''Useless!'' She yelled at me impatiently. That's why you didn't finish my work!
There's nothing else you think about except your hair!'' Even before she finished her words, my black silky, straight hair which was now at the mercy of her sturdy hands, was rationally let go of, causing my head to hit the wall behind me.
Fortunately, the impact wasn't alarming, she wasn't bothered at all, so why worry, right? Besides, there wasn't any sign of bleeding or external injury. ''I'm sorry, teacher, but I didn't have the book.'' I tried to explain to her, but it was too late. Her right hand was already high up in the air, carrying a thick rubber pipe that instinctively signaled my brain to stretch out my palms immediately. I gave up, there was no use in trying to explain. Whoosh! Whooosh! Whooosh! hissed the pipe three times before landing on my palms and leaving them red, throbbing in pain, as if someone had placed hot coals on them. But I didn't cry. I always wanted to be respected by the boys as the 'first body' - the toughest- of girls , as we used to call it back then.
But that wasn't anything new. It was how some of our school mornings kicked off. No one dared wrong our maths teacher. Still, she would find something wrong with the class and we were convinced that beating us was some kind of therapy for her- letting her anger and stress all out on us. You see she almost always arrived at school in an awful, lousy mood, her brood in tow. We also observed, as children normally do, that she never said goodbye to her husband who dropped them off. They all looked like they just stepped out of bed and dashed out of their home. I will not describe her, nor her daughters' hairs, but I wasn't perplexed as to why she just had to drag my hair into this. I mean what did my not finishing the homework have to do with hair? I was only in the sixth class, so how much time would I possibly have in the mornings to do my hair? I loathed her lessons. And I feared her. Just the sight or knowledge of her presence instilled uneasiness, dread, panic and anxiety to my brain and I often found myself switching off during her lessons, resigning to the fact that she had already concluded that I was 'useless'. Who was I to prove her otherwise?She was the teacher, and I the student. She was the adult and I was the child. Besides, there were so many other changes going on in my life at that time, that were also affecting me, but who cares!
'Honestly, I rarely used to make my hair up while going to school at that age. I was only 12. My mother, the hairdresser, always made sure my hair was neat. In those days, at my school, it was a privilege to have permed hair. I remember only one other girl in my class, in an entire primary school of about 900 children, having permed hair. She had thick long hair but at some point, she cut it off and then I was the only one. Of course, my mother had waited long enough before she permed my hair. I grew up seeing brands like 'Dark & Lovely' , 'P.C.J', Ultra Sheen and Revlon, which had 'Mild', 'Regular' and 'Super' levels of perm relaxers. I would wonder why she used the mild relaxers on some, and super on others. I longed for that straight long hair as well. Finally, I got my wish fulfilled! American brands started distributing Kids' perm in the Kenyan market! I remember those attractive pink and purple boxes from 'Just for Me', and 'Beautiful Beginnings', with beautiful Africa-American girls donning silky, straight shiny permed hair, sometimes curled and held up in such dreamy hairstyles. I asked my mother not to throw away the boxes and would later cut up these pictures and collect them. But from the day my teacher put me, useless and hair in the same sentence, I started wishing that I didn't have permed hair. The freedom that came with having straight hair was so much fun, but I didn't like the negative attention it brought sometimes. As usual, I never told my mother about that incident.
Now, as a mother and part-time teacher in a country where corporal punishment cannot even be mentioned as a form of correction in schools, I realize that even though there weren't any external injuries to be seen except swollen palms and painful fingers, what the teacher did was worse. She caused a lot of internal psychological injury to a child. My son will be turning 12 years in a few months' time and even though his body has and is still changing, he is still a child. I see his reaction when I loose my cool just like any normal parent would, and yell out orders like a military superior at a bootcamp during my morning meltdowns. It only confuses him and his brother and makes them even more nervous. I've learned to slow down and not rebuke them in anger, because words have such a lot of power.
A year later after the afore-mentioned incident happened, I was now in my seventh class, and was anxiously hoping that she would not be the same one teaching us maths. To my relief, she wasn't. Instead, she was going to teach us English. Thankfully, that was one of my best subjects (thanks to my father who always insisted on us speaking proper English -they learned the 'Queen's English' back in the colonial days- and corrected us whenever we made grammatical errors), my teacher and I got along very well. But the damage had already been done. Her words stung and have stuck with me for many years. My self-confidence around that topic disappeared. I hated maths for many years and performed poorly. To me, maths was always associated with fear, dread, weakness and anxiety. This has made become very vigilant with my own children's academic and social performance. If you are a parent and notice sudden changes in your child's behaviour, quietly talk to them and find out what the underlying cause might be. There are still teachers who might make them feel worthless or incapable maybe because of their background or any other flimsy reason.
It's interesting how an incident that took place more than 20 years ago, is still fresh in my memory. Growing up in a very strict home, I've naturally carried on some of those parenting styles with me. Yes, I was mostly a disciplined girl and would love for my kids to be the same. However, there's a difference between respect, obedience and fear. Which one are you instilling in your child?
Did you go through corporal punishment in school? Do you think it made you a better person? Feel free to leave a comment below or share your experience with me.