By: ZUKISWA WANNER
Four years ago, I went to the Western Kenya town of Kakamega to do some school workshops. In the course of my one week trip, I read through many essays and visited six schools. As I went from school to school, something kept happening to me. At first I thought it was an oddity of the first school I visited but soon I realised it was everywhere.
What would happen is that, on arrival, I would immediately be taken to the principal’s office. The principal and I would chat, and then the school secretary would come to me with a book. The first time this happened, I asked what it was for.
“It’s our visitors’ book. We would like you to sign it,” she answered perhaps a little surprised that I did not know what it was.
I looked at the book. It had sections for date, name, address and comments. All I had seen of the school was the gate with the school name, vision, mission statement and motto and the parking lot as I made my way to the principal’s office. The only other thing I knew about the school was the principal who I had had a few minutes conversation with. I had not yet interacted with the students, which was my main purpose for being there, so what was I supposed to say?
I suggested at the first school that I sign the book at the end of the tour but they insisted I do it then and my host looked at me in horror as though I had said something sacrilegious. So I apologised, took the book and under ‘comments’ I wrote, “Good to be here.”
As this kept occurring at all the schools I went to, I more or less wrote the same comment. I must admit that I considered writing, “Interesting uniforms” at a school that had purple shorts/skirts and green shirts but decided it may be considered cheeky of me. I seriously thought this was something that only happened in Western Kenya up until Friday July 24, 2015.
It was then that I realised this visitor’s book thing at the beginning of a tour seems to be a national habit.
Not long after Barack Obama emerged from Air Force One at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, he was seated in front of a desk on the runway signing the visitors’ book. Firstly, just when was the desk put on the runway?
Was it placed immediately after the landing, “wewe Mwangi, carry the flowers. Carry the flowers. Wanjala will get the desk. Hurry before Potus comes down.” As the world watched this historic occasion, a few of my friends from three different African countries were surprised to be told that what was being signed was a visitors book. They thought Obama was filling out some landing card to obtain his visa.
Just like my experience in Kach, I wondered why they were rushing him to sign it. None of the people I have asked in person or on social media has thus far given me a satisfactory answer. The closest I got to an answer was someone suggesting that it was a deliverable for the welcoming committee. This has me seriously confounded. I am willing to part with an autographed copy of one of my books to the reader who can tell me a good reason why the visitor’s book is signed at the beginning and not at the end of the trip.
I am thinking, it had been some years since Obama was last in Kenya, should he not have been asked to sign the guest book at the end of the trip so he can observe the changes since he was last here and mention them? His comment section would probably have ended up reading: “My brother Uhuru, we rocked that media conference at State House, didn’t we? And the party afterwards with those Sauti Sol boys, Kenya is definitely a hotbed of party people. I had a blast, thank you bro. Oh, and tell Governor Kidero that the grass is definitely greener on this side *wink*.” As it is, he probably wrote the sort of message I duplicated at six schools in Kakamega four years ago, “Good to be here.”