It was in primary school Class 2 (Kenya). Agan Zebedee, the teacher, introduced us to English Language. We were excited. It was wonderful learning foreign language. As the teacher, introduced the English alphabet, we realised there were new letters we hadn’t met before—our local language didn’t have them. They included: Q, V, X and Z.
We loved “V” and “Z”. They sounded pleasant to our ears. If we were to speak any English, it had to be punctuated by and seasoned with as many Vs and Zs as possible. To achieve this, we forced them into places they didn’t belong. We greatly admired anyone speaking English with lots of Vs and Zs. It wasn’t surprising, therefore, to hear some of us say, “You vetter vring my vookz thiz avternoon” (You better bring my books this afternoon). We substituted any letter that sounded close—however distant it was—with Vs and Zs.
When the teacher introduced us to some tongue-twisters, it was interesting. A classmate, Ateto Abidha, was especially sold into this business of substituting Bs, with Vs and Ss with Zs.
At the beginning of every English lesson, Mr. Agan would start:
“Bitta bought a bit of butter, a bit of butter which Bitta bought, was bitter”.
He would then pick on some of us, one at a time, to recite the same. Whenever it was Ateto’s turn, he would say:
“Vitta vot a vit ov vatta, a vit ov vatta which Vita vot waz vitter!”
The teacher would reject Ateto’s recitation while we admired Ateto’s way of speaking English. When Mr. Agan repremanded Ateto for saying his own things, we wondered what was wrong with the teacher.
According to us, Ateto outshone the teacher himself. Why wasn’t he accepting that some of his pupils were already so gifted despite their age?
We didn’t understand one bit what Bitta bought a bit of butter…. meant. The teacher never explained it to us. Meanwhile, we recited it throughout the year. The teacher insisted that it had to be recited his way. In his absence, we recited it our own way.
It stuck permanently. I made a song out of it.
Then I Understood
One day, I was then in boarding secondary school, I had just had a good lunch. As I was walking from the dining hall to class, I found myself “singing”. I wasn’t conscious of what I was singing for a while until it struck me. I realised the “song” was a familiar old song but something was strange about it, though. There was something new about it—it was the meaning. I finally understood what Bitta bought a bit of butter…” meant—in fact it was the meaning that called my attention to what I was singing. I whispered to myself, “No wonder the teacher wouldn’t have us substitute the letters!” To be sure, I tried Ateto’s version. It was utter meaningless.
Ateto’s version was pleasant but not plausible. The root of our problem with Bitta bought a bit of butter… was not inability to recite it the teacher’s way, it was rather, a combination of lack of understanding its meaning and our determination to say it our own way since it sounded better that way.
When I got saved, the Lord reminded me about this experience. He is the Teacher.
Some of the lessons learnt from this experience:
1. The Teacher knows better;
2. We may not understand initially but at His appointed time, we’ll understand.
3. It takes growth to understand. We may need to move from one realm to another before we understand.
4. Some things sound pleasant but aren’t necessarily plausible. The only thing that stands, even if it doesn’t tickle our ears, is the Teacher’s version.
5. If we quit in Primary, we wouldn’t tell what we’d discover in Secondary.
People ask: If God is good, why does He allow suffering?; Why do we sometimes pray and plead on behalf of our loved ones only to see them die?, etc. How do we sing God is faithful after He has “failed” to yield to our version of the sweet sounding gospel of wealth, health, comfort, etc?
The Teacher knows better! We’ll understand this when we move to the next realm. Meanwhile, in the face of all paradoxes and contradictions, I’ll sing of His faithfulness and all His attributes—and wait. I’ll surely understand what I’ve been singing all these years. Will you sing with me, and wait?
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