Meet N.  We’re guests at his  wedding.  You can see the men and women in jewel colours; the elegant dancers.  Listen to the long speeches; the shouts of encouragement (and perhaps one or two salty observations – you know what weddings are like!)

That’s N., switching effortlessly between three languages.  You can tell he’s on top of the world.  Enchanted by his lovely new wife, he’s captivating the whole assembly with his joy.

Perhaps we should be kind and leave him there for a while, holding his bride, deeply in love, surrounded by his friends.

“Ian, are you crazy?  Who leaves in the middle of a great party?”

I know, but it’s important.  I’d like you to meet someone else, and I don’t know how much  time we’ve got.

To me, she has always been Mary, I’ve never known her Kenyan name. She is 14, a student at one of Kenya’s prestigious boarding schools, and a while ago she was assigned to show me her school, and to make sure I was impressed.

This is what she told me.

“I get up at four and take care of myself and my clothes.  By five I have to be dressed and we do an hour’s homework.  Then we all have chores around the school to keep it in tip-top condition.”

“After breakfast – it’s only fifteen minutes – we have time to do another hour’s study before school starts at eight.  We go through our different classes till five o’clock in the afternoon, and the last hour is sports, not studying”.

“After school we have a rest for forty-five minutes till supper which takes fifteen minutes.  After that we study again, until nine or ten.  If we want to study more we have to ask for an extension, but everyone must stop by midnight, because it’s not good to become tired.”

When she had finished, she looked at me and said,  “It’s OK, You get used to it”

You may not believe it, but Mary is living a dream.  That dream is written on a battered metal sign outside another school.  “Suffer now – enjoy tomorrow”.  You see, Mary grew up in a slum, and she’s doing everything in her power to break free.  Please pray that she makes it.

N. was a dreamer too – before Mary was born.  We already know where his story leads, but this is how it begins.

When N. was Mary’s age, he went to see his head teacher.  It took almost more courage than he had, but it was a defining conversation.  Exhausted by the demands of his timetable, he had come to tell his teacher that he would no longer get up early or stay up late to study.

Shocked almost beyond speech, the teacher could only manage to bark, “Why not?”

N. was completely alone, and in that moment almost anything could have happened to him.  So it was with the utmost respect that he replied, “Because, Sir, I think I would learn better if I could just stay awake in the lessons”.

Faced with this rebellion, the teacher’s next step was clearly to throw the lad onto the street and leave him there.  But instead, in utter contempt, he told the boy to do as he wanted, predicting that in a year the school would be pleased to return him to the shadows from which he had crawled.  But that never happened.

Four years later, N. received his final school result – a very fine A minus. In all that time he had never got up at four to study, and had rarely gone to bed after ten. Proudly he sought out his head teacher to tell him the news.

“I already know”, the man said, still unsmiling. “And now you just think what you could have achieved if you’d really studied!”


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