Times when I will not bow down

Walking through the school playground, pupils squat down as I and other teachers walk past as a mark of respect and reminder of a teacher’s authority. During infant school years children are introduced to a strong hierarchicaImagel structure within this country. When I first started teaching here it quite disturbed me that when a child would approach me to ask anything they would kneel in front of me; I have even seen student teachers kneel down to speak to their tutors at the teacher’s college.

Wives kneel down when speaking to their husbands or any other man; as well as when serving food. Many months ago a teacher asked if I knelt down to speak to Daniel, I replied that I bow down to no man, only God, not sure if it was culturally appropriate to respond this way, but I still standby what I said. Local government representatives are offered a three-piece lounge chair (sofa) to sit in during official functions (which are generally outside under a mango tree). It is quite customary here for staff to eat together: at school all teachers eat our serving of beans and posho (a fluffy, playdough-like solid containing corn flour and water) together in the staffroom; whereas the head teacher, two deputy head teachers and school accountant eat in a separate room and are served beans and posho with an extra side dish of vegetables. In the school office there is a large piece of cardboard with photos of all staff members. The head teacher’s almost life-size photo screams from the top-centre of the poster; then the deputy teachers follow, subject leaders and then other teachers slowly descending in size of photos and indeed importance (my small photo appears near the bottom). Historically, this hierarchical structure possibly started as a mark of respect for elders – a way for the community to show them honour and also to keep order. Now, this respect seems to be used as a vehicle for power and a way of exercising control. No one will question the decisions made by the bearer of the large photo or the one who sits on the large armchair… even when it relates directly to them.

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