ERIC at school in Africa
Eric walked along the dusty track, a stick in his hand. He was pushing a ball along in front of him, using the bent and gnarled piece of wood. His movements were quick and deft. He was in control of the ball. His bare feet moved steadily, avoiding any sharp obstacles along the way. If the ball hit a stone and bounced to one side, he quickly drew it back in front of him, rolling it along the track. He had some hard thinking to do.
Eric’s African life was tough compared to many children in the world. He was eleven years of age and was lucky enough to go to school. Many of the children in his area did not get an education. Eric thought that he was fortunate. He decided to make the most of his life. He was wise for his years.
As he was the eldest boy in his family and his mother and father were both dead, he felt responsible for the care of his brothers and sisters. His grandmother looked after the family, but she could not do everything. The children had to help themselves and each other, or the family would not survive. Luckily they had a piece of ground large enough to grow food to feed them all, as long as there was rain to water the crops. There was little time for play. Even the small ones had jobs to do to help their grandma prepare their food, or looking after the few animals that they kept.
Eric’s sister, Tete, helped to grind the maize to make mealy meal. This is the porridge that was their main food every day. They could have eggs once a week. The extra eggs were sold to help to pay for Eric’s schooling.
Tete and the twins, who were only six, did all sorts of little jobs for grandma. She wasn’t very strong herself, but she could tell the children what to do and show them how to do it, and somehow the family got by. They were very proud of Eric. He would be the one who would be able to earn money for the family because he was going to school. His class was held underneath a canopy on a verandah next to the school house. Another class took lessons inside the school. There were fifty children under the canopy, all trying hard to learn to read and write. The teacher was very good. He told them interesting stories and made them laugh. He was also very strict. There were very few books in the school, and hardly any paper and pencils. All the work was done on slates which were scraped with soft stones to make letters or numbers. Then they were wiped with a damp cloth to erase the work.
Eric could read and write better than anybody in his class. He found he was very good with number work too. He had a quick mind. One of the teachers said she would like Eric to help in the market on a Saturday. She promised to pay him well so that he could help his family to buy clothes.
Eric went home to tell his grandmother what the teacher had asked him to do. Grandmother looked sad. “Who will hoe the ground and plant the maize seeds if you are away all week at school, and on Saturdays too? You know your sisters are not strong enough to lift the hoe. Your teacher does not realise that we must have food before we can think about new clothes.”
Eric was angry and upset. He had been very pleased when the teacher had asked him to work at the market. Now his grandma was refusing to let him go. He needed to have a long think about the situation. He picked up his gnarled old stick and his ball and, keeping it carefully under his control, he went to the river bank.
Eric sat on a log. He could hear the hippos grunting and grumbling in the distance. He picked up a stone and flung it as hard as he could across the water. It bounced sixteen times. That was a record for him. Suddenly his anger melted away. He realised that it was good to be wanted and needed. It was good that he could help his family and there would be time enough for earning money when his brothers and sisters were able to do the kind of work that he had to do now. He loved his family and did not want them to go hungry just because he wanted to work at the market. After all, he was top of the class. When he was old enough he would get a much better job altogether.
Eric walked home as the sun began to set. His bad temper had gone and he felt contented with his life. He decided to apologise to his grandma for being thoughtless and rude and to tell her he loved her for taking care of all of them.
1. How did you feel when you heard this story?
2. Did it remind you of anything in your own life?
3. What kind of a person do you think Eric was?
4. How did his brothers and sisters help the family?
5. In Africa there are many schools like Eric’s. How do you think the teacher would deal with bad behaviour, such as bullying, in a class of 50 pupils?
6. How did Eric control his temper?
7. What do you do if you are angry?
8. Eric was contented with his life. Are you contented with your life?