BY Adejoh Idoko Momoh
We’ve all had that one teacher who was so tough on all her students that she was generally feared. That one in her middle ages who would wear layers and layers of very bright red lipstick and would come to school in stilettos. She mostly would teach a subject like English and would speak it impeccably, such that she would feel somewhat superior to fellow teachers who spoke the language averagely.
‘Take out a sheet of paper and have your writing materials ready’
she would say as she cat-walked into class one morning. She would administer an impromptu test that would form part of our continuous assessment even though she did not prepare us for it. All through primary school as I remember it, I had never felt as much pressure about passing a simple test as I did that day.
I had written about Kenya’s Maasai people and their distinctive, a-little-too-colorful customs. How they believed soil was therapeutic and they buried themselves in the ground for healing. And then I waited, held my breath as she sat at her table with cane by her side scoring our essays.
As she passed by me returning test scripts, I would see red circles correcting grammar on the first page of my essay and I would think of how she now considered me a failure. How the matron when I got back to the hostel would consider me same and my dad… His face as he looked at the test script not saying anything but probably contemplating if it was still a wise decision to have me in school.
I would flip three pages and what I would see would shock me;
97%. With a tiny gold star next to it.
The universally feared teacher who made it a point not to ever give good grades gave me an A. She didn’t just stop there; she stapled a tiny piece of paper just at the bottom of my script that made me feel special, very special.
‘Excellent storytelling. You have an ease with words. You do us all a disservice if you do not consider a career in writing’
The words so profound, no one had ever said anything like that to me. Except of course for my mom who in typical mom-like manner would say I was particularly skilled at whatever it is I told her I was interested in and that I was a genius who would redefine everything I set my hands on. This was when I knew I wanted to write. I knew I would purposefully look for something to genuinely compliment about people whenever I met them. For the sole reason that affirming words like these from friends, mentors, teachers, family, strangers even, make us into the people we ultimately become. They point us in the direction of a dream, make us consider or at least contemplate it.
Words carry immense power and it’s no good trying to deny this. My very favorite quote by Nigerian writer, Toni Kan is ‘sometimes the verbal wounds we inflict on others live with us for the rest of our lives’. As far as our words can go to tell someone we believe in them, they can also tear us or someone else down, make them question the very essence of their lives.
This is perhaps why we need to speak a little more kindly, a little more thoughtfully. Make conscious efforts to have our words motivate people rather than discourage them, inspire them as opposed to devastate them. We most often have no idea what impact a few words stringed together can make.
Share stories of someone who has been an inspiration to you in the comments or send me a private mail at email@example.com.