A few months ago I met some friends for the first time on a chilly May evening and in getting acquainted I found myself explaining my love for words. As I narrated my interesting relationship with words from kindergarten to date I discovered that there is actually a trail that traces back to the roots of these very words you are reading right now
Chapter 1: The Nativity Play – when I was six, in my final year of kindergarten (I did three) I was chosen to be the narrator of the annual nativity play. My role was to introduce the play and before each scene I’d walk to stage, stand before the audience and give them a snippet of the ensuing scene. The whole narration was on a full sheet of paper and from the first lines of the first paragraph I remember encountering the word Jews for the first time, my sister taught me how to pronounce it right as I mastered the narration. On the day of the play, I learnt for the first time in my life the true importance of words. The crowd, filled with my fellow pre-schoolers and parents had their eyes fixed on me and I had their full attention, they hang onto every single word I spoke and keenly followed every pause and that day I learnt that words possessed power and meant something, also important was the way I used words and expressed myself. That day I fell in love with words.
Chapter 2: Crossword Puzzles – my second meaningful encounter with words happened when I was ten. Every Sunday I would watch my father do the crossword puzzle in the Sunday Mail Newspaper. I would watch in awe as he crossed out every word he had figured out. In a few months, dad would cut out the crossed word puzzle from the paper (Zambia Daily Mail) and make copies for my sisters and I every single day. Whoever would finish the puzzle without help from a dictionary would get a reward which could be anything from a pat on the head to sweets. I’d push myself trying to finish the puzzle but would remain with at least five to ten words unanswered before I would check for synonyms in the dictionary. It wasn’t until I was 12 when I finish my first puzzle but in those two years I struggled, I learnt something important; words were not rigid, they took so many forms and there were many ways of saying the same thing. I clearly remember dais is a synonym for stage
Chapter 3: Collins Co-build Dictionary – about the same time I discovered crossword puzzle I began to consult the dictionary every time didn’t know a word I heard on TV, adult’s conversations or from a teacher. I got so absorbed by the words that I began to look up for cool sounding words and would use them at school .Words like gee whiz and pandemonium, gawky and floozy hehehe , it was so much fun .the obsession with words got so serious that in the 6th and 7th grade I would carry my dad’s 1700 paged Collins Co-Build English Dictionary to class and would try to correct my friends and teachers every time they spelt a word wrong or interpreted it differently from what I thought was right. Of course I wasn’t always correct but the dictionary taught me something important besides improving my vocabulary with hundreds of words; The world was as endless as the number of words in the dictionary you could express yourself in any of those millions of ways. I was lost in those words, flipping through the dictionary for hours.
Chapter 4: Mini Spelling Bee – on the second day of 8th grade, a cloudy wet day in March, I remember into Chaminade Hall at Matero Boys Secondary School. The hall was filled with eight graders all their for the orientation programme. There were so many activities happening concurrently. Most kids seated around tables playing draughts or chess but I was drawn by spelling bee that was about to begin. So there were more than ten of us seated in a circle on the stage of the hall, with a senior in the centre asking us to spell words, eliminating whoever spelt a word wrong. The number quickly shrunk to ten, seven, five and finally two… the other kid was asked to spell ADJOURN but spelt it ADJERN, it was passed to me and let’s just say it was too easy. I went home with two books, one a science book and the other titled building reading skills. It was a special feeling for me, not exactly Akeelah and the Bee-sque but it was just as important for me coz I felt I was getting pretty good at this words thing. I learnt that even as words took different forms, they followed a certain order. Those forms and shapes they took, were definite and to master the words, order needed to be followed closely.
Chapter 5: Satirical Articles – in the tenth grade I started writing satirical articles to vent my frustration at the prefects who tried to make my life difficult at boarding school. Under the pseudonym Spliff, I poked fun at the prefects and pointed out their incompetencies and had the articles put up were tens of people would read them before the prefects would take them down. I signed out every article with a caricature of a jaded guy with a spliff in his mouth. It was fun and made me feel dangerous and mysterious especially with the many warnings that came from the prefects of what they would do if they caught the writer. One time I used an article to ridicule some guys from a rival hostel who thought they ruled the dining hall. When they learnt I was behind it, they came with clubs and sticks to supposedly discipline me and the guy who gave me the info about them. Well, the only lesson I learnt that day was that words could be a weapon, full of piercing knives and for real the pen was mightier than a sword.
Chapter 6: A Dosage of Shakespeare – My final year of high school was quite fruitful, I discovered that words could be beautiful too. I’d go in to the library to study Chemistry or geography but would find myself flipping Shakespeare’s sonnets or the summaries of many plays. I was intrigued by Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, King Lear and the Merchant of Venice. But this fascination went beyond their explosive plots, I just loved the ebb and flow of the words, the vivid imagery of the dialogues and the intensity with which the words jump up from each line and screamed out for me. It was at this time that I began to write poetry to satisfy my desire to create a thing of beauty. I’d write a few lines and clothed the words with the basics elements: personification, exaggeration, metaphor and simile and these totally transformed my mundane writings into something that lives and breathes, something beautiful. It’s on those four essentials that I’ve based my poetry over the years. Even when writing articles or some academic work I embed those basics four to give it some flair. Words are so beautiful and limitless that you can create your own world with them, I have
Chapter 7: Varsity Vim – all my life I’ve silently wondered what this unending affair with words is all about. Of what use will it eventually be besides developing my creative nature? Today I still wonder if some far-fetched and seemingly out of this world word knowledge will ever be of use to me. Part of that was answered when I enrolled in a four year Mass Communication degree programme three years ago. Over the past three years, part of the academic requirement has included writing stories, reporting, doing narrations and making creative productions and my past experience with words has come in handy multiple times. It hasn’t necessarily given me a head start but has instead allowed me to take to these tasks naturally, a reassurance that I’m doing what I’m supposed to. This makes me feel that my affinity for words has a purpose it serves. It’s as though this trail formed since my early years is map to remind me of where I’m from and a campus to point me where I’m going. I wonder what the next chapter is in this unending affair will be…
P.S. My favourite word is immaculate coz it sounds exactly like the very thing it means…perfect