Tragedy in a Swimming Pool
A True Story
on Dec 5, 2020
During our time at Starehe Boys' Centre where I had my high school as well as college education, all first-formers were required to attend swimming lessons on weekend afternoons right from their first weeks in the school. The swimming lessons were compulsory and any first-former who dared miss them risked being fixed for "working party", a severe Starehe punishment in which culprits were forced to work shirtless for three hours on a Saturday afternoon.
As was the case with most first-formers, I never got into trouble for missing the swimming lessons because I loved swimming - an experience I had never had before I joined Starehe. I still remember how elated I felt the first weekend afternoon I stepped into the swimming pool. It having been a hot afternoon, my fellow first-formers were equally jubilant as we bobbed up and down in the waters of the shallow end of the swimming pool.
After my Form One year came to an end in November 2002, I ceased swimming over weekend afternoons. From Form 2 onwards, I only swam during some PE lessons. And I do recall when I was in Form 3, my deskmate Martin Wamoni, who was a better swimmer than me, was fond of torturing me at the swimming pool by forcefully submerging my head under water. On running out of breath, I would try to loosen myself from his firm grip, and when I didn't succeed in doing so, I would feel like screaming for help. Martin seemed to get a special kick out of seeing me gasp for air as he gripped my head.
Of course I ceased swimming on weekend afternoons after I finished Form One so as to give first-formers of subsequent years a chance to also learn swimming. And I am sure they too enjoyed being in the pool on weekend afternoons, especially when the sun was blazing down from a clear blue sky.
One Sunday afternoon in 2004 when I was in Form 3, the usually fun-filled first-formers' swimming session took on a nightmare quality when it was discovered the following morning that a first-former had drowned in the pool and died. News of the boy's death spread around the school like bushfire, and at break time that Monday morning, scores of students were milling on the corridors of a building next to the pool, having a look at the dead boy. I also joined the students. And from the second floor of that building, I saw with my two naked eyes the body of the boy, lifeless and floating on the deep end of the pool.
Dr. Griffin, the then director of the school, was also at the scene that Monday break time. When he saw us milling on the corridors of the first and second floors of the neighbouring building, he was angry at us. With his commanding, sonorous voice, he instructed us to come down from the building. I don't know why he got mad with us; maybe he feared we might fall from the building as we viewed the boy's lifeless body. Or maybe he was just stressed by the tragic death of the boy.
When our class convened after that break time for a Geography lesson, our teacher - a likeable lady called Miss Mwangi - asked us to imagine how the boy's parents would react on hearing their son had drowned in a swimming pool. She really felt for the boy's parents.
I can't remember what I made of the boy's tragic death. All I know is that I wasn't saddened by his death since I didn't know him personally. I am however sure his classmates must have dearly missed him as they stared at his deserted desk on that fateful day.
Soon after we convened for the Geography lesson, I complained to my deskmate Martin Wamoni that he could cause me to also die in the swimming pool if he continued submerging my head forcefully under water during PE lessons. Though I was damn serious while telling Martin so, he took my comments lightly.
Looking back on the events of that day, I am sure Dr. Griffin, as the head of the school, must have had a difficult time breaking the news of the boy's death to his family. Maybe that's why he had looked stressed during the break time of that day when he saw us milling on the first and second floors of the building bordering the swimming pool.
Questions were raised on what could have led to the boy's death and investigations were carried out. Were the swimming pool attendants and supervisors negligent in their duties? Did the boy's house captain notice he was missing on the night of that Sunday he drowned? There was a suggestion that the boy could have hidden somewhere near the pool, waited till the swimming session was over and the pool's gates closed, and then dived into the swimming pool to have fun all by himself.
I wasn't curious enough to find out what the investigations came to. But I do recall hearing through the grapevine in Starehe that the boy's family was contemplating suing the school for his tragic and untimely death. I don't think the family sued the school because the issue died down as my years in Starehe wore on.
Also, I can't remember what Dr. Griffin told us when we gathered for evening assembly that day. The little I recall from that assembly is us singing the wonderful, old hymn "Abide With Me" which says in its last verse that "...In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!" The hymn was specifically chosen to mourn the boy's death. And it was my immediate elder brother Paddy, who was also in Starehe at that time, who accompanied us on the piano as we sang the hymn - a befitting hymn for the mood of the day in which we had learnt a Form 1 brother had left us for the hereafter.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on tragedy in a swimming pool, you might also enjoy another one I wrote two years ago on "Thinking About Death". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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Part 2: The Starehe Of Our Time
A True Story
on Dec 1, 2020
Although Starehe Boys' Centre was a great school here in Kenya during the era of Dr. Geoffrey Griffin, its founder, the institution had its share of challenges and imperfections as I hinted in my previous story on this blog. There were cases of theft and student misdemeanours during our time in the school. When I was in Form 1 at the school for instance, I remember hearing of a hot-tempered student who in a fit of rage sank a pointed object into another student's face. The case reached Dr. Griffin but I was not curious enough to follow up on what happened to the hot-tempered student.
Then when I was in Form 3 in 2004, we entered our classroom one morning only to find out that it had been raided by a gang of thieves the previous night. The gang stole our textbooks and one of them defecated on the floor of our classroom. On hearing the news, the school administration swiftly conducted an investigation to find leads on who could have committed the heinous crime. Our classes were interrupted that day as some staff members and senior prefects ransacked our lockers in an effort to trace the thieves. During the investigations, a couple of my personal books were found in the locker of a certain prefect who happened to have been my housemate. I was informed about it.
While I didn't get to know if the thieves were caught and brought to book, I vividly recall Dr. Griffin boasting that his administration had recovered some of the stolen books. And I heard through the grapevine that the leader of the gang of thieves that raided our classroom was an old boy of Starehe. So it seems not every former student of Starehe practises Dr. Griffin's maxim that "if you are given a cup of coffee to wash, wash it cleaner than any other cup ever washed before".
And then during my years as a third-former and fourth-former at Starehe, someone used to routinely steal from my box where I kept my things in our dormitory. My box could be locked with two padlocks. Initially, I used to lock my box with only one padlock, but when I realized someone was accessing it on one side to steal my stuff, I added another padlock, thinking the box was now safe and secure. But alas! Soon after I added another padlock, the thief cut through the metal holding the second padlock and continued robbing of things from my box.
I came to suspect the thief who routinely stole from my box was the prefect in whose locker were found my books during the investigation that was carried out that time in 2004 after a gang of thieves raided our classroom. But I didn't act on my suspicion till one time as my high school years at Starehe were coming to an end.
That time, when I found my box had been pilfered again and one of my books was missing, I went to the prefect and cleverly lied to him that someone had informed me he had my book (the one I had found stolen in my box). Guess what! The prefect immediately retrieved the book from his pile of papers and handed it to me, thus making me confirm he was the guy who had been stealing from my box. I however didn't put him to task over the issue that day as I was in a good mood.
Around that time I confirmed the prefect was the thief who had been stealing from my box, someone broke into my locker in the Study Block - the building where fourth-formers had their preps - and walked off with my Oxford dictionary and some other personal books of mine. When I found my Study Block locker broken into, my prime suspect for the theft was the prefect who had been stealing from my box in our dormitory.
Unable to stomach his constant raids on my properties any more, I cornered the prefect one night outside our dormitory and angrily accused him of having been stealing from me as some housemates looked on. The prefect felt embarrassed and melted away from the scene without uttering a word. Shortly afterwards, I reported him to my house captain. I didn't get to know if the captain took any action against him. All I know is that the prefect was not accepted to join Starehe Institute in 2006, which in my opinion was a wise decision.
My dear reader, such was the kind of life in Starehe during our time. The school, as you can deduce for yourself, was not the kind of paradise that some primary school kids imagined it to be. Those challenges and imperfections notwithstanding, Starehe was still a great school which remains dear to my heart.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on part 2 of Starehe of our time, you might also enjoy another one I wrote two years ago on "My Encounters With a Legend". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.