Once I was asked, what is it that makes coastal children sharp and pick up things faster than the rest (even though there was no evidence to prove it)? My answer to the person who asked me the question was probably because of the earlier exposure to the madrasa. As a tradition parents from the coast tend to send their kids chuoni immediately the child knows how to say, sitaki!, or immediately the child could suck in through his/her nostril the white Nile river that calmly flows out of the nostril with the help of gravity. By this time you will hear babake nanihuyu, telling mamake nanihinoni,

“ Mashaallahu sasa mwanao ashakuwa beberu sasa. Mwate afwate ndugizake wakubwa chuoni.”

“ Aaah bado huyu, atakwenda tuazirisha huko chuoni. Mara ngapi suruali yamvuka na yeye hataaaaa, aiata mpaka imvuke kabisa kisha ainuwa mguu mmoja aivue kabisa. Kisha wataka aende chuoni tena. Si atatujiya nyumbani tupu tupu.” Explains the mother.

“ Sikiza,. Maana ya chuo ni huko kujifundisha. Simtaki akae hapa kama dubu, au debe tupu. Mwache aende chuoni, akale koto,ale mangoto kutoka kwa wenziye, ndiyo atakuwa, lakini mambo ya kumwata hapa kama mkiya saa zote nyuma yako, sitaki. Atakwenda chuoni hata kama atarudi tuputupu. Kisha na wewe ya nini kumwata aende chuoni na suruwali. Mvalishe kanzu, halafu ndoo niambiye kama hiyo kanzu itamvuka.” Vetoed the father in a my-words-are-final kind of way.

            So the child is dashed to the madrasa. Sasa huko chuoni. This is how a madrasa looks like. This is a one-man army kind of thing. The maalim is alone. He is the teacher, the principal, the board of directors and the inspector. Basically he is the school. Without him there is no school. There is no lesson plan, or syllabus to follow. Whenever asked maalim responds, “ Yote iko hapa.” Hitting his temple with his index finger. All students sit on the mat, while the maalim stands. Girls are on one side of the madrasa and the boys on the other. The maalim stands with a kikoto hanging on his shoulder. There are other maalims who prefer a cane, and one maalim that I know prefers a wire. The madrasa may have as many as three hundred students, and the teacher will never turn any parent who comes with a new student down. The classes are from kindergarten, to the advanced, where you do the big stuff like sharhi ya risala, or matn al ajrumiya, na imla. Since the maalim is a practical man, he knows he can’t manage to run the whole madrasa alone. He therefore appoints mfunzi. Mfunzi is equivalent to a teaching assistant in the university. Basically a bright student qualifies to be a mfunzi. There are no walls to separate the classes, and all the students will be chanting whatever they are learning. One thing that I admired from the maalim is, his sharp ears. He may be teaching one group of students, and then he could be correcting another class right from where he was. About the maalims….

            Interesting enough, most of the maalims are known by names other than their real names. Few that come in mind are, Maalim njugu, Maalim pua, Maalim hitima, Maalim makanju, Maalim bampini, Maalim tumbo, Maalim sifa, Maalim twiga, Maalim Nagbali nakataa, Maalim zefe, and the list goes on. Most of the time these teachers don’t know that they are referred by such names. So how do these maalims make ends meet? The fee for the madrasa is two shillings and fifty cents (I am talking of fees in the seventies and early eighties). Let us do the mathematics here. With three hundred students he makes about seven hundred and fifty shillings. That is if everyone pays. He has rent to pay, he has a family to feed and take care of. He has children who also go to skuli za kizungu. He therefore has very little remaining if anything is remaining at all. The ingenious teacher comes up with other methods of making money. There is peni la alkhamisi, for those who go to school will have to pay this fee on the weekend. Then there is shillingi ya muharam. Everyone pays this one the first day of the Islamic New Year. It is not important that the students may not know the other eleven months. Then there is a feast that your parents have to provide to the whole madrasa once you complete reading the whole Qur’an. Before that there is a fee for reaching Iqra. You pay a small fee and a dish to the madrasa. Other maalims will make an effort that the student remembers when one reaches Iqra. A friend of mine narrated this story to me that his maalim makes special arrangement for the student before he starts reciting surah Iqra. The student has to be facing the maalim, and then he will only recite when he is told to.

“Soma!” ordered the maalim

“Iqraa bi..” before the student could go on, he just heard a swash and the kikoto landing on his back.

“Aaah maalim, si nnasoma sawa.” Protested the student.

“Sshhhhh….Soma sawa sawa, Iqraaa.” Instructed the maalim, pointing to the mswahafu.

“Iqraaa bismi rabbika..” another koto before the student could go any farther.

“Maalim si nnasoma kama ulivyosoma.” Student protested

“Nyamaza nakwambiya. Mtume wako alipata tabu hapa piya.” The teacher said, he then explained to the student the whole story of how the Prophet SAW had to be squeezed by the angel Jibril AS three times before he was let to go on.

            Other maalims have their wives make items that could be sold at the madrasa. Therefore if the wife makes achari, or mabuyu, or vyazi vya madonge, or vyazi vya karai, or barafu, then no parent is allowed to give their children similar items to come and sell in the madrasa. If such thing happened it could lead to suspension. There was a maalim, apart from having his madrasa, was also teaching at the skuli za kizungu. He would come to school and sell achari and mabuyu. Towards the end of the day if they don’t sell, he would go from one class to another and pick students to ‘buy’ the achari and mabuyu with an IOU.

Wewe kitambo hujala mabuyu wala achari zangu. Haya tukua hizi pakti mbili,”

“Lakin Maalim sina pesa.”

“Wewe tukuwa utanlipa baadaye. Si lazima unlipe leo.”

“Lakini maalim sitaki mabuyu wala achari.”

“Eeh bardhuli wewe wata ushindani. Tukuwa nakwambiya utanlipa siku nyingine.”

 The student out of fear takes the stuff. Days pass without paying the teacher, either intentionally, or out of forgetfulness. After sometime, you see the maalim moving from one class to another with a cane picking up students that he thinks he loaned them stuff and they have not paid.

“Wewe mshenzi ndoo hapa. Wewe ulitukuwa mabuyu juzi hujanlipa siyo?”

“Aaah si mimi maalim, mimi sija twaa kitu kutoka kwako.”

“Wanifanya mimi mwana wa bandiya sasa, watoka wapi wewe,kisauni siyo