I switched schools at the tail end of my eight year primary school education. My new school was a 10 minute walk from home, a welcome change from the 30 minute school bus ride we had to endure before. Because the school was initially created for children of the nearby university faculty and staff, the classroom sizes were small, we all knew each other and were all new, so I felt like I belonged. I loved it there, and I especially looked forward to my English classes, taught by the incomparable Mrs. Muya, who had us reading the Moses series, the most memorable being ‘Moses and the school farm’. She asked us to underline ‘new words’, look up their meaning in the dictionary and use them in a sentence. She was a very kind and patient teacher. I also enjoyed my music classes, taught by Mr. Bett, who was in charge of forming the school’s first choir. He patiently arranged us in groups depending on our voices, and I found myself in the ‘alto’ category. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am both vocally challenged and tone deaf. This did not dissuade Mr. Bett. He needed a certain number of people in the choir, and since the school was so small, we all had to be in the choir.
I found the choir training sessions to be very enjoyable. I love to sing. It is very liberating for me. It is not so liberating for those who have to listen to me sing. Once, while babysitting one of my nephews who was about 3, a song played on the TV, and he liked it so much that he asked me to repeat the song. I performed what I thought was a pretty decent rendition of the song, vocal challenges considered. My nephew gave me a very puzzled look, his head cocked to one side, slowly shook his head, said a definitive ‘si hiyo’, and walked away. Out of the mouth of babes.
Our Primary school choir participated in the district level music competitions, and I managed to blend in pretty well with my more talented schoolmates. We qualified for the Provincial level competition, meaning we would compete against choirs from all over Rift Valley. This was a very big deal because it included a road trip to Nakuru. I had never been to Nakuru, and I was looking forward to seeing Lake Nakuru and the Flamingos.
When we got to Nakuru, we went to the lake and while we stood on the shores of Lake Nakuru marveling at the beauty of the flamingos, we heard thumping noises off in the distance. The bus driver yelled at us to get into the bus, which we did in record time, and he started to speed away like a, well, bus driver. We turned back to see what the emergency was, and saw a large heard of buffalo running on the shore, passing where we stood just a few minutes prior. They were much larger than I had thought, and I was very grateful to be in the bus, and not under their hooves.
The next morning we had our competition. We were ready, and hoped to qualify for the National competition. We got on stage, started to sing, and everything was going well until we got to the pause in the song. In my nervousness, I continued to sing, so the audience was treated to my, shall we say, ‘unique’ voice. My music teacher looked at me in shock. I had ruined any chance we had of progressing to the National level. I wanted to die. I wanted that stage to open up and swallow me. To their credit, my choirmates recovered from their shock and finished the song. The mood after we left the auditorium was very somber. We knew we had lost. We knew who was responsible. My music teacher was very kind about the whole thing. That was the last time I sang in public. I confine my ‘unique’ voice to the shower now.