Gifted and Special

“Those marks can’t take him anywhere!” Nambi felt as she took the result slip of her son, Ntambi, disappointed. He was in a school where kids were forced through a regime of caning and haranguing them to excel through nonstop reading. But this trick had failed to work on her boy. She called up her trusted friend Eliza, who was a retired educationist. “Where can I find another good school that can beat Ntambi to make the right grades, particularly maths. All the beating and 24/7 reading is not getting him anywhere.”

Eliza took a while before responding. From the little she knew about Ntambi there was no doubt he was a gifted kid, but who seemed a bit demotivated for some reason. The trick might be in finding the right environment, she thought. Although most of everyone believed in the cane, there were schools she knew of that had started using other non-conventional methods, emphasizing a more holistic approach. Just then one school with a certain foreign teacher crossed her mind. “Have you heard of Booker College School,” Eliza asked.

“No,” Nambi said. “Why, would you ask, do kids there make the right score!”

“Mostly,” said Eliza. “It has a Japanese teacher from the Japanese Overseas Development Network. I hear she is doing wonders with kids like Ntambi who seem not motivated, yet not for lack of talent.”

Nambi trusted Eliza’s instincts and decided to give it a shot. Next Monday without much explaining she told Ntambi to jump in the car. “I want us to try another school that can help you get the right grades for Engineering School. Isn’t it what you said you want!”

“Hmm,” Ntambi shrugged. “So, which school are you talking about. I am happy where I am.”

“Booker College School,” his mother shared. “There are doing amazing things with kids everyone had given up on but who then pass with flying distinction.”

Ntambi shrugged and stepped into the car, not in the least keen. Eliza had warned Nambi that the school had a tight admission policy. “The point is even if the Headmaster lets you in,” she cautioned her, “It is Miss Morita, the Japanese woman, to allow you in her class.”

Indeed once they got to the school the Head Master, Mr Jack Male, after perusing through Ntambi’s grades directed Nambi to see Miss Morita. “I believe we can help him but it will all depend on what she says.”

When they got to Miss Morita’s class they had to wait as she finished seeing some of her students. They could hear her talk excitedly explaining certain numerical concepts. After the class was through she then called in the prospective parent and student. She asked for Ntambi’s last grade.

“Why have you chosen to come here?” She queried while going through his results slip.

“He wasn’t doing well but I was told you can help him here,” said his mother.

“I want him to speak!” Miss Morita cut Nambi short. “Sir, why do you want to come here?”

“I don’t know,” Ntambi confessed. “They just told me to come!”

“Come on Ntambi!” Nambi turned to her son astonished and embarrassed.

There was a moment of silence.

“I shall take him on!” Miss Morita said shocking both.

Nambi turned to her, quite incredulous. “Thank you so much,” she said after going over her surprise.

Meanwhile, Ntambi was not enthused. Once he joined the school he sat at the back of the class, quite aloof. Whenever he was asked to contribute to anything he seemed like waking out of a deep slumber. However, she noticed that Miss Morita had a rather interesting way of teaching. Her class was pinned with posters that read “I can do it!” or “Yes I can!” She always started her class with some inspirational story and for every problem, she gave a local example. “Think of yourself as a banker and you need to raise so much funds for your business,” she would relate to various aspects that caught Ntambi’s imagination. “What kind of interest rate would you afford?” This sounded so real. He would wake from his slumber and try to figure the right answer.

On certain occasions, Miss Morita would invite students to her single flat, which was a story up on one of the dormitories. Whenever Ntambi visited, he was captivated as it was filled with paintings and all kinds of artifacts. During one visit there, Ntambi was struck when he noticed a picture of a little girl doing gymnastics. “Is that you?” He asked after discerning a certain resemblance.

“Yes,” Miss Morita nodded, inviting Ntambi to sit down for a cup of tea. Ntambi was rather hesitant. He had grown up in awe of teachers, whom he generally feared because of the cane. But there was something disarming about this light-skinned petite woman from overseas. He sat and took a tea cup. “How far did you go as a gymnast?” He asked, still curious.

“Actually I made it to the national team and even went for the Olympics,” Miss Morita confessed, with a bright smile.

“Did you win?” Ntambi asked. He loved athletic competitions. “Did you get any medal?”

“No, something happened,” Miss Morita said, her voice filled with a tinge of sadness.

“What happened!” Ntambi pressed her.

“I had a coach who believed in me,” Miss Morita went on to explain. “She taught and led me through all the jumps. I had lost my parents early in life and she was everything to me. I adored her and wouldn’t think of letting her down. But during the qualifying event I woke with a fever and while leaping for a triple jump I suddenly lost concentration and faltered. I could not progress to the next round…”

“Oh!” Ntambi mumbled, quite sorry. “What did your coach do!”

“She just run over and hugged me” Miss Morita said. “She didn’t say anything, just wrapped her arms all around me. She didn’t blame or scream at me. She just held me tight! The rest of the team went on to win medals.”

“Did you compete again?” Ntambi asked. “Since it was just a bad turn!”

“No,” Miss Morita said. “I could not see myself letting her down again. After that fall I run to the locker room and cried myself out. I had let down the only person who believed in me and my team. I then decided to take a break and that is how I ended up here to help nurture gifted and special kids like you.”

Something hit Ntambi now. This teacher had said he was gifted and special. No one had ever told him that. He had already observed how Miss Morita was giving her all to all her students. She would call on her students anytime to see how they were doing. Never would she miss a class. Above all to every child she would say she believed in him, even with the worst performance. “You are gifted and special and can do better!”

That night Ntambi picked up his books, he normally ignored. He started reading with a relish that if there was anything he could not afford to, was to let down this petite woman, who believed in him. Whenever he had any problem Ntambi would call Miss Morita and she was available. In fact, she constantly came up to the classes late during Prep time to help any students with a problem. Together they would crunch out solutions.

On the eve of the final exam Miss Morita set up an extra class and took it through a number of “the most difficult problems” and how to tackle them. After she was done she put her chalk down. “My part is done,” she said with confidence. “It is all yours now.”

Next day as Ntambi started at his exam paper, he first browsed through all numbers. Initially he could not recognize any familiar. His started sweating. He could feel his knees knocking. He was going to fail. But just then he remembered Miss Morita and how she had said he was gifted and special. How could he let her down! No, he couldn’t. At that point something took over him. He went through the numbers again. Suddenly they were all familiar and with renewed confidence found he could work out the right answers. He bent, and went for each, furiously working out solutions. When the final bell rung he had completed all.

The results came out after a month of marking by the national exam body. Ntambi went to pick up his results with his mother found he had scored a distinction. Before heading back home he asked his mother to see one teacher. “Stay here while I bring her up to you.”

He sprinted off to Miss Morita’s flat. He stepped to the door and knocked. There was no response. He knocked hard again. No response.

He started walking to the staff room, hoping to find her there. But just then a car approached and soon drove past him. He thought he had seen someone inside of a familiar face. He looked back and there was Miss Morita waving back at him. She was off back to Japan, her mission done. The entire class had passed with distinction. And soon the car was gone, leaving behind a dusty trail.

“She has gone,” Ntambi shared with his mother. “Miss Morita who believed in me and has made me pass.”

“I see that!” Nambi agreed.

“Before I met her I just had no interest in school work and didn’t believe in myself,” he confessed. “But when I saw how she wanted me to succeed I knew I could not afford to let her down. I am gifted and special.”

The Power of a Name

“The Minister wants to see you!” Mr. Herbert Kiwa, the Permanent Secretary (PS), of the Ministry of Infrastructure was informed by his personal assistant, Anne, early one morning once he reported to office. Kiwa was used to these abrupt summons from his Minister. They were often concerned about him clarifying policy to Mr. Ali Abacha. But this time he was a bit apprehensive. Lately, there had been a fight in the ministry with an attempt to falsify procurement results and award a multi-billion dollar contract to a dubious firm to construct a certain expensive highway, funded by World Bank. It was rumored that the firm was connected to big shots in the government.

“I have called you about that recommendation note concerning whom to award that highway construction,” started Abacha. “I think you should ask the committee to revise the results and award this one.”

Kiwa saw that the Minister was pointing to the very suspect firm, and yet it had scored the least during evaluation. It had never proved any capacity or was it known to have the required expertise.

“Sir, I went through the criteria of the Procurement committee and there is no way we can award that one!”

“What are you saying!” the Minister swung back in his chair, visibly annoyed. “It is a directive from above.”

“But how can I falsify those results,” objected Kiwa. “I have a name to protect in this town and wouldn’t bring myself there.”

“What did you say!” The Minister snapped. “You mean for me I don’t have a name to protect. Are you looking down on me because I came from a poor district?”

“It is not what I meant, Sir,” Kiwa explained, calmly, shifting in his seat. “It has to do with something personal”

“You are dismissed,” declared the Minister, boiling. “We shall see what to do!”

As he saw his PS step out of office, the Minister, Abacha, felt all the rage at him. “What does this man Kiwa mean to say he has a name to protect as if I have none and like I am from the streets!” He fumed. A long time ago the Minister had heard there were certain families which always promoted “the name thing” to signify how special they were. He had long observed that these so-called families with names were using that as a pretext to make other people feel inferior. “Yet,” observed the Minister, “these so-called elite families were also land thieves and now use the “name thing” as a cover-up smokescreen for their past crimes!”

But for the PS, Mr. Kiwa it was a different experience through; in fact, while he was aware how certain people fronted their names like nobles, he was hardly any of that. There was a story to this. It all had started when his father, Mr Kiwa Sr, terminally sick, suddenly gathered all his three sons and two daughters around his bed. Whereas in life Sr had been very hesitant to share his life story, he had finally decided to let out all.

“I have long wanted to tell you how I ended up as a headteacher in a primary school” he began, “for as you know I was one of the first students to be admitted to university to study medicine. I was set on becoming one of the first medical doctors in the country. But because of a strike, I was involved in demanding a better diet the whites expelled me. I struggled to find someplace to resume my education but finally, a man who knew my father enrolled me in a teacher training Institute!”

The room was deathly quiet.

“Because of this as you know,” went on Kiwa Sr, “I have ended up training almost all the important people in this nation. As my children, you will never lack anything because of this good name I have made for you. If you meet any roadblock in life all you have to say is you are my children with the name of Kiwa. We the Kiwa are not landowners and there are no buildings you can point to us to as owners. But the name I have left you will open doors for you and make you live secure and happy lives.”

After these words, Kiwa Sr never uttered a single word again. He died three days later. Kiwa Jr succeeded him as the heir. At first, he struggled to appreciate the meaning of his father’s last deathbed message. But after a while, it sunk in. Once he got out of school he was always surprised by how quickly almost any person he met in an important office would rush to open a door for him upon discovering who his father was. “I am who I am because of your father!” This had enabled him to accelerate as a public servant with almost everyone assured he would do a good job. “We knew your father and we know you wont fail his good name.”

It is this sense of obligation to protect the family name which now governed and consumed KiwaJr all his life. Whenever his own children were found at fault his first mention was, “you are letting down the Kiwa name. People are watching you and expect you to behave in a certain manner. We have a name to protect!”

And now as PS of a ministry managing multimillion-dollar contracts, he was always being put to test, always being pulled left and right by those wanting a piece of those huge contacts. “I will give you any percentage you name” was a common offer. But Mr Kiwa Jr would never hear of it, pointing such to follow the right procedure. “I can’t do otherwise because if word was to get out how will I defend the Kiwa name”!

That night after meeting the Minister he got a call. “We understand that you are hesitant to change the scores,” the anonymous caller started. “But I have instructions to wire 1 $ million to an offshore account of yours. If you don’t have one we can help you open one and there is no way one will be able to trace this juicy offer! Mr. Kiwa Jr hung up immediately.

Things did not go well soon after. One day he came to the office and found a letter of interdiction on his desk. “There are allegations you are funding guerrillas,” read the letter signed by Minister Abacha. “You are asked to vacate your office and go on an indefinite leave of absence to pave way for investigations!”

Life was hard after the suspension of Kiwa Jr. For one thing he quickly observed that his former government colleagues no longer wanted to relate with him. He also heard from the streets that the job eventually was given to the firm he had objected to by a new Acting PS. Even when its performance proved so shoddy that the World Bank held bank funding no one attempted to call him back. He was blacklisted. Once Ann met him at a function and told him that the Minister had swore, ” as long as we are in government that man called Kiwa will never hold a job here. Let him go eat his name.”

But just as for his father after his expulsion from medical school, something beautiful came through. There was a small but influential group of friends who would give Mr. Kiwa Jr jobs, small as they were. They were not many but enough to put food on the table and see all his three kids through school.

Over time the government of Abacha fell through competitive General elections where even after massive rigging the gap was so huge, forcing it to concede. Once his government fell Abacha fled into exile, along with his family, leaving behind all the properties he had accumulated as a minister. A commission of Inquiry was put up and found he had accumulated his vast wealth through corruption. The new government decided to confiscate everything under his name. Abacha would die in exile, fearing to step back home after being convicted in absentia, as a looter.

And as for Kiwa Jr the new government was aware of the circumstances of how he had lost his job, he was recalled and appointed as Head of Public Service. The new government also compensated him for all his loss of pay with interest.

As a last twist to this story, soon after the death of Abacha his now grown-up children returned to the country. They wanted to claim back their father’s property. But everywhere they went doors were slammed right in their faces. “Your father was a terrible man who caused a lot of misery,” said one government official. “Go back to where he took all our country’s money and no one wants to see you here for you remind us of all the misery that man caused.”

The Abacha children left-back for forced exile, very saddened. They could not even find a job in their country. And that was because of a bad name left behind by their deceased father, Abacha. This was unlike Kiwa Jr, whose children once they got out of school quickly found people in town eager to give them a hand. And that was because of a good name left by their grandfather, a good man called Kiwa!