WANJURA: Why Sossion is missed in class
Considering his subjects of specialisation are Chemistry and Physics, Wilson Sossion, the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) Secretary General is admirably well spoken.
The implied stereotype is not entirely without merit. Those who went to high school in the years when the two subjects were mandatory have varying memories of encounters with teachers with first-class knowledge content but with a tendency to speak in a language akin to English.
My teacher, for instance, had a tendency to thoroughly mix up tense and number, which would have been tolerable, had it not been for his quick anger at assumed defiance.
He would bellow: ‘You lousy boy, are you told yesterday I will see you, Martin and that other pumpkin in the staffroom? So both of you will keep me waiting like your girlfriend until when?’
He would then unleash a tirade chiefly directed at the Head Teacher for admitting to a top provincial high school ‘nincompoops’ when intelligent students were reportedly joining the village day school. He pronounced ‘nincompoops’ as ‘ningombumbus’ such that it was many years after school that I learnt it was actually an English word, not a Meru expletive!
Like Sossion, he had a knack for colourful phrases and vows. Long before the threat to strip naked became national news, my teacher was doing it regularly and without ceremony especially when students made a mess of lab tests. But unlike MP Alice Gathogo’s seemingly choreographed please-don’t-strip rescue brigade, his students unsuccessfully egged him on in typical boys’ mischief. He would then promise to walk to the market on his head if any of us passed national exams because, in his estimation, we were the largest concentration of certified idiots per square meter!
I don’t know how well or otherwise Sossion used to teach in his classroom days. But he must have stood out from the pack well enough to successfully venture into union politics. My teacher, by contrast, was a serial loser at the lowest possible entry into KNUT ranks despite being a vocal agitator for teachers’ welfare.The trouble with his candidature reportedly had nothing to do with his ability to represent teachers.
True, it required one to be conversant with his mother tongue to fully understand his English. But he was extremely eloquent when he went vernacular which was almost always in his campaigns largely conducted from dingy beer dens.His competitors routinely wasted him by invoking women and God.
Back in the years, he was a 40-something bachelor whose closest ever known contact with a woman was in the staffroom. Even here, rumour had it that he was always shifting his desk away from female teachers whenever a chance arose, from, say, a transfer of a colleague. So concerned were fellow men that they secretly plotted to pair him with Kagwiria, the local bar waitress, who had been explicitly instructed to subject him to a suitable ‘normal man’ test.
The plan was to have a fellow drunk donate yams and potatoes to the teacher. They’d be brought to the bar and since the teacher was often the last man out, Kagwiria would then help him take home the load considered too heavy for an inebriated man. Thereafter, it would have reasonably been too late and risky for her to leave for her house.
The plan seemed to be working perfectly until they got to the school gate. Suddenly, the teacher regained sobriety. He then swiftly handed Kagwiria a cash equivalent of a Tusker beer for her labours before grabbing the load and hoisting it on his shoulders! He was also an atheist. In a region where God’s name is sacrosanct, it took considerable courage to preach non-believing.
The arguments for his atheism ping-ponged between philosophy and frivolity. He would, for instance, blame his Sunday school teacher for numbing his desire for Heaven by describing it as a place with a generous supply of tea and bread- two things he confessed a healthy distaste for. He was also a vegetarian who took great exception at the Eucharist. He reasoned that faith in his preferred diet was at odds with ‘cannibals’ who partook Jesus’ flesh and blood, never mind if it was merely symbolic.
Clearly, Sossion does not suffer from such encumbrances. How much of being a family man and a practicing Christian has helped the KNUT boss’ cause is open to debate. But his eloquence must surely have played a part. It is probably a tribute to the latter that saw him stage a union coup against Mudzo Nzili who, as an acting Secretary General, appeared a shoo-in for the substantive post.Today, Nzili is the KNUT chairman, a pompous title that is essentially lightweight in real office clout.
Watching him faithfully sitting besides Sossion in union functions, it is difficult to read what, exactly, goes through his inner mind on such occasions. Sometimes, his lips seem to be moving as if humming to Brandy’s tune ‘Almost Doesn’t Count.’It must take either deep stoicism or plain surrender of ambitions to faithfully subordinate yourself to a guy who literally stabbed you in the back. Perhaps Nzili’s biggest mistake- like the government and the Teachers Service Commission are oft doing- was to underestimate Sossion’s stealthy determination.
That is tempting especially because of Sossion’s appearance. Being of slight built and generally affable when he is not threatening strikes, Sossion cuts the image of a harmless figurehead. In fact if you catch him in a good mood at the bar, which is not irregular, he might treat you not only to a drink but also a clumsy cameo of an imaginary Teachers’ Got Talent singing show.
But don’t be fooled by the easy-going manner. Even when the drink slurs his speech, his mind will be on an overdrive with incisive observations on teachers-related issues. He is also extremely adroit at forging networks that prove useful to him and the union including mobile phone numbers that could rival a roll call of who is who in Kenya.
Irrespective of how the teachers’ salaries imbroglio pans out, Sossion will hopefully remember to revisit the plight of my not-so-successful teacher, now retired. Just like with current pay rise, he, like many other teachers, is still waiting for the revised pension years after the court ordered for its immediate payment.
Above all, Sossion should go back to class and teach once in a while. Some Physics and Chemistry students somewhere could do with an eloquent teacher for once and a famous one to boot.