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Dreaded line for school books

Antoinette Connell

Dreaded line for school books

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The sun was still forcing its way into the sky when I crawled out of bed on a mission for a friend.
“I have a favour to ask,” she had said. “I want you to collect a number for me from *** school.”
What’s wrong with looking into the directory, I thought to myself. Then,  I remembered the horrors of trying  to locate anything Government-related  in that muddled pile of pages.
“You have to go early,” she continued. “This number is to collect books. I will give you the receipt.”
There was silence.
“School books?!”
“Yes, and you must get there early, get a number and hold it for me. I will come later and get the books,” she said.
“Wait, wait, this has got be for  a stall space?” I said, sarcastically.
“No, no, this is for books,”  my friend insisted.
Since I lived moments away, she felt  I was best positioned to get to the school early and secure a number to give her  an advantage in the queue.
So here I was, face to face with the security guard and hoping for the early arrival of the librarian or whosoever  was in charge.
I wasn’t totally surprised at my friend’s desperation since, having gone through this exercise, I know first-hand how time consuming it is.
It’s remarkable that over the decades little has changed in the system of book collection. I dread the process as it  tends to offset your day and if you are not careful it’ll leave you in an agitated state. It is one of the most tedious  and vexatious tasks to be inflicted  on parents of secondary school students.
It is one of the most exasperating exercises, I tell you. I say that with  all the conviction of the thousands  of parents who undertake this  annual mission.
From the time you arrive, you start counting heads and if you reach 15 or  20, you know you are in for a long wait. The rest of the wait is spent anxiously checking the rapidly disappearing time or tiptoeing to see how much further you have to go. By the time you are through collecting the books, all you want  is to never return to the school, but  you must the next year.
One year, I turned up for my dughter’s books to find the line snaking for about half a mile in the outdoors  with an unrelenting sun bearing down. An hour later, brilliant sunshine gave way to a downpour that seemed only  to fall on the miserable lot whose only misfortune appeared to be having children in the textbook loan scheme.
Hot, wet and sufficiently teed off, some parents had well crafted instructions for those in charge,  of course, unsuitable for reproduction here. Lest you think it was done in any crass way, indeed not, I just happened  to be within earshot.
Finally, someone emerged from the dry air-conditioned room to inform us that a room had been opened for us in case of another downpour.
The way they behaved, you’d think that this was their first book distribution ever; I would imagine that that thought must have crossed their minds before that day seeing as how the school was more than a century old.
Another set of choice words rang out from some of the waiting parents. Again, not suitable for reproduction here, but the fusion of standard English with our uniquely colourful language lightened the mood for some.
Soon, casual conversation got around to ways of improving the system such as revamping how the appointments are staggered; more volunteers and a more empathetic person overseeing the distribution.
This may be way down the line, in terms of public sector reform and the NISE project, but it is these so-called little things that have an effect on productivity. What good does it do for an employee to spend half a day collecting books only to arrive in a mood that’s contrary to what is needed for high productivity or productivity at all?
The answers are not always found  in books.
 Antoinette Connell is Daily Nation Editor. Email antoinetteconnell