Everybody knows what they want!
Yes, I know that is quite bold of me to say, but if you are honest with yourself, you know what you want in every situation. But there is a ‘but’.
But this ‘but’ does not disqualify the fact that you know.
A close family friend who for privacy purposes I will call Miss A, and I once got into what started as a soft request but quickly developed into what I now call, ‘you know what you really want, so get ballsy and spit it!‘ about schools in Kenya. We were on a school-shopping venture hoping to have some kids who did not speak Swahili at all enrolled.
I had just moved back to Kenya from Botswana, a non-Swahili speaking country, and was working overtime to digest rules governing schools. I needed to understand interviews for new students, school times and a whole pack of educational directives.
Settling in Mombasa, the coastal city of the land was by no means easy. My former residence was a quiet town with occasional loud bangs from the copper mines. The slogan ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ had long been replaced with ‘wake up and smell Sulphur. And the Geography on four seasons was real.
Sober up! I’m not talking about the wine here.
Summer was hell-hot with heat emanating from the ground all day long, something close to Mombasa’s heat but dry. If you took a walk at 11am, you had the fiery furnace experience up to your hips. And dare you wear anything tight or long. The fewer the clothes the better, was the order of the season. So all clothes got tucked away until winter except the hats and the skimpy wear. At school, girls wore sleeveless dresses while boys stuck to shorts and shirts. Hats were part of uniform for all.
Autumn’s naughty wind had only one mission, to strip everything naked at all costs! It blew the leaves off the trees, swept the streets clean and exposed your birthday suit. Once it had your hat, your skirt and shirt would follow.
I loved spring; seeing the trees winter had declared dead turn green almost overnight. The beauty of the land unveiled right before my eyes. Even schools celebrated end of winter, stuffing away tracksuits and gloves readying for the swimming season. Lord, I could live in spring forever!
Then I came to Mombasa. It was in February and summer was just getting comfortable. If you have been to this place, you know that more than half the population walk around intensely covered because, well they know what they want. ‘To keep prying eyes from seeing what they ought not to see’!
The loud bangs from the mine were replaced by houses of worship blasting with what I came to learn was the call for prayers at 4am every day, and schools followed in the worlds-apart difference. Culture shock was my bread and butter for the longest time. And dare you get me started on the potholes on the roads, the smell of garbage and millions of ravens.
I’m yet to wrap my head around how I adapted to the situation.
You Know What You Want: The School
Back to the school-shopping escapade. Miss A and I visited at least 5 schools seeking to have them interview the kids for placement in the appropriate classes. The first was cutely organized, quite colorful but tiny school right across her workplace. It was the kind of space you would expect to host up to twenty 7-year olds. But it hosted at least 100 students; a mix of kindergarten kids and their siblings all the way to Class 8.
The head teacher said the kids had to move one class back because they could not speak or read Swahili. That for me was hell-to-the-no!
You got to understand that out of the five examinable subjects, only one is tested in Swahili, all others are done in English. To me, this was a foreign language requiring private tuition, not a reason to repeat a class.
So we moved to the second one. It did not have much space either. The interview was strictly oral and the teachers were impressed begging us to let the kids stay all day and integrate with the others. Just to have a feel of the school. They wanted their kids to, ‘interact with kids who spoke pure English’
I’m not sure if I should have been proud of the compliment.
The third school was huge! It had three swimming pools, about 10 school buses, classes arranged in rows and columns across the vast land and in the air. The head teacher here did not shy away from caning kids who failed to toe his line. He was a quick-problem solver too. He only took a few minutes to examine our kids and give his views on the classes he believed would suit them best.
The fourth and fifth schools were full of splendor. It is even a shame to even call them schools, those were institutions. The kind of place you pray the children in your loins will attend someday. They had air-conditioned classrooms, tutors who walked with grace and students who acted like royalties. Even the air smelled educated.
I wanted the kids to study here, stay here and belong here. Then they would have the chance to mingle with kids from all over the world just like I had seen in Botswana.
These are the kind of schools you rob a bank to keep your kids in. The school fees has more than a few trailing zeros and the management expects you to foot it all by the end of the first month of every semester. Sorry, the phrase ‘school term’ does not match the standards of these schools.
I nudged Miss A to settle for one of the schools. She was the main decision maker and her opinion mattered a whole lot. I had made up my mind, or rather fallen in love with one of them. So I made my preference known.
By the evening I noticed that Miss A had grown quite silent, I did not want to bother her. I had been contemplating moving back to Botswana where I had witnessed the uniformity in the fabric of all educational institutions. She had spent an hour before dinner going through the paperwork from each school. I knew she had something to say about the whole issue and was probably waiting for the opportune moment to share.
“Have you settled on a school yet?” I piped halfway through the dinner.
“I can’t seem to.” She sighed. “Let the kids spend one more day at home and we can discuss this tomorrow.”
Cast on Stone
Remember the ‘but’ after my call, “Everybody knows what they want”?
Chances are you want to dispute the statement. That is where the ‘but’ comes in. In my many years of experience in living with humans, one thing has become evident; you know what you want.
So why do we slow down, act as if we are not sure and result to rock-paper- scissors while we could spit out our choices and let what needs to break do so?
The list could go on forever, but here is where I cut the chase and tell you what you already know.
Let me explain.
Top in the list of excuses is fear, followed by shame, while not wanting to take responsibility takes the third position. None of these have to be bad; they are just defense mechanisms we adopt on our lives’ journeys.
We fear our choices will hurt the other person waiting for us to make the decision. We sometimes even wish they could do it for us if not read our mind. This is an unfair option because when things fail to turn as expected, that is when we open up to say we did not want to take the path chosen. What if we had stood up and defended our options, would that not be more honorable?
Other times we are ashamed to own up, maybe because we fall short of necessary resources so we say we do not know what we really want. But imagine if you owned up, stated what you knew deep inside you wanted and then asked for help. Why die in shame when you can be the hero who stood for what you wanted?
And where not wanting to take responsibility is concerned, I believe that is quite immature. The reality is, standing in no man’s land is just buying time so you can celebrate when things turn out right or point fingers when they fail. Call it fear of losing or not winning.
If you are keen, you have noticed that the word ‘fear’ comes up twice in the top three excuses. And even where it is not mentioned, in the issue of shame, you can still smell fear in the atmosphere. No matter the length of your list, at the end of the discussion is the word fear. Or shall I say ‘lack of faith in your capability’?
Look inwards and into your recent conversations, do you see that issue you have left in limbo in the name of not knowing what you want?
Regardless of the number of choices hanging between your eyes, your heart knows what you want. But you refuse to verbalize it because that comes with consequences. More often than not, there is a huge call to action waiting. You have the ability but are afraid of taking responsibility.
So the next time you are tempted to say you do not know what you want, follow that thought up with a high pitched, “Are you sure?” It will help you get ballsy enough to state what you want. Better still, do it.
The fact that you have read this article this far is a sign you knew you wanted to know what Miss A said about the school. Well, she had long fallen in love with the welcome we got in the second school. Please do not ask how I found out. But I learned my lesson. ‘Everybody knows what they want, but fear.’