Thoughts on Leaving MaP – Andrew Taylor

Principal Andrew Taylor

How naïve to think that, with only eight weeks to go before the 1980 school year began, Maru-a-Pula would have a teaching post open. But I was 25 years old and full of heedless hope. So I wrote a letter to Deane Yates, MaP’s founding headmaster, asking for a job. Back came a letter (the mail was much quicker in those days!):

4th December, 1979

Dear Mr. Taylor,

Letter from Dean Yates to Mr. Taylor – 1979

This must be a case of love at first sight!  Never in my twenty five years as a Headmaster have I so quickly made an appointment to the teaching staff… Your letter arrived on the very day in which I received the resignation of Derek James, the Head of the History Department… I have fixed your salary at P4997 per annum with effect from 1st January, 1980… I have no doubt whatever that you will fit in here, and I do think that you will find the work and our way of life to be both congenial and fulfilling….

I was thrilled at the thought of resuming my African adventures and thought P416 a month was a princely sum.  After all, just two years earlier I had worked as a teacher at Michaelhouse in South Africa for R300 a month, so this was a big step up!

My flight from Joburg on 17th,  January 1980 touched down at the old Gaborone airport.  DY greeted me with a big grin and a hearty handshake. After I described what I thought was a long, but unremarkable journey, DY nevertheless responded with characteristic enthusiasm and a phrase that soon became familiar: “Oh, well played!”  

Andrew Taylor in Botswana – 1990

After piling my luggage in the back of his VW camper, DY drove with tank-commander vigor to a space behind the Boys Boarding House.  There, parked in the sand, was my accommodation: a small orange trailer baking in the summer heat, a dehydration chamber with no running water. Between DY and the trailer, it was a very warm welcome.  

I soon discovered that Michaelhouse was poor preparation for MaP, especially when it came to starting a class. At Michaelhouse, students stood silently when you entered the room and waited to be asked to “Please sit.” At MaP, students would smile, remain seated and continue to chat until you dared to interrupt their conversation. At Michaelhouse I had worn black academic robes and taught from an elevated platform; at MaP, informality was the order of the day and we shared the same altitude.

My teaching methods relied heavily on dramatic historical re-enactments including the death of Rasputin and the impact of Shaka Zulu’s short stabbing spear, the iklwa. But was this approach effective? In a letter home, I wrote: “I am often left wondering what has actually occurred in the minds of my students during the course of a lesson…” This after reading an exam where a student claimed that “Josef Stalin ran the British Commonwealth.”  Another defined infant mortality as “the death of children before adultery.”

Then there were MaP traditions to enjoy or endure, such as the pranks that took place every April Fool’s day.  Once I tried to avoid mischief by parking my car overnight at the nearby Holiday Inn.  A band of boy boarders got wind of this and convinced a gullible guard that I had asked them to push my “broken down” car back to MaP.  The next morning I was greeted by the sight of my tiny Renault Le Car poised in a perpendicular position, its front tires resting on the door to the Headmaster’s office.

Life at MaP was simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. With our self-help ethos, there were always floors to be swept and mopped and dozens of plates to be washed.  For service, a big yellow truck would depart for Gabane with students and staff bouncing along in the back.   

Gabane Service truck

My colleagues were a motley band of inspired eccentrics. Those of you who knew Jock Dickson (an occasional hurler of crutches), Rosa Oliver (whose three-legged dog was called “Tripod”), Zac Matumo (a one-man Wikipedia of Setswana) and John O’Brien (Socratic questioner and gardener extraordinaire) will know what I mean. We all shared abundant enthusiasm and a sense that we were doing pioneering work in southern African education.

As I left MaP in 1984 I had a nagging sense that I wasn’t quite finished with the place.  When I returned as principal in 2004, my accommodation was less dehydrating and far more spacious.  I encountered students that were just as passionate as the ones I had left 20 years before and a remarkably talented, committed and long-serving staff.

In 2020 we are still driven by our mission to serve the nation of Botswana.  Our students – often sleep-deprived, driven and determined to make a difference – give me hope for the future of our planet.  They are inspired by the annual visits of students from Harvard and Juilliard and joined by exchange students from all over the world.

We are now in our 15th year of offering scholarships to deserving orphans and vulnerable children; 56 have gone on to careers in medicine, engineering, law, programming, water management and aviation.  Nothing has given me greater satisfaction than to see these children embracing opportunities with such passion. 

Trees planted and watered by MaP’s earliest students now shade their children. Monkeys, mongooses, feral cats, birds and termites find fruitful foraging here and make this place their home.

Maru-a-Pula Marimba Band

MaP has been a home for the creative arts as well.  Is there any more joyful, soaring sound than a marimba band?  Every two years I’ve driven one of the vans for the MaP marimba concert tours of the USA.  At one memorable concert at an elder care home in New York City, our band inspired senior citizens to rise up from their wheelchairs and dance in the aisles.  And there were always children who would erupt like well-shaken sodas and form conga lines of dancing delight.

It has been an extraordinary privilege to serve as MaP’s leader for these past 16 years, supported by a superb team of seasoned educators and an experienced Council. My love for Maru-a-Pula will never diminish and I certainly hope to return for our 50th anniversary in 2022. 

I wish my successor, Nick Evans, all the best for his time as principal of this extraordinary school. 

— Andrew Taylor, Principal

Tribute to Mr. Taylor

Join us in wishing Mr. Taylor farewell as he moves on to his next adventure. Write your message below. If you would like to send pictures or videos please send them to comms@maruapula.org with the subject line “Mr. Taylor’s Farewell”.