Today, when I arrived at school, Pastor James was having a discussion with the local official who was delivering the standardized tests. He was clearly agitated. “Enough! Enough!” he said, waving his hands in the air. “I have no time for arguments. I must open the school assembly.”
“I will wait,” was the response from the local official.
In the morning announcements, Pastor James opened school with the traditional greeting and prayer. The usual hygiene check was completed. With the routine out of the way, he introduced the students to the local official. “As she looks around, she can see that we have very little. We are a very poor school filled with very poor orphans. But she can see that you are very bright children who are good at your lessons,” said Pastor James. All the time, he looked directly to the official who sat stiffly behind the children under the shade of the mango tree.
“Please applaud her generosity for bringing these required tests…five tests for each child.” The children clapped with enthusiasm. Pastor released the children to their studies and called Madame Margaret and the other teachers to accompany him. In what seemed like a game of The Farmer in the Dell, we formed a circle around the official as Pastor asked her to explain very slowly and in English the problem once again so that the learned teachers could understand..
The official explained that she had all of the tests in envelops ready to leave with us. There was, however, a test fee that needed to be paid. The fee was not horrible–about 1,000 shillings per grade level. In sum, the bill came to around $150. I listened to the pastor as he argued that a poor school doing such good things should not have to pay the government for a test required by the government. Several times, Pastor walked away from the local official who sat patiently with envelops of test neatly piled in her lap.
It is always very difficult to know when I should keep my words to myself and when I should step forward. Finally, I followed the Pastor and shared that I could pay the bill. Pastor scowled and said that he was certain that the local official was inflating the costs of the tests. “Let me continue to work on her,” he said with a smile.
As the faculty left for morning sessions, the discussion between opposing forces persisted. Two hours later, the children were released for play and the faculty emerged from the hut for traditional morning meetings. Little had changed except the shade provided by the mango tree. Pastor was still leaning into the agent with hands clasp behind his back and the traditional stick tapping the back of his leg. Still under the tree, sat the local official with the pile of envelopes neatly piled in her lap.
As students gathered to begin the second session, Pastor sought me out and shared that the local official seemed to have found a comfortable place to spend the day. I laughed and suggested that I was certain it was not “comfortable” but indeed it was a shady spot to rest. When Pastor ask that I speak with her, I took it as my cue to step in. I walked the official to the end of the path, paid her, and returned with the tests.
“Sometimes,” Pastor James said, “hard rock is worn down by soft water.” I handed off the tests and wondered which he thought he was…
Continue to A Lesson in Extremes.