“Good morning, Mom,” said Junior to Wanja, his only mother. “My school, LDD—Lycée Denis Diderot—is close to the Yaya Centre!” “Yaya Centre” was the only thing Wanja understood from her son, who was almost fluent in French. Koffi had vowed that his son would attend a French kindergarten, but after that he could go to school wherever he liked. It was all the same to the banker and the Reggae Man. Kindergarten went by quickly, and Wanja unilaterally decided that Junior would go to primary and secondary school in Donholm.
She dreaded being alone: she loved her only son like a mother leopard loves her cub! As she knitted, Wanja distractedly told Junior to talk to her in Kizungu—that is, English—because her French was lousy. Junior told his mother that he still confused the Lycée Denis Diderot with the school in Donholm. Mom told him that he’d get used to his new friends. It had been three years since he left kindergarten, but he remembered the Lycée…
Junior was a bright kid at Donholm. His bilingualism brought him and Moses together. A Hutu boy, Moses also spoke French and English well. Both of them were intelligent and innocent.
When it came to games, they both loved soccer. Junior was a referee, and Moses a goalkeeper. Their classmates liked and admired them because the two friends were inseparable outside of school and sports.
Moses lived in Donholm, while Junior lived in Buruburu, but the Reggae Man often picked them up on weekend afternoons, to go swimming at the Kikuyu Campus of the University of Nairobi and to eat some delicious nyama choma at the Carnivore restaurant, or some Ethiopian chapo at the Blue Nile in Hurlingham. On the way back, they took the opportunity to visit Uhuru Park, before leaving “tao”—that is, town.
Together, the two friends had solved a tricky problem concerning the H. and T. teams. To scare each other, the children at the Catholic school in Donholm had named their teams after the most fearsome tribes on the entire African continent. It took Junior’s intervention and a game of heads or tails with a 40-shilling coin to persuade Moses to join T., the Tutsi team. According to the players on that team, the Tutsis were more fearsome than the Hutus, while the other team believed the opposite was the case… A decision had to be made, and Junior made it.
The first team would be called H., and they were heads, President Kibaki’s head, and the second team, Moses’s team, would be called T. The backs of their jerseys would from then on bear the letters H. and T.
Team T. beat H. every game because Moses was an unbeatable—nay, an indomitable—goalkeeper. This became a problem for team H. and for Junior, and even for Moses, who would have liked to be on team H., but he was fated to play in goal for T.
The problem vexed everyone and often prevented Junior from sleeping. One day, he sought advice from Olé Kaparo, the part-time watchman who had seen a lot of things in his time…
Kaparo suggested that Junior solve the Hutu-Tutsi problem by making Moses the goalkeeper for both sides. That is, Moses the Unbeatable would be on team H. on even dates and on team T. on odd dates. And he would be on the school’s team during inter-school tournaments.
After Junior proposed the solution to his classmates, news of it reached the headmaster. As a result, Junior became renowned for his impartiality.
Sifa taught GHC—geography, history, and civics—at Donholm Catholic School, the school attended by Moses the Unbeatable—or “Unbwogable”—and Junior the Impartial. Today’s lesson was about the settlement of East Africa. Sifa began by telling them about her own tribe. She hailed from the Mijikenda communities in the Coast Province, where the Wadigo also live. Young minds find this sort of rudimentary anthropology exotic. In Kenya, and in its politics, you simply can’t avoid the obligatory reference to tribal affiliation, for better or worse. Although present-day Kenya styles itself as a unified nation, disclosing your tribe is a must. It’s a defining characteristic of our country. And it informs the way geography, history, and civics are taught.
Sifa surveyed the class and began to lecture on the settlement of Kenya and its neighboring countries by giving a few examples. “There are the Masai from the plains… And there are other Masais… There are Somalis in the northeast, and Bantus and other Nilotic groups in the west… Masais and Somalis are not Bantus! Take Junior, for instance…”
Junior looked at Moses, who looked back at him. They maintained an eloquent silence.
“These people bear a curious resemblance to the evil Tutsis, to the Bahima, and to the Bachwezi in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda… The Bantu population is ascendant in Tanzania, which is why the country has always been stable—or stagnant and socialist… We know that non-Bantus are not peaceful. Next time we will learn how Ok, or Okello, who was Ugandan, led the Zanzibar Revolution. This was in 1964…
“Except for Junior and Moses, all of us here in this classroom are Bantus, like the Bahutu in Rwanda and Burundi, the Baganda in Uganda, and the Bachaga and Nyamwezi in Tanzania, where the Sukuma also live…”
The whole class laughed at the mention of the Sukuma: a people who were called the Swahili word for collard greens! Sifa, like all the other foreigners, couldn’t tell a Hutu from a Tutsi, thought Moses, the Hutu… For a Hutu, a foreigner is someone to whom you extend hospitality. But these days, it’s the other way around: the foreigners were extending hospitality to the exiled Hutus!
The lesson had confused the entire class, particularly Moses, the Hutu, and Junior, who didn’t know he was Masai. Their classmates admired them for their unbeatable-ness and impartiality, yet today the mood was downbeat… They were waiting for the Zanzibar Revolution! But that was the next lesson.
After school, Junior and Moses had a lengthy conversation. We don’t know what was said between them. Junior was never seen at school again. Moses became increasingly isolated and transferred to another school the following year. He was admitted to Starehe Boys School.
Translated by Louis Greenwood Lüthi
18 September, 2023