Baba Musoro woke up one morning with a splitting headache and a fever. All night, he had felt hot then cold. Now it was muscle aches and tiredness. He had tried the usual home remedies to no avail. There was no option but to go to the local clinic.
Baba Musoro had lived in his village for as long as he could remember. His family were renowned tobacco leaf farmers and elders in the village. But one thing which set Baba Musoro apart and was always a bone of contention was his opinion about girl's education.
The local council had opened a primary school to great fanfare, and all classes would start in earnest the following January. The new classrooms had brightly coloured posters and earnest-looking teachers. Mai Musoro could hear from her compound loud noises being carried in the wind as children played.
One or two of the Musoro's neighbours had held back their children from attending school, having been influenced by village elders such as Baba Musoro. Sometimes he would come back early from his visits around the village in a foul mood, having been defeated in an argument on one thing he was not prepared to budge, sending his one daughter Itayi to school.
His wife of many years had only managed to give birth to one child. In Baba Musoro's idle moments, he wondered whom he would pass on his wealth and inheritance. Unless he got another wife, one child would be the end of his bloodline.
He left his bedroom, feeling groggy, and lumbered around the homestead looking for his wife, who was already busy with chores. It had been a good year, and the selling price for tobacco leaf had given him a tidy sum. He was now thinking of the next planting season and buying some new farm implements or perhaps a few more livestock to improve his herd and status in the village.
As he approached Mai, who was multitasking and preparing the morning maize porridge on an open fire, he glanced at his daughter playing make-believe house at a distance, too young to lend a hand.
"Baba, have you thought a bit more about what I mentioned yesterday?"
"You are not going over that old ground again; I thought we had concluded the discussion."
"The fact that you decided to go to bed early doesn't mean the discussion has ended. My friends tell me the new primary school nearby is already enrolling for January."
"Mai, you should be more concerned about things nearer home. I am not well. I am suffering from aches and pains, and all you can think about is schooling. How many times am I going to tell you that no child of mine is going to school to come back with a head full of useless information and attitudes bordering on disrespect? Itayi can stay at home and be taught how to run a homestead and work in the fields. The school of life is what she needs."
"I'm sorry you aren't well, and I know you have been trying to self medicate. Your only remaining option is to go to the clinic."
As if he had not heard what she said, Baba continued,
"Noone is going to force me to send my child to school. Your father sent you, and look where it got him! By the age of fifteen, you had already dropped out and were about to give birth to your first child! What a waste of school fees!"
"You know my circumstance was different. When I was supposed to carry on with my education, there was a severe drought. We didn't have enough money to send all my siblings to school. My family married me off to you, and your bride price saved the family from starvation. I've been with you ever since. I'm not complaining." Mai, however, visibly retreated into her shell, humming a melancholy tune.
"Forget those dreams," said Baba. "Your time has passed. It's more important that you look after your one child and your husband. So get ready to escort me to the clinic."
When the clinic opened, everyone celebrated that they didn't have to travel far to access health facilities. The clinic's land was a donation from a local family that had migrated to the capital. Baba Musoro, although lauding their benevolence, still could not understand who in their right mind would give away land when you can put it to profitable use.
Baba and Mai Musoro could see a small crowd as they approached the clinic, some lying under trees and others crowded under a corrugated iron verandah waiting their turn.
"I can't be expected to join a line. Mai, you go ahead and speak to the nurses and alert me when things are sorted."
"Is it fair to jump the queue when others are probably just as sick as you are, if not worse?"
"Unless you want me to collapse in that queue, I suggest you do as I ask. After all, I am someone in this community."
Mai Musoro, shaking her head, refrained from further arguments and entered the building. She came out a few minutes later and signalled Baba to approach the door. He hobbled in and greeted everyone with his hat in his hand. He was escorted into a sparsely equipped examination room with educational charts on the wall about diets and various diseases. It didn't take long for the Sister in Charge to assess the symptoms, examine Baba and diagnose that he was suffering from malaria.
"I don't think we have met, but I have heard a lot about you, Baba Musoro. I am not from these parts, but I understand that you are quite influential. I'm part of the Village Development Committee," said the Sister in Charge. "I hope to make time to meet everyone, so I am glad you dropped by."
Baba Musoro was flattered that he was so well known and sat back in the comfort of his chair as the Sister in Charge carried on filling forms and conducting further examinations. Sister continued,
"I also hear that you have a daughter who is of school-going age, and she has not enrolled like the others."
"Sister, I have my reasons and thought I came here so you can focus on my health."
"Yes, but there is no harm in learning more about prominent community members when I get the chance. I know people listen to you. I am interested to hear why she is not going to school. Is she sick, or does she have a disability? Even then, we can assess her and possibly address both issues."
"Since you want my opinion and you seem to have the time, I will tell you," said Baba Musoro.
He launched into an explanation about how he didn't see the value of educating the girl child. After all, they would get married and leave, and how would that benefit her immediate family? There was enough work for girls to do at home without spending time in the classroom. Sister could work out where this discussion was going and decided to cut it short.
"I'm sorry, that is how you feel. If you had a boy child, would you think the same? A few parents around here are not sending children to school because they can't pay school fees or the distance to the school is too far. There is always the worry about child safety, but I don't see such obstacles here in this village. We should make the most of our advantages, especially since we now have a fully staffed primary school."
"I admit that I am not like the rest of my neighbours. I don't lack funds and so can employ farm labourers," said Baba.
"So why would you not want her to go to school? If you share your concerns, we can try to solve them. We are aware we need to further improve the school facilities and sanitation. We are planning to employ more female teachers who can be role models for girl children. However, is there something I am missing in your logic behind discriminating against girls?"
Baba realised Sister was systematically pulling his objections apart. He now felt inadequate, as if he had not thought through his arguments all these years. When he was with like-minded people, it all seemed to make sense.
Sister continued, "All I know from my experience is that girls who don't go to school are more likely to enter early marriages and start families too early. In the past, large families provided domestic labour. In your case, is that still be a concern?"
"Haven't you finished my medical examination?" said Baba abruptly.
"I'm sorry. I'm now detaining you," said Sister. "I am very passionate about girls education. I had a father who thought like you until a local school teacher forced the issue by stating that my father was breaking the law. That argument finally convinced him to send me to school. Now, look where I am! The more we educate our girls, the more the village is likely to prosper."
Baba came out of the examination room looking harassed. He was confronted by his anxious wife, knitting under a tree, with her friends.
"That must have been a thorough examination! you took far longer than other patients, yet you still look a bit peaky."
"I've malaria, which I knew already. But that woman can talk! I was also given a prescription for Itayi."
"But she's not sick. You are!"
"Yes, the first prescription will sort out my malaria. Sister, however, gave me another 'prescription', and I am beginning to think there's no reason not to follow it. I thought I was a man of the world, but I have to concede, that Sister is one formidable woman!"