Scramble for Excellence

Scramble for Excellence

I opted for the third row from the front, a few meters away from the podium. I sat on a seat at the end of the row, next to a gentleman who was reading a newspaper. There were a few of us. The meeting was to begin at 9.30am. Please keep time, the letter had said. I was twenty minutes early.

When I woke up that morning, Hailey kept reminding me not to be late for the meeting at their school. She kept checking the time as I got out of the shower, as I dressed – she even knocked on my bedroom door a few times. I had to take a few swigs of tea, as she monitored that I don’t get too engrossed in watching the morning news. She pointed at the clock every few minutes to remind me that I had to hurry. “OK, OK, OK!” I resigned to leaving the house way before my scheduled time.

Thanks to Hailey, I had to wait twenty minutes as the other pre-unit parents took their time to get to the hall where we were to have a meeting about next year’s class one admissions. The few parents who had arrived equally early were trying to keep busy; some were engrossed in their phones, browsing on their touch-screens, Samsung Galaxys, Androids, whatnot, while others chattered away.

I pondered on what to do as I waited. Since the person seated next to me insisted on reading about Sossion and the Teacher’s Union, I was bored. There is a book I always carry in my handbag for moments like this, I remembered. I made to fetch it only to realize that I had changed handbags that morning and taken a smaller one to which I had transferred just my purse, wet wipes, lip gloss, earphones, a notebook and pen. That was all the small purse could carry anyway. No book in sight, I instead opted for some music and took out my earphones. Might as well…

Soon, three nuns walked into the hall which was now full save for a few empty chairs here and there. They were trailed by a gentleman who had a bunch of papers tucked under his arms. I regrettably tuned off U2 & Luciano Pavarotti as they belted out the song Miss Sarajevo into my ears. Awesome song!

With a word of prayer, the meeting started at 9.48am. A wasted half an hour easily translated into equal length of wasted sleep. How I would have loved to sleep in that Saturday morning – If only Hailey would’ve let me!

They cut to the chase. The good news was that they were ready to absorb our young ones to standard one. The bad news was that there was limited space and our children, our young angels, had to jostle for that limited space. I looked around me and realized at that point that we were nothing more than competitors.

This could as well have been an episode out of the series Survivor Guatemala or Caramoan or one of those little known islands. Bottom line, we all wanted the same thing. If it were up to us, we would shove each other shamelessly, elbow each other unapologetically, bribe someone even, use any means possible to get that space. I could see a few mothers I could take down with little effort. The fathers would be a handful but some of them had a small physique and would be no threat, like Mr. Sossion seated beside me, for example.

Unfortunately this was our children’s battle. And being children, innocent and all, they don’t have dirty tricks tucked up their sleeves. They don’t know how to rig or smuggle mwakenya’s to class. Yet. They will sit in a classroom, with their little pencils and little rubbers and with their little hands, they will jot down answers they can remember – If they are not too sleepy, or hungry or simply out of it. What a gamble!

On our part, we will do nothing but break a sweat like we did as we listened to the headmistress. Our hearts pounded as they explained the procedure of admission. Each parent, I am almost certain, praying that their child would be among the chosen few.

Even as the gentleman stood to address us and went out of his way to show his prowess at dishing anecdotes, creating light moments here and there, advising us that unlike any Kenyan politician, he would not accept any bribes from any parent, we smiled and laughed with nervousness.

The parting shot at 12 noon was a stern warning not to pressure our children. “Don’t transfer your anxiety to them because that might contribute to their failure” Let the children be, they insisted. “We have taught them well, we have given them the best foundation they could ever get anywhere in the world. They are all bright boys and girls”, they assured us. “Sadly, we can only absorb a certain number to proceed with us, and this test is the only fair way to make that selection. Should your child not make it, it doesn’t mean they are weak”

This is just one war I wish I could fight for Hailey, but sadly, my karate skills notwithstanding (or lack thereof), I can’t.

To calm my nerves as I walked out of the hall, I put U2 and Pavarotti back on “….Here she comes, Heads turn around. Here she comes, To take her crown…” they bellowed into my ear, picking up from where they’d paused. Miss Sarajevo – Listen to this song and tell me if the great Tenor by Pavarotti doesn’t give you goose bumps. While at it, read a bit of the history on war-torn Sarajevo, Bosnia in the 90’s and then you’ll fully appreciate the song. Yes, there is a connection.

Meanwhile, what is it they say; que sera, sera?

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