A Teacher in Africa

My dearest Komal, Anjli and Amar,

Daddy and I thoroughly enjoy being members of the Asia Society (Switzerland) which we joined a few years ago. It is a professionally run worldwide organisation. Their programmes are based on current events and also include varied cultural elements. We have seen some fascinating dance shows, interesting art exhibitions and witnessed many lectures by distinguished individuals from all over the Asian sub-continent. A few weeks back in their endevour to portray current innovative movements in Asia, they hosted a discussion titled ‘How AI can improve Education’ It was quite an eye opener for me. Is this new mode of teaching going to be better than the old-fashioned classroom teaching that we(and even you to some extent) were brought up with? I guess only time will tell and I also hope not at the expense of the students. How times have changed! All this discussion of education reminded me of Dadaji‘s experiences as a teacher. Just to recap: Dadaji obtained his bachelor’s degree in India and then studied further to become a teacher. He managed to get employment with the British Government who were looking for teachers for schools in their colonies. Dadaji therefore journeyed to Kenya to begin his working life as a teacher. Dadaji and Ba stayed in Kenya until 1983 when they both moved to the UK, a few years after Dadaji‘s retirement. By this time all their children had flown the nest.

Family in the Studio
Family in the Studio

All the E.African Asians who have moved to the UK remember their times in Africa with great fondness. Many of them organise reunions based on the towns/cities they lived in. So when the past residents of Eldoret were organising a reunion of it’s Indian inhabitants, they asked Dadaji to contribute to the magazine they were compiling. The respect Dadaji got as a teacher(and a headmaster) in Eldoret was exceptional. That respect is visible in his essay. Below is the detail of the contribution he made to the Eldoret Reunion Magazine:

MY LIFE IN ELDORET

In May 1950, I arrived at the Eldoret Railway Station at about midnight. It was cold and dark. As is our Indian way, I was warmly received by some people who I had not even met before but were distant relatives and acquaintances and I was to stay with one of them in the Railway Quarters. There were hardly any cars in Eldoret at that time, we had to walk home. There were no proper roads or lights! Passing through the Indian Bazaar, I saw one dim light at the crossing near Dhokia’s cycle shop. Having expectations of working in a large city such as Nairobi, looking at these surroundings, I felt that I had been posted to some remote area in a jungle. My heart sank; it was very depressing! However, the morning brought some relief. I went to the town and walked through the area known as the European Bazaar. Here there were smart shops and also two cinemas! Now I realised that Eldoret wasn’t too bad at all. It had all the ‘modern amenities’ (for that time!). I also came to realise over the years I spent in Eldoret that the welcoming statement at the municipal boundary which says “Best Climate in the World” was also true. The Eldoret of today is a bustling town with lots of industries and even an International Airport (even though there probably are no international flight to Eldoret). 

I was posted to the Government Indian School, which was a primary school with Form I. The late Mr. V.C. Bhatt who was the Headmaster of the school and members of staff soon became good friends. New classes were added each year and in 1952 when Form III was started, the school was split into Primary and Secondary Divisions. Graduate teachers, including myself, went to the secondary division. Over time a new building was built. The school, initially known as the Government Indian High School, then Govt. Asian High School; finally changed its name to Uasin Gishu Secondary School. Uasin Gishu was the name of the District of Eldoret. 

The first principal of the school was Mr. J.V. Pimenta, a hard taskmaster but also a very good organiser. He had various signboards fixed in the corridors of the school, one of which was “NOBODY HAS YET DIED OF HARD WORK”. Not only did he work very hard but made the teachers work hard as well. My colleagues who became life long friends were Messrs. J.B. Amin, G.L. Patel, A.A. Patel, and A.R.R. Parkar. All of them contributed to make the success of the school. The reputation of the school for academic and sporting excellence grew and spread all over Kenya!

My subjects were Physics, Chemistry and I even taught Mathematics for a few years. I still remember the first batch of 17 Form IV pupils who sat for the Cambridge School Certificate examinations in 1953. Some of them even took up my profession of teaching (Mr. Mehar Singh, Mr. K.B. Patel & Miss Gupta). They were all exemplary students with good behavior and discipline. They taught in the Primary School and all my children were taught by them! Many other students became teachers in the Primary school. 

I taught hundreds of students in the 22 years I spent in UGSS. Some I remember by name, others by face and of course due to the passage of time sometimes I have been reminded by my ex-pupils that I had taught them. Some of them are now grandparents! 

During my time at UGSS, I was Head of Science, Vice Principal and Acting Headmaster. There are a lot of memories, most of them good! The not so good ones usually have something to do with tragedies and disciplinary issues but I prefer to dwell on the pleasant ones. Apart from the daily teaching regime, I took active part in arranging the School Sports Days with additional activities such as formation cycling and Parents Days with science exhibitions showing magical experiments like exploding volcanoes and pins floating in the air to the parents of our pupils. These activities required a lot of hard work and discipline for both teachers and pupils alike but in the end it was always satisfying to watch the happy faces. All the hard work had paid off! 

The teaching profession is a noble one and one which provides a lot of job satisfaction. I feel deep satisfaction and joy to meet or hear about ex-students who are successful in their professions and well set in life. Some of these students who felt that I was a very strict teacher when they were in my class come up to me even now and say, “Sir, we felt you were unfair or even harsh when you “lectured” us in school but now we realise that it was sound advice and in our best interest”! It gives me a lot of satisfaction and I am happy to see so many of my ex-students well set up in life as doctors, engineers, teachers, accountants and successful businessmen. 

I was transferred from UGSS after 22 years of service and initially it was very sad but life carried on and I taught in a small school in Kitale and then the Rift Valley Technical School in Eldoret. I retired from Government service in 1976. 

On hearing about my retirement, the Board of the 64 Secondary School, a public school set up for children who did not get admissions in Government schools offered me post of the Headmaster of this school. This school did not have a very good reputation at that time, particularly for its academic achievements. I saw this as a challenge and accepted the offer. Over the next seven and a half years, I worked to change both the academic standards and also the image of the school. I was satisfied that I had transformed the school in line with my ideals, it had achieved a good reputation, produced a financial surplus instead of losses and most important of all students achieved better grades. I retired in December 1983 with great satisfaction and happiness. 

Teacher's House in Eldoret
Teacher’s House in Eldoret

We were six in my family. My wife, Shardaben who I have not mentioned so far and my four children. My wife was also a teacher in the Primary School for a few years. The life of a teacher’s wife is always intermingled with school life and this was true for my wife as well. Apart from the school social life, she also helped out with school Garbas, which took months of practice and other events where the teachers’ wives played a very active and important role. These services were willingly and happily given even though they were without pay! She was my support during happy as well difficult times. I thank her for her devotion. 

Children bring a lot of joy and happiness as well as heartache for their parents. My four, Pratibha, Mukund, Himanshu and Daksha were no exception. They all went to U.G. Primary and Secondary Schools in Eldoret and passed with excellent grades. Pratibha is happily married and lives in Houston, U.S.A with her husband and 3 daughters, the eldest will finish her University this year! The most tragic time in my life and for my family was when my son Mukund passed away. He was unique in the family, mildest and kindest and perhaps the cleverest; he provided us with a lot of joy and pride but he left us all at the young age of 19. His dream of becoming a doctor serving mankind were left incomplete. Even when he was dying of cancer, enduring unbearable pain, his words to us were: “this is God’s way of teaching me what my patients would be suffering when I become a doctor; I will understand them better”. We have never been able to fill the gap he left in our lives. 

Himanshu and Daksha both qualified as Chartered Accountants and are settled in Pinner with their children. 

One of my main reasons for retiring was to be with my children and grandchildren. Leaving Eldoret was not easy. I spent my whole career and my children all grew up in this beautiful town. But my children had settled down in England and that is why I came to England after spending 33 years in Eldoret. 

Apart from teaching, my other interests were the St. John Ambulance Brigade where I was the Transport Officer and later The Superintendent of the Brigade in Eldoret. We provided “first aid” services at school and public events, such as the Agricultural Show which was an annual highlight for the farming community in and around Eldoret. 

My most important interest however was and still is the Theosophical Society. I have been a member of this Society since it started in Eldoret in January, 1954. When I came to Eldoret, I felt that something was missing from my life and the study of Theosophy fulfilled what was missing! 

………………….

Trying to remember all the events over such a long time is difficult at my age although individual incidents flash across my mind every day. I will end by saying that I consider myself fortunate to have lived in a nice and friendly town such as Eldoret, with beautiful surroundings and friendly people. It has given me a happy and satisfying life and lot of happy memories to remember in my old age! 

J.J.Amin

This excerpt was written in the mid 1990s. I have taken out a large part where he writes about his times with the Theosophical Society. Yet another story for me to relate to you in the future…..Keep a look out for this interesting concept which cannot be classified as a religion but is more a way of life.

Dadaji sadly left us in 2002 after a few years of ill health. You will all have some memory of him, Komal more than Anjli and Amar. He spent some quality time with all of you. He loved feeding you, playing with you and taking you all to the local park. In this he surely fulfilled his ambition of spending time with his grandchildren in his retirement.

 

During my research about the lives of Asians in E.Africa, I came across the following dissertation written for the University of Pennsylvania.

¨Moving life Histories: Gujarat, East Africa and the Indian Diaspora.” 1880 to 2000, by  Savita Nair ¨

From this dissertation I extracted this edited account of a gujarati teacher by the name of Bhogilal Vyas. It has been compiled by the author from her conversations with Bhogilal Vyas’s son Anil Vyas. The two towns mentioned in the text, Kikuyu and Kisumu are both in Kenya.

For Bhogilal Vyas, East Africa was a place far away from the small, parochial village life that he had known. Nevertheless, Vyas was determined from the onset that East Africa was merely a location to make a living while continuing the cultural and spiritual life he had known. Circumstances in East Africa enabled him not only to earn more money than if he had remained in Gujarat, but also to become a respected professional. He eventually became a school principal in Kikuyu, and continued to work as an acting principal in Kisumu, in 1960, even until retirement. He had not been employed in India, but as part o f the Government of Kenya regulation, Vyas and others in his type of position, were allowed one month’s vacation for each year worked. So after 5 years, Vyas first visited India for a 5- month stay.  Vyas had only one purpose to his trips, to visit family. And, as Anil Vyas had told me, the reasons for visiting family were primarily to proclaim the “seriousness” of the family and to remain associated and, “more importantly, respected.” Vyas’s professional life in East Africa, and its accommodating schedule, enabled him to fulfill his longing to be part of his home in Gujarat. Although distant in mileage, Vyas held fast to those concerns of his small, parochial village in Gujarat. To put it more aptly, in a modified adage: You can take the man out of Gujarat, but you cannot take Gujarat out of the man.

This account will give you an insight to the thinking and reasoning of the Gujarati community in journeying to the African Continent. Another part of the story that Dad can relate to is the 5 month long holidays to India during his childhood. For me , my first visit to India was at the age of 19!

When I was at school, our teachers were treated with the utmost respect. It is a little different these days, but one should remember that teachers shape the minds of young children. Perhaps this is the reason why we always sided with your teachers when there was any dispute at school.

There were a few parts of Dadaji’s write up that brought tears to my eyes. It is so eloquently written. I could just hear him reading it out loud.

Well Anjli, I am fulfilling your wish of learning how to make kachoris. So when are you making them? Or at least look up the recipe and see if you understand it. Do send me some pictures. Amar, I am working on your request…How best to cook regularly without throwing away remaining fresh goods…..hence a ‘Tips on Freezing’ coming up soon.

Happy cooking everyone. Until our next meeting.

All my love, hugs and kisses,

Vishfully yours,

Mum

6 thoughts on “A Teacher in Africa”

  1. Hi mum, wow reading this brought tears to my eyes too! It brings back so many fond memories of dadaji. He is just as eloquent a writer as you!! Its amazing to hear him talk about how fulfilling and satisfying his career was. I hope someday I can reflect on a life and career as sweetly as he did in that letter. If you haven’t already, you should give the letter to Ba to read, I’m sure she’d love it, she often reminisces about her time in Eldoret in a similar way 🙂
    Thanks for the kachori recipe! I’m having some friends over next week, I’m going to try and make some for them!

    Love,
    Anjli

    1. Yes Anjli, Teaching is a very rewarding profession. You must have inherited those teaching genes from Dadaji. The ability to unravel mysteries, to break away the cobwebs, to explain concepts succinctly and of course the tons of patience. As always wishing for you to find your true vocation in life. Keep trying. Lots of love, Mum
      P.S. As for the kachoris…a cheats way out is to fold the filling into ready-made pastry(puff or short) and bake in the oven. Do tell me how you get on.
      P.P.S. This is Diwali week, please come and do my Diyas?

      1. I did some divas at home yesterday, sorry I couldn’t light yours! Sal Mubarak! xxx
        p.s. going to use your cheat and make kachori pastries this Saturday as I’m having some friends over, will let you know how it goes!

  2. Hi Vish, enjoyed this immensely. Dada just account of life in Eldoret is so evocative. Like you, moved me to step into his life and mind. He was an amazing gentleman, a shining example for all of us to live a life that gives so much to all around him.

Did you enjoy this? Do please comment. Your feedback is most valuable to me.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.