On the 9th of July 2020 morning I got sad news via text messages from three former classmates at Luyeshe Primary School in Malava, Kakamega county. The message declared our dear teacher Mr. Ngaira wa Lihungu had passed on. A teacher of English, geography and Christian Religious Education. He doubled up as a football and volley ball coach. He was also the library teacher during our time. He never missed a chance to remind us of our roots and always wanted us to master our lineage genealogy up to five generations. He expected his students to be fluent and competent in their native language just as well as in English. He required us to share cultural idioms, grammar and similes. Mr. Ngaira had a stern sobering voice that sent chills whenever he gave orders to his students. He was a towering symbol of obedience and a firm believer of order. Looking at him in the eye was an offence in itself and answering him in broken English was a punishable crime. He would ask many questions in quick succession and expect prompt intelligent answers on the fly. If you failed in his daily early morning dictation quizzes then your morning would be lit up by a burning bottom.
Mr. Ngaira was my relative but that did not come with any favours. In fact, it had a punishment multiplying effect if you were found in a wanting position of fault. Together with my cousin Sifuma Sitati we had transferred from Tom Mboya primary School, Nairobi to Luyeshe and he made it clear to us that he would shape us into model citizens. He was our mother’s uncle and as our grandfather we thought he would be dotting on us. Far from it, the sight of his athletic frame on his bicycle always made us jump into flight. He would pick on us as a commander mounting a guard of honor. He would check your hair, your nails, your feet or shoes whatever the case, your shirt had to be tucked in and even your breath. Any fault would mean trouble and heavy corporal punishment or otherwise. He would even punish you for resting in a funny way.
One time our colleague Shitemi was canned thoroughly for having busaa breath and remnants in his mouth. Shitemi had a six figure stature but wept like a baby and was no match to Mwalimu Ngaira’s firm grip as he whacked his buttocks. The poor guy had sour porridge for his breakfast and no attempt to explain to the good Mwalimu bore fruit. The fact that he tried to explain made things worse for him. Our Mwalimu was a busaa connoisseur and as such could not allow Shitemi to discredit his renowned prowess.
Mr. Ngaira wa Lihungu was a great man, he stood firm for his belief of order, culture and our acquired way of living. He appraised our grooming so severely that it has become second nature to us. One time he met our classmate Enock who was escorting livestock to Matete’s animal auction with his shirt untucked and the encounter did not end well. To date Enock who is a successful livestock businessman “mchurusi” as we call them in our community dresses sharply and his shirt is always tucked in. His persistence of proper diction and language proficiency made me enjoy learning and today I speak fluent Kabras and English. His coaching sharpened his students so that our debating club was a force to reckon with in the larger Malava area. We won against Shirugu, Malekha, Burundu, Samitsi, Mavusi, Tande, Kivaywa and many other schools. Personally, I went ahead to win the Oxford Press Essay competition, Macmillan Public Speaking competition in western Kenya that was held in Kisumu and scored an A in English. He demanded discipline from us and did not relent in making this known. In 2017 I met him in Mahusi and he did not fail to point out areas that he wanted me to polish on my oratory skills during the parliamentary campaigns.
So long our tough kuka, so long our dear Mwalimu, Fare the well Mr. Ngaira wa Lihungu se Masia se Mambuya Se Mmtovo.
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