Monday morning, my first day as the lone white teacher at St Mary's Girls' Secondary School. I followed at the end of the line of teachers as we passed in the back door of the hall and towards the stage at the front. The students filled the hall, standing in tight rows and leaving an aisle down the centre, through which we teachers walked. The girls, in light green blouses and long, dark green skirts, were singing. And how they sang. Their heads were thrown back, unrestrained and full of vitality, as we teachers solemnly paraded by. The hall boomed and expanded with each note. The five hundred voices were each hurled into the air above our heads, where they instantly combined, binding and harmonising, creating a new and more flavoursome whole. The sound rained down, filling the bare hall with warmth, and resonating within me. That such feeling, so natural and vibrant, could be created only by the simple vibrating of vocal chords made me want to fall down in wonder. The words weren’t English, but the sound spoke clearly to me, so full and earnest. I looked around for someone to share the moment with, but the other teachers just looked bored.
As I passed along the rows of students, I could briefly make out distinct voices, one then another, as each girl had a moment in the spotlight before the chance passed on. It was like unravelling the twine of the song, to see the individual threads of which the fabric was composed. In a moment we had reached the stage and stood looking down on the carpet of black heads and green shirts, as the girls completed the song. A hush fell.
At the end of the regular announcements I stood grinning awkwardly as the headmistress, Sister Kapenda, said “Now girls, this is Mr Geerdo from
is here at St Mary’s to teach biology and he will be with us for two years.
Please make him feel so welcome.”
Immediately the bare concrete hall burst to colourful life with a kaleidoscopic display of cheering, jumping, waving of arms and clapping of hands. I looked for any hint of sarcasm or irony in this, but seeing only joyous sincerity, I felt that some sort of response was called for. I raised my hand in a feeble wave, like the Queen in a passing motorcade, and this was met with a roar of happy laughter and whooping, plus more cheering, waving of arms and clapping of hands. Welcome indeed.