— By Sam from Uganda
What I didn’t learn from home, I learnt from Kindergarten. I spent my first three years of life at home learning how to eat by myself, brush my teeth, bathe on my own, greet people while shaking their hands and looking them in the eye, making alarms in case of danger, and notifying mum in case I was feeling pain.
Since I was mum’s first born, she had all the time to be curiosity and to learn about mothering. She had to know what I was saying, why I was crying, and what I needed. Dad was an occasional visitor in the house since he was always on the move on errands and his other families. On days when mum was away, grand mum would always step in to play the motherly role, with occasional assistance from Uncle Sam, Richard, and Fred who ended up being my playmates because my siblings were too young. I was never allowed to leave home to play with children in the neighborhood, everyone lived in their own fenced house, and it was hard to know what was happening on the other side.
I started school when I was 4 years old and by that time; mum knew she had equipped me with all the basics I needed to socialize with the rest of the children. She instructed me to do what the teachers told me, never to fight, never to have bad manners, and never to leave school until I was picked up by someone from home.
Mum would pack for me enough food, with instructions not to admire anyone else’s food and not to beg from others. Bread, popcorn, and orange juice were a must have in my container, and once in awhile they would pack me chicken. My school was just a stone’s throw away from home, though I kept insisting on being dropped off in a car. Initially, I felt weird walking through the neighborhood while putting on a school uniform. I kept having this feeling that everyone was staring at me and making fun of my appearance. The car offered me some sense of assurance that no one was seeing me.
School had its own dynamics. The teachers dictated who to sit with and where to sit. I never wanted the front rows because of the unnecessary attention from the teachers and the expectation to learn faster than the ones seated behind. I was also shy, too shy to be seen in front by all of the class, but that is where the teachers instructed me to sit.
Seating me next to a girl worsened my manners. I had barely interacted with any girls before and one of the instructions I had from home was not to have bad manners. In my head I thought the teachers were indirectly choosing a marital partner for me, and completely going against what mum had told me to do.
During breakfast, it was mandatory to share food with the neighbors. To me, sharing anything with girls was criminal and I utterly refused to follow that rule. The teachers tactfully changed my breakfast schedule for me to start sharing with the boys, but I remembered that mum had told me not to covet other people’s food, so I still refused. Whenever they offered me their food, I would respond to them with “tiyenda” (“I don’t want”).
Little did I know that I was innocently hurting other people’s feelings and self-esteem by refusing their genuine offers. As time went by, no one wanted to associate with me; as the rest were seated in pairs sharing their breakfast, the teachers decided to seat me by myself. I felt so hurt and isolated. My pain was worsened when the whole class started sarcastically calling me Tiyenda instead of Sam. I felt like they were mocking me as being proud, arrogant, and selfish because I refused to share with them. I started crying whenever someone called me Tiyenda. The teachers sat me down and advised me to start sharing and playing with everyone if I wanted them to stop calling me Tiyenda.
Hard as it was, I had no option but to abide, because I found the Tiyenda name too derogatory to bear with. I unconditionally started accepting food from all the kids. I had to do away with some instructions from home and started playing with the girls. All my classmates enjoyed playing with me and everyone wanted to share with me. I stopped feeling shy and I grew comfortable with everyone around me. I learned how to co-exist with my peers, and to this day I have never heard anyone call me Tiyenda again.