib, pored at his big books, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Our dogs started scratching their fleas. Teacher Munderu read on. My cousin fished a guava from his pockets, took a bite and handed me the remainder to eat.
Then Teacher Munderu closed the Bible he was reading. We made ourselves comfortable on his wick stools. Carlos cocked his ears.
‘’One Saturday morning, Jesus washed his dreadlocks and hits the streets of Jerusalem listening to Bob Marley’s No Woman no Cry’ from his Sony Walkman’, He started.
‘He was in stone wash jeans and a t-shirt and swanky North Star sneakers.’
My! So Jesus was such a cool dude, huh?
“So Jesus walked on and on down the streets of Salem like the God he was. He was headed to the temple to pray on that Saturday morn, like a true Rasta’. Teacher Munderu continued.
My mango shaped head sensed danger. Jesus had a record of whipping a business people when he found them in the temple. How about us mere boys and dirty dogs? Anyhow, I had to be ready for it.I sat at the edge of my seat, making sure my cousin and the dogs came between me and Teacher Munderu. My cousin was not a keen Christian like me so he didn’t know that Jesus whipped people when he went into the temple.
‘Along the way, Jesus comes across some masons in a mjengo carrying building bricks.’
I breathed a sigh of relief-Jesus wasn’t headed to the temple after all.
‘Verily verily I say unto you, may what each of you is carrying be converted to bread,’ Jesus said with a firm still voice.
Behold, whatever each mason was carrying become a loaf of bread. The bigger the brick, the bigger the loaf was. My, why was I born after swanky Jesus had left?
The following Sunday a multitude had gathered at the mjengo spot, each carrying the biggest load of bricks he or she could carry. Most could barely move, but were waiting for Jesus. Some sharp boys had even put some bricks on the back of their dogs.
Teacher Munderu intoned, seemingly in a trance.
Jesus never fails. Teacher Munderu continued. So next Saturday, at exactly midday, Jesus appeared.
I moved closer to Teacher Munderu-bread was coming. Lots of it.
All days are not Saturdays
Jesus adjusted his akala shoes and surveyed the eager crowd. Some young chaps from Bethlehem exchanged high fives with him.
Hindi ciothe ti njuma !, Jesus said. All days are not Saturdays.
With that he was off to Cana of Galilee for a pre-wedding party. But he had to first pass at Bethany to have his dreadlocks set by certain lady who in some later date washed his feet and dried them with his hair. This man Jesus!
This story by Teacher Munderu sent me forth on a journey. Henceforth, I skimmed through my mums Bible looking for the story. Upto class eight, I was still looking for the story. The story wasn’t there.
Mum, is this story about Jesus turning stones into bread true? I asked mum someday.
Read the Bible, she answered. I re-read the Bible once more. Still, it wasn’t there. Could they have cut out Teacher Munderu’s story from the Bible?
When I sprouted a scraggy beard and left my doggy ways, I met a boy who told me there were other books left out in mum’s Bible I was reading. Thus I thumbed through the books of Tobith, Judith, Maccabees, Sirach and Baruch looking for that story. It wasn’t there too.
By the time I realized that the story was a figment of Teacher Munderu’s imagination, I had read the Holy Bible several times over. Teacher Munderu may not have taught me much at Class 4, but he lit a fire in me that led to a lifelong odyssey in search of knowledge-and truth.
Sometimes it’s not very important what a person was. What matters is what we remember who he was-to us.