Photography By: Moses Odanga – http://www.modanphotography.com/
Venue: Loreto Convent Primary School, Mombasa
When the car I was in pulled into Loreto Convent Primary School Mombasa, twenty years since I had been there, I knew the nostalgia would hit me hard; the neat rows of shrub, the lower primary classrooms on the far left of the parking lot, the corridor leading towards the music hall. It felt like I had been there the day before, memories of school plays and sports days coming back to me in such a powerful way. What I did not expect was the welcoming party that received me!
A little girl with a bouquet of flowers almost twice her size looked up to me with pretty wide eyes as she handed me the roses and I was floored. A group of teachers lined up to greet me, shaking my hand warmly and then I recognized two who had taught my siblings and I in the 90s! I embraced Mr. Kodawa warmly, not quite believing he was still teaching there! Sister Gertrude, the School Principal who had invited me, a lady with a kind spirit and quiet authority, walked me past a group of students who were singing a song that said something about welcoming their daughter home. They shook their shoulders and stomped, making their way from the parking lot to the field where the event was taking place.
The date, 8th August 2015. It was their prize giving day, and Sister Gertrude, had invited me to be their…wait for it…Chief Guest of Honour! Wait…hang on…the little girl who fought with boys and played on the climbing frame and sold wrestling stickers with her two brothers for some extra pocket money (we later got our butts whooped by our Dad so hard later that evening, I eventually lost the thrill for anything to do with WWF!) was now a Guest of Honour! I was not a model student while learning there, but I remember the teachers being patient, albeit militant, with us. It was a rare combination and one that, in hindsight, really helped in my character building. It also allowed me to trust adult supervision from very early on.
After signing the guest book at the Principal’s office and meeting my fellow alum, a bubbly, smart lady called Josephine whose aunt was my classmate back in primary school and who would later speak passionately about hard work paying off, I was led through the hall where we would sometimes have assembly and out into the playing field, a vast expanse of memories. People had already congregated; parents, teachers, students. There was a high table that I was led to and I could not quite believe that, twenty years ago, I had craned my small neck trying to take a look at who the Guest of Honour was. Now here I was, seated in the middle, facing everyone, a wide array of expressions staring back at me. Expectant, curious, anxious, excited. It was surreal, but I composed myself and the festivities began.
After inspecting the Guard of Honour and singing the national anthem, came a moment that filled me with immense emotion; singing the Loreto anthem:
Loreto Convent School, Loreto Mombasa,
Loreto Convent School, Loreto Mombasa,
While I breathe I believe in The Cross,
While I breathe I believe in The Cross.
Maria Regina Angelorum…
The words came out of my mouth with an ease that surprised me. It was as though Mrs. Mubiru, my former music teacher, was waving her heavy set arms in front of me again, emphasizing each word meticulously, pedantic about the right rhythm, the right tone of voice. I had to fight back tears.
After taking a seat for the event to kick off and as the first few songs and shairis were performed, I took a moment not only to appreciate the invite to the occasion or to reflect on the years I had spent in the school, but on everything it taught me, lessons I still carry with me to date.
Sister Reid (who is still alive and in her nineties but teaches in Nairobi) was a tough elderly lady who reminded us everyday that there is no shortcut to discipline and that discipline defines a person. Miss Adhiambo (who has since passed away), arguably the most feared teacher in the school, did not let us get away with disobedience and breaking the school rules. She put us all on the straight and narrow and taught us that living life with focus always paid off. Mrs. Mubiru (who is now retired) was arguably the finest music teacher at the Coast. She allowed us to travel the world and read the Bible through mellifluous song and well-worded prose, instilling, at least in me, a deep love and appreciation for music that I have to date. Sister Mary (who has since passed away) taught us about the Bible, emphasizing on faith rather than religion.There were many other teachers who taught us many other lessons, not just in the classroom, but on life. They may never know it, but these teachers changed my life.
I rose to give my speech and told the parents that one of the best decisions they made was putting their children in that school. That even though I have made mistakes in life and I still have a lot of figuring out to do, I am all the more equipped because of the values I took with me from Loreto. I turned to the students and reminded them that every one of us has a purpose and even though they may not know what to make of that right now, they are on the right path, if they take advantage of the teachers and lessons from Loreto.
The prize giving ceremony had some amazing categories; most improved student, sports player of the year and even parent of the year! We wound up the occasion by doing Sauti Sol’s Lipala Dance and I left the school with a big grin on my face. I had come back home and it felt like I had renewed my sense of purpose. I am a proud Loreto alum, I am a proud daughter of one the finest schools in Kenya!