Three days ago, two of my neighbours came for a book search in my house.
Neighbour 1: This guy is looking for motivational books. Do you have any in hard copy?
Me: Motivational books? From me? No way.
This guy: Which other interesting ones do you have?
So, I walk them over to my book shelf, and now that they are not readers, they turn towards me their eyes asking the obvious ‘which one?’
Me: All these are interesting. But for starters (I have always wanted to use this term), I will let you have Zoo.
They take turns to look at the book, I hear one say the 300 pages are a lot, before another one screams, ‘Aaaaah. Written by Chanchori? Should be a good one’.
At this point, I quickly get excited because ever since I moved here, I am yet to find someone I can have a conversation with about books. And this one seems to be quite a catch.
Me: Haiya. You know Chanchori?
Neighbour 1: The one who wrote the Uber Story? Definitely yes.
Me: How do you know him?
Neighbour 1: I follow him on Facebook.
Kenyans! Starters! That is not even close to knowing somebody!
I asked them whether they went to boarding school in primary school. They said No. I let them have the book, though I knew they would have a hard time relating to the book in the way I did.
Best thing that happened to me this week? Zoo
The story is told by a young boy who goes to boarding school at the age of eight years, and lasts in the school for five years until he clears his standard eight national examinations. It is not an easy ride for him. I doubt it is any different for any other person, owing to the fact that he was introverted, shy, did not know any other language apart from his mother tongue and was in the same class with his elder brother who was like a stranger to him, and subjected him to the most traumatic experiences.
If you went to a boarding school in primary, mostly a Catholic school, you will notice the striking similarities between the school in the book, which the boy refers to as a Zoo, with the students as Animals, and the boarding school you attended. Like the evening prayer routines, the Sunday/Saturday masses, the food, the dormitories, unruly students, the theft, nostalgic visiting days, the punishments.
I could not speak better of the emotional torture than the way the author puts it. At the tender age of eight, one is faced with the huge task of decision-making, trying to fit in, waking up at four o’clock in the morning and being punished even when you had no idea what exactly was your mistake.
There is somewhere in the book the author describes how the boy was beaten because he did not want to be the class prefect, and that was because he could not handle all the pressure that came with it. Another time, the whole school was caned throughout the night because one of them had found a thorn in their food, and the rest had poured the food in the dining hall. You want me to talk about the time he was caned because he scored 80% and not 100%? No.
This book made me think about my primary school days, and the amount of torture we unknowingly persevered. Like compulsory choir practice on Sunday afternoons, going for close to three days with dry water taps, being caned all the time. And fear. Fear was the order of the day.
I remember there was a time we were caned at 9.30pm, just at the end of the night preps, because the teacher said we made our prayers too fast. You know that plastic handle that used to come attached to buckets? Yes, that one. We were ordered to remove our sweaters and that red thing did justice to our backs. I think I still have the mark it left on my back. That pointed tip literally dug into my flesh, and I had to go for weeks without washing my back. And no one dared say a thing.
Now that I think of it, I think someone should have said something. Something like not all of us were that religious. That it was not right to shove the prayers down our throats. That prayers were prayers, no matter how fast they were said. And I don’t think God is that slow to miss our prayers because we said them fast. I mean, He created all these in six days!
But we were just kids. Letting fear drive us all the way.
Reading Zoo made me pause after every chapter, holding my breath as I thought about the effects of the toxicity in our school systems. I kept holding my breath for the boys, and loved the book even more because there is so much humour in there you cannot miss a good laugh.
That is it for today. Get your copy of the book. I guarantee you happiness.