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The Rich People’s School

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The Rich People’s School: The Rich People’s School is written by LauriKubuitsile is from Botswana. She was born in Baltimore, Maryland but moved to Botswana in 1989. She is a fiction writer mostly into writing short stories and they have appeared in Author Africa 2007, Mslexia and New Contrasts among others. She has published a novella titled The Fatal Payout. She is also a freelancer for Botswana’s daily newspaper, Mmegi, the only private newspaper there. She writes educational material which includes lessons for the radio. She has worked on school textbooks also. Kubuitsile has won many awards for her writing, the most prestigious being The Caine Prize for short stories. . The Rich People’s School is a simple story covered in four chapters about the lives of three women – the grandmother, mother and child.

Synopsis of the Plot

Sylvia and her grandmother lived in their small little home which some months before had their mother too. It was a happy family of three women. Sylvia’s mother met an American with whom she fell in love with. He was a rich man who was ready to marry Sylvia’s mother but did not want to take Sylvia to America with them. Her mother had to make a tough choice. She decided to leave her daughter with her mother and move to America but she promised that she would send them enough money to live well. Not just live well, she wanted Sylvia to be educated in a big school for which she said she would send the money.

Sylvia and her grandmother were sad but life went on. Then came the time when Sylvia had to join the rich people’s school. When grandmother and Sylvia entered the school, grandmother was extremely hesitant, rather scared of entering such a big institution. Sylvia was quite excited to see the new school with its huge buildings, green lawns and brightly painted swings and jungle gyms.  Grandmother had the money to admit Sylvia and went through the admission procedure with a bent head. Her instruction to Sylvia was to behave herself.

Next morning Sylvia got up early and had a bath and wore her new uniform. She looked very smart in it observed her grandmother. They both walk to school but grandmother stops way ahead of the school and sends her off asking her to be a good girl. Sylvia walks and sees children with different skin colour; the whites, the blacks and the browns. She had never seen white skinned people before and kept looking at them.

It was teatime and children went to the shade near the playground. She opened what her grandmother had given the pap and spinach, left over from the previous night. She was hungry and began to eat not noticing that children were gathering around her. These children had chips in packets and cola and were shocked to see what she was eating. She was now embarrassed and wanted to be left alone. Then suddenly a boy rushed and grabbed her tumbler and ran away with. He threw the pap and spinach on the lawn and kept running. Sylvia chased him and tried to stop him, but in vain.

Just then the bell rang. The boy dropped the tumbler and stamped it and was so happy doing it. He ran past Sylvia shouting “Go home poor girl.” Sylvia picked up the pieces of the tumbler and went home. He grandmother was waiting for her at the end of the road. She lied to her grandmother that she need not take food to school anymore as it would be given there and that the teacher had taken the tumbler to fill it with food every day. Grandmother was very happy hear this and was relieved that all had gone well the first day.

From that day on both walked to school and grandmother left her at the end of the road and went back home. She picked up Sylvia at the same point in the evening and Sylvia was full of stories about her day in school. What really happened every day was Sylvia went away to the river and stayed there till it was tea time in school and went back just on time to meet her grandmother at the end of the road. She kept time by following the sun and when the light fell on the boulder she knew it was time for her to walk back.

That day was different she overslept near the river and missed the time. She ran to find that all the children had left school and she saw her grandmother walking out of the school gate. She ran to grandmother who hugged her fearing that her mother had taken her away from school, leaving her alone. When she asked why Sylvia did not attend school, she only says she did not like it. Grandmother reconciles and allows her to join another school nearby and both are happy to leave the rich people’s school.

Characterizations

There are only four characters in the story and the story revolves around two of them. The American who marries Sylvia’s mother is a practical man who is unwillingly to take Sylvia into his life but is willing to pay for her studies. Sylvia’s mother follows her heart and goes with the American with some consolation that her mother and daughter will have enough money now. She tells Sylvia that she would come back to her when she was big. “You will go to university and have so many choices and not have to sell your life away like your silly, stupid mother.” Sylvia’s grandmother was a strong woman whose life was all about her daughter and granddaughter. After her daughter’s departure she had only Sylvia in her mind. She was not educated and was terrified to go into a big school. “Gran spoke back looking down at the floor the whole time”. Sylvia being the progeny of these women was a sensible girl herself. She liked to help her grandmother around the house. She realised that her grandmother did everything for her, she did not want to hurt her. When the boy broke her tumbler she told her grandmother “the teacher said that they mustn’t bring food anymore to school, that the tumbler would stay there and the teacher would fill it with food instead.” So too when grandmother asked why she did not attend school she does not reveal the incidents that happened in school, instead she lied, “I don’t like it there.”

Themes and Setting

The theme of this story is about class difference. The elite and bourgeois dominate over the lower class. The American who married Sylvia’s mother was not happy with the living conditins in Botswana and wanted to move to America. He is harsh when he asks Sylvia to choose between him of his daughter. The school into which Sylvia goes symbolises elitism. Sylvia is bullied by the rich in her school. She cannot fight it, instead she quits school.

The setting is a town or a village in Botswana where Sylvia and her grandmother lives. The school is the other place described but what is detailed in word picture is the refuge of Sylvia which is the dry riverbed. The boulders, the creatures are described. The Rich People’s School makes easy reading but leaves one with a heavy heart as one feels helpless at the inability to fight against class discrimination.