The lists of goodies are endless; like the proverbial life in paradise. It is like saying if you have education, you are the master, a special specie of human being, different from others; and if you don't have it, a dimwit and a moron, looked down upon, and seeing as incapable of bringing pride to family and community. The hope for education, a job in government or the new commerce was intoxicating. The uneducated or those who had missed the opportunity and could no longer be counted among the favored were determined to move their families up the of progress.
At seven years, I looked forward like every other child to follow my father to an elementary school about three kilometers to our home for school registration. When the day dawned, it was like we were going for a celebration. A journey at joining the elites in the future had begun. It was the of every family for their growing kids and we were delighted by it. It was absurd for a child to want to skip what was viewed as a giant step toward a respectable adulthood that would lead to glorious future of possibilities.
Meticulously dressed in my best apparel; at the time kept at the bottom of the box and reserved for special occasions. So also were other children, who like me were eager at joining their siblings, who were already in school. It was a very serious matter. It was like we miss the chance for registration, we would have missed the chance to live. We stood on a long line with other children before registration officials, and heard one of them announced the exercise marked the beginning of a journey in our lives toward embracing pursuit of knowledge and excellence. They checked our age, ensured we were physically qualified for the age claimed by our parents, and any child who could not pass the physical was barred.
It looked like the life we had lived before the time was irrelevant and we were then stepping into the relevance. There was a great enthusiasm among children on the line, and parents appeared happy as witnesses to the building block for the foundation of our future lives. Delighted parents watched each child joyfully filed before school officials set to conduct the registration. No child knew what was requirement to be registered. Specifically, I did not know. All I was told when we had left the house was that I was going to start school.
I stood before the school official like other children that preceded me. The school official asked for my name and age. I told him my Moslem name ‘Kareem’, as I was then called and that I was seven years.
“Raise your right hand.”
I did as instructed.
"Put your hand across your head to touch your ear.’
I did as instructed.
But alas, my hand was not long enough to touch my left ear. The school official
saw it, beckoned to my father who watched the scene to come over. I wondered what the officer wanted to achieve with what he had asked me to do, which I viewed like an act of magic.
“Bring him back next year when he must have grown up enough to be registered.” he told my father who witnessed the scene amidst other parents.
“But he is already seven years.” my father gently protested with an inquisitive look at the officer.
“It is not an issue of age. He failed to satisfy the requirement for the school enrollment. I asked him to put his right hand across his head to touch his left ear and you saw it that his right hand did not touch the left ear.” the school officer said.
There was no attempt from the school officer for me to try again, to convince my father that my hand did not touch my left ear, and my father did not bother to ask for
a repetition. My father was perplexed and speechless with mouth opened in
awe. He looked helpless.
I was taken back home, and what was to be my first year of schooling was lost. It seemed a bad beginning with a disappointment, but certainly not the end. The future, my future,
was still a long way and a journey, a very long journey, which actually began the day I
was born and welcomed into the world, when I cried; “yen, yen, yen,” had suffered a fracture, its first fracture. It dampened my joy as a child. I did not voice my displeasure, but my father saw it on my face, and I knew he was not happy either.
"Don’t cry. You will come back next year. I did not know how your hand could not reach your left ear.” he solemnly urged. The following year, I did not have any problem. But the
misfortune of having lost a whole year of schooling due to inability to put my right hand across my head to touch my left ear had widened. The widening could be traced to a change in the political control in my country. It was a political accident in which a favorite party that offered free elementary education lost an election to another one that hated free primary school education.
After independence in 1960, the country became a republic in 1963. A political party that was favored in the region where we lived and which offered free primary education had lost
the premiership election to another party that controlled the central government, and so we lost the free primary education. With the political accident went the control of the region from education loving politicians to education hating idiots, and so went all the goodies and euphoria of independence.
It was like the party at the center that seized political control of the region forced itself on the electorate. There began a political struggle between the education loving party and the
education hating party over the region. It dampened the joy of parents who had wished that the elementary education should be free. They were asked to pay for one item or another, and all that children who came previous years ahead of us had obtained free.