Some of the best advice I have ever had came from my elder brother, Pete, just as I was starting my school teaching career. With already three years' teaching experience behind him, he said this: it doesn't matter how you get on with the children and the other teachers, make sure you get on well with the secretaries, cleaners, caretakers, catering staff - and had we had the conversation 10 years later than we did, undoubtedly the list would have included classroom assistants.
Of course, it does matter how teachers get on with other teachers and the children, but there's a really important point here. Easy in the middle of a busy working life to forget the importance of all people, either from a humanitarian or a faith point of view. Everybody in the life of a school - or a University, church, mosque, company, whatever - has a key role to play, and in a very important sense, the more hidden from public view the role is, the more important it is to recognise that role and show appreciation to the people fulfilling it.
I have tried to abide by this principle as a school teacher and ever since. Particularly, I now live in a country with many, many security guards, and I make a point of greeting them and thanking them for opening gates etc. To be honest, this can get exhausting to the point of making the difference between going out and staying in my flat at weekends, but it does seem to me important nevertheless.
Meanwhile, I've drifted into the habit, when going to church on Sundays, of parking not in the church carpark but in one of the spaces allocated to the bank next door which is, of course, closed on Sundays. The security guards then offer to wash my car whilst the service is going on. I know that I rather overpay for this service, and can get made to feel as if I'm singlehandedly increasing the inflation rate by doing so, but from a purely selfish point of view, I rather like the idea that I'm good terms with the people who are watching over my car on a busy street!
So, I parked up this morning. And then got into a conversation with the security guards outside the bank which went something like this, the names are changed and in any case I got to know them as is apparent below:
Solomon: You're going to church?
Solomon: Pray for me.
Me: I'll certainly pray for you, what is your name?
Me: OK, Solomon, what exactly shall I pray for?
Solomon: I want a different job.
Me: What job would you like?
Me: Mimi ni mwalimu hesabu (I am a mathematics teacher). Now I work at the
Aga Khan University with teachers. When did you leave school?
Solomon: End of form 4 (equivalent of year 11, end of GCSEs)
Me: OK, so you need A levels before teacher training college. How will you
study for them?
Solomon: At the local college.
Me: Right, so we must pray, and we must also do. You go to college! So
(turning to the other guard), what is your name?
Me: And what can I pray for you, Noah?
Noah: That I can get a job as a driver
Me: OK, do you have a driving licence?
Me: So, how will you get one?
Noah: Maybe through my current company if they need drivers.
Me: OK, I'll pray for you and again, you must also act. Now, as security guards,
you do your job not for Group Alpha (reading from their lapel badges) but for
Jesus! I work not for the Aga Khan University but for Jesus! Everything
we do we do for Jesus! So, I will pray for you. Baadaye (see you later!)
So, I did pray for Solomon and for Noah, that Solomon might have the resolve and opportunities to fulfil his amibition to be a teacher, and Noah to be a driver. And maybe you, reader, will pray for them too, if you contact me privately I'll tell you their real names.
One closing thought. It's great being a middle-aged mzungu (white person) here. It's a licence to say exactly what I want to say to anybody and everybody. Fantastic!