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Declare my wealth? Not me


By Kay Kay

If one of these days you asked an honest Kenyan kid to tell you what he wants to be when he grows up, he is likely give you a short list with only two names: Samuel Eto’o and that faceless, coconut-head in the typical Anglo Leasing cartoon. Before you throw stones at me for unfairly accusing the kids sample the evidence. Do you remember the way primary school pupils, led by their drooling teachers, were tripping over each other to get a certain walking ATM machine’s autograph a while ago?

The baby-faced moneybags would smile in a sweet natured manner as if to say, “let the children come to me.” Like he was some brown Messiah come to seek and to save poor Kenya lost in financial miseries with his miracle gold. Now it appears that soon another star in the shape of the faceless coconut-head will top the charts and billboards and Walking ATM will be so last season no kid who knows what’s in and what’s out will be caught dead asking for his autograph.

No need to get surprised here because school is not only a place where you learn ABC and One Two Three but also the place where you pick other skills like becoming a tough Anglo Leaser when you grow up. This is one non-examinable subject that school brats love like no other. If serial killers begin their careers with the smaller ones like the family pets, the lizards and rats, Goldenbegers and Anglo Leasers hone their nyakuaring skills with the pens, pencils, school textbooks and the blackboard ruler.

Now the teachers in the school I was attending were very awake to the fact that kids stop being innocent angels long before they quit suckling. They knew very well that by the time they joined kindergarten, children had already known how to raid the sugar jar- and lie like an Anglo Leaser about it. That by the time they are in class six, the kids are accomplished Anglo Leasers. Otherwise, where did all the school text books go? Heaven?

Not being such great believers of the life hereafter myths- and least of all of the inanimate creatures like school text books- our teachers would annually turn themselves into a serious KACC and launch thorough investigations into where the textbooks had gone. Unlike Ringera, our teachers would not ring a bell that they would be striking after thirty days. They got a certain sadistic kick from pulling off cruel surprises.

They just struck one ordinary Tuesday afternoon with a crisis bell calling the whole school to the assembly grounds. Such a bell would mean many things one of which was that it was that time of the year again to visit every pupil’s home to search for the lost textbooks- and the all precious school ruler.

And that is how an investigative journey would begin. The investigative team would comprise a dozen teachers and over 200 school pupils. Of course, many kids would try every trick under the book to cover their tracks. Like dashing home like a hare that had used something illegal and clear all the skeletons from the cupboard. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t.

If your tricks failed to work, you knew you were in deep trouble because unlike real Anglo leasers, you didn’t have the benefit of having gone to the same kindergarten with the school KACC chief which means you would be dealt with mercilessly. That is something like 20 strokes of the cane on the backside, the pain of having to buy a new textbook- beside surrendering the one you stole- and having the dubious honour of having your name in the headmasters dreaded black book.

And if you were a class prefect or the 4K-Club treasurer, you counted yourself out of a job. And the misery didn’t end there. Your parents would add to your misery by giving you more strokes of the cane before agreeing to buy a new textbook for the school. That would be so unfair since the book or books you stole were all the time in their home and they didn’t bother to ask where you had got them from only to turn against you when you are busted. Bad people. Unlike politicians, they don’t stick to the dictum “We either hang together or hang separately”!

Apart from catching textbook thieves (which was a bit of a messy affair, what with having to rummage through boxes full of ancient papers) the investigative trips to pupils homes had its funny side. It was often discovered that among their peers, kids tended to over-declare their wealth- not under-declare as the kids in Parliament are wont to.

This over-declaring of wealth can also be called talking big and kids in my former school were quite adept at that kind of game. A girl would tell a fairy tell of a father who worked in the city, had a big car and had lots and lots of money; A mother who worked as a secretary at the DOs office; How they lived in a one-storey building and their bedrooms were upstairs (this part of the story was inspired by a novella from England that she had read).

On the day of the big investigation for the stolen textbooks this girl’s we-live-in-a-castle tale would come crushing down like a house of cards. Upon the search party arriving at her home those who would have heard her story of the castle would be so shocked to see grass-tatched huts that remind one of stray parajutes. Not a single stone structure in the compound.

The girl’s mother would be busy milking the family’s old cow. And as if to complete the story, the father would stagger home as drunk as a lord (without a castle) from doing bambooza in the village den. The girl would pray that the ground opens and swallows her in vain. The next day she would begin another tale of how the drunken people in the chicken run of a home were her grandparents and that her real parents lived in the city. And she would still find a few fools to buy her story.

The moral of the above story? Don’t under-declare or over-declare your wealth. They all still lead to the same place: a very sweaty face on the day of the big probe. Just declare your wealth.

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