WANJURAH: A Teacher’s journey into retirement and the long wait for pension
I still remember Mr Mate’s final day in school because of the unusually long morning assembly and the endless prayers.
His soon-to-be-former colleagues made the farewell prayers sound like a eulogy. Until then, I thought retirement was a great thing especially because my pre-teenage mind conceived it as a licensed indulgence to sleep as long as one wished and to eat as frequently as hunger willed.
Yet here were fellow teachers mourning Mr Mate’s impeding retirement. They appealed to God’s mercies on his behalf; may he find work for his now idle hands; may birds’ songs soften his loneliness in biblical version; may reading the Bible protect his mind from ennui, etc.
Two weeks to his retirement day, our class teachers had issued each pupil with what they called a proforma. It was a big word for a begging form: a cyclostyled A-4-sized ruled paper in three columns for number, name and amount– in Kenya shillings, as if donations in dollars or any other currency were not acceptable! At the top was written: Praise The Lord. Mr. John Mate Retirement Gift.
We were required to circulate the form among our relatives and friends and remind them that the Lord loves a cheerful giver. I don’t recall the exact amount I raised. But I remember that, unlike the Freedom from Hunger Walk fundraising forms that we annually got from the school, givers were few and amounts measly. I couldn’t even afford to pilfer it for mandazi unlike the anti-hunger donations.
The farewell organising committee chaired by Mrs Nyaga, who always wore her Mothers Union headscarf to the weekly school assembly, did not disclose the total amount collected. But it must have been a tidy sum judging by the number of gifts bought and which were handed to the beneficiary in a befitting Friday morning ceremony.
There was as glitzy Datini wheelbarrow, the handles still wrapped in old newspapers to attest to its newness. The big boys who helped offload it from the Embu-Riakanau bus recalled Mrs Nyaga’s repeated pleas to the touts to exercise care while bringing it down from the carrier lest it suffered scratches.
Escorting the wheelbarrow were a jembe, a fork-jembe, a panga and a slasher – all for Mr Mate. He was a short man with an even shorter temper and seeing him wrap his fat fingers around the panga handle in appreciation, it got me worried the gifts could easily mutate into dangerous weapons in his hands.
After the long prayers and even longer farewell speeches that featured demonstrations to Mr Mate on use of his gifts, the retiree profusely thanked his benefactors. He would, he promised, optimally exploit the farewell package by ploughing into farming. That was a mighty promise because Mr Mate allergy for manual work was legendary in the village. He was known to brag that he went to school to keep his palms soft!
The wheelbarrow was also a standard feature then in lower-ranking retrenched public officers farewell gifts. But expecting a wheelbarrow or even a bicycle to sufficiently engage and economically support a retiree accustomed to a desk job is a cruel fallacy bordering on an insult.
Small wonder many retrenchees and pensioners tend to wither rapidly in retirement. For those without the benefit of a retirement fund, the sunset can be a lonely, poor affair. The drying up of regular income, and never mind the amount, can be a stressful experience that often leads to an early grave.
Thankfully, Mr Mate is still alive. But he owes his continued existence, in large part, to his formidable wife. A teacher like him and nearly ten years younger, she prepared better for retirement. Unlike him, she didn’t need a wheelbarrow or a Mamba brand tool scrimped from school children and reluctant fund-raisers for a retirement package. As Deputy President Ruto would say: alikuwa amejipanga.
She was running a shop in the market even before her retirement. Mr Mate would be seen there struggling with the newspapers simple crosswords and, rumours have it, ogling the short-lived female shop assistants. The shop would occasionally run into bankruptcy and closure allegedly because of Mr Mate’s insatiable appetite for “eating” business money.
But every time, Mrs Mate would somehow find fund to replenish the stock. And Mr Mate, his newspapers and the girls would be certain to frustrate her efforts, again. But that was before she retired and assumed a keen management of the shop and an even keener management of her philanderer husband.
By village standards, the Mates are doing fine. But the couple could certainly do better especially with more money. Like many retired teachers, they have been keenly following the endless soap opera that has become the struggle to get their retirement dues from a government untroubled by consistently lying to its senior citizens.
It is difficult to keep up with the dizzying number of cases retired teachers chasing their retirement package have filed against the government. Equally, the number of times a cornered government has promised to release the money by certain date is a researchable topic. The Nakuru High Court must surely have run out of papers to issue more warrants arrest for insincere senior government officials for reneged promises!
What should have been a fairly straightforward matter has become an exhausting and stressful Ping-Pong for Mrs Mate and fellow retirees. They have dug deep into their little savings to finance ballooning legal fees as their lawyer battles it out with overpaid government representatives for whom a protracted legal case is good business. It means more money in professional billing!
More worrying, they have seen several colleagues give up the wait and die. As they plan and attend comrades’ funerals, fears that they too, like Moses, will not live long enough for the promised land of finally receiving accumulated pension dues shadows them like death.
Meanwhile, promised deadlines by Treasury, the Department of Pensions and the TSC come and go. And so do the warrants of arrest of government bosses too busy to honour court summons with characteristic fresh lies on when the teachers’ dues will ever be paid!
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