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December 21, 2012

Small Boy on Podium

It was a significantly slow and silly week at school.  The Ministry of Education calendar said we were to continue up to and including Christmas Eve and, damn it, the administration was determined to follow orders.  But students don’t always follow orders.  The flood of green and maroon uniforms dried to a trickle as the week progressed and everyone, including me, fought against the clock, arriving closer and closer to class time.

Each morning a handful of seniors stood clustered around the podium even though it was well past 7:30 and devotion should be in full swing.  When I entered the gate they would nod to me feebly and climb on the platform.  “Well, if she’s here I guess we have to do it…”  They’d ring the bell weakly but no one would come out to the courtyard.  A dozen people would start clapping and half heartedly sing a few gospel songs before starting the anthem and raising the flag.  Then they’d all look at each other as if to say, “Now what?”

Almost on cue an engine revved outside the gate and our principal burst in on his motorbike, his Armani coattails flapping behind him.  Cheers and clapping filled the air as he circled the newly awakened mob his eyes sparkling but his expression deadpan.  He parked and unlocked his office.  We all held our breath to see what he would come out with.  Would today be the day we got break?

Wednesday he burst out of the door without a word and leapt into the mob with his rattan high over his head.  As if repelled by a magnet, they laughed and shrieked and ran in all directions, until he turned the other way then they ran back to see what would happen to the unlucky people he caught.  “Go back!  Just gooooo back!” he boomed.  I raised an eyebrow at my seniors still in stitches on the podium.  “Let’s go!” I pointed to the door.  “Or he’ll come for you next!”  They filed in and we slogged through another day of radical expressions.

The next morning we repeated the scene with fewer characters.  The late start.  The poorly pulled together uniforms.  The mumbled songs.  Then just as we teetered on the edge of anarchy we heard the engine and Mr. Demie kicked the gate open and roared inside.  “Give our Christmas!” they chanted jumping and screaming.  He shot them a severe look over his small silver glasses but the edges of his mouth struggled not to twitch into a smile.  They are all terrified of him but they also love and respect him.  It’s a tough balance but he manages it well.

He disappeared into his office and we all fell silent.  Would it be the rattan again or would it finally be Christmas?  He emerged with a large stack of blank sheets and quietly locked the door.  He climbed the podium and they burst into applause.  He shook his head in warning as if to say, “don’t push it or I’ll go back for the stick.”  He passed out the sheets and told each prefect to take attendance and hold the class until recess.

They ran to their rooms jubilating.  I taught one more lesson on simplifying radicals then they called an emergency faculty meeting (that lasted two hours) and the day was finished.  Thank god.  Thank god.  Thank god.  I have a week and a half to catch up on sleep, clean before my mom comes, and keep typing my WAECs.

Ohhhh yes, life in Liberia…

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