For those who were born and raised in Kenya especially Nairobi in the so known ‘mtaa’ know the sheng’ word we used to refer to slippers which was ‘patty patty’. The thing about being brought up in estates ‘mtaa’ is that I hardly spoke English sheng’ was all I knew right from Montessori and even as I was growing up the language of communication that would best suite me was sheng’.
My parents wanted me to get the best education and they decided to take me to a school where children only communicated in English and the teachers would ‘tweng’ their way through all classes. It was quite hard for me to socialize because the language of communication was English, and so what I did best was to keep to myself. Yes, I did play with other children, okay tried to ,because they only played games with English rhymes and yet I was used to games such as ‘icho’, ‘blada’ ’kalongo’ etc.
The only familiar game was ‘hide and seek’ that’s what they called it, I called it ‘brikicho’ but theirs was a little bit hard especially since they used to all shout in English and my sheng’ would not blend there. Seeing that English was such a language barrier for me, I preferred to save my energy for evening when I would meet up with my ‘hommies’ and we would play ourselves into the night, and get back home very dirty, having soiled my clothes with clay and molasses (yes molasses we used to ‘hangout’ in a cowshed-my life)
Back in my pre-unit class my teacher, whose name was teacher Yvonne, whom I couldn’t understand her English, told us that something big was coming up and that we should prepare for it, but she would give us the details later. I was not excited because I knew whatever it would be I would not enjoy it since I hardly talked to the children in class.
So one morning Teacher Yvonne comes to class all excited,’ Good morning children’
‘Good morning teacher Yvonne!’
‘So tomorrow we will bring patty patty stuff, we are all going to have an awesome day’
Suddenly everyone in class was all excited and whispering to each other things which I would not really comprehend. I wondered what the fuss was all about. It’s just ‘patty patty’. ‘kwani hawa watoi ni matoast aje, patty patty inawabamba ivo’ that is what I told myself as I stared at the happy faces in class.
‘Corrie is everything okay, you don’t look so excited?’ the teacher asked as she walked to my sit.
‘I am okay’, I replied as I stammered, trying to choose the right words to reply in English.
That evening as I was with my ‘hommies’ I told them of how the children in my class were so excited about ‘patty patty’. We all laughed as we gossiped how ‘shady’ they were, you know how children are.
When I got home I told my mother what teacher Yvonne had told us, she was also surprised and wondered why the teacher wanted us to carry ‘patty patty’. Being the mother she was, she quickly searched for me blue ‘patty patty’s’ washed them thoroughly and packed them for me in my bag pack.
The following day as I got to school I realized that a lot of things had changed, like the smell of my classroom, it was as if someone was cooking in there, most of the children had big paper bags, and I wondered what it was that they carried. I wondered whether we were supposed to buy a lot of ‘patty patty’. I brushed off that thought.
Teacher Yvonne then came to the class and told us that we should all go outside and sit in the verandah, and that we should carry what we had all brought from home. We obeyed her and all children sat in the verandah. Everyone looked so excited and that bothered me because I did not understand where the excitement was coming from.
‘I want to see what everyone has brought, so please remove your things from the paper bags and show them to me, I will be coming round checking what you have carried,’ teacher Yvonne said as she walked around.
With shock and disbelief I realized that most of the students had carried snacks, biscuits, crisps, cakes, juice, fruits etc. I was so confused, ‘what was happening?’Being a child I was scared to ask why people had snacks and I did not have any.
‘Corrie let me see what you have,’ the teacher said as she interrupted my thoughts.
I slowly got into my bag back and removed a paper bag which had my ‘patty patty’ wrapped in an old newspaper.
‘Corrie what is this?’ teacher Yvonne asked with a lot of concern.
‘Patty patty’ teacher,’ I replied with a very low pitched voice.
‘No No Corrie, I meant you bring PARTY PARTY stuff,’ she replied as she held my shoulder trying to soothe me because I was so embarrassed.
All the children looked at me as though I was some alien. I regretted the fact that I did not know English, that I was so ignorant of the very small words in English. I did know the word ‘party’ but the teacher had said ‘patty patty stuff’ and to me that meant slippers, little did I know that she was trying to sound cool while saying the word ‘party party’ stuff, so that we could all get excited and prepare to come with snacks. I felt as though I could sink in the ground. I remember I was so tiny and that day I felt as if the whole world was collapsing on me, you know how a child feels when humiliated in front of people. I could feel hot tears almost wanting to flow from my eyes but I tried so hard not to let myself cry.
I really can not remember the name of the girl who sat next to me, but I remember teacher Yvonne telling her to share her snacks with me. She did share the snacks with me but the embarrassment still hung over my head.
Up to this day I have never told my mother of that incident which happened when I was 5 years, back then when I schooled at the then Daniel Stephen Memorial School. Those who lived in Kahawa West will remember that school. I am planning to tell my mother of this incident am sure she will shed a tear thinking of how humiliating that incident was for me.
But hey that was Me Being Me. Some things are inborn huh? Like a life of misfortune humor drama.