There is nothing like a sturdy Kenyatta University desk. A KU desk is made of steel and it doesn’t mess around. Most are made for right-handed people, but I love finding the odd left-handed desk. They are brown or black or white, and they are unforgiving and serious. Some have wooden seats or backs. They have lived and survived. You can leave them outside in the rain.
In Harambee Hall where I teach there are more probably 500 of these steel desks. Since the hall serves dual functions, lecture hall and acting and dance classroom, we need to move the desks to make room to work at the beginning of every class. We try to make an oasis for creativity in a sea of steel.
The screech of steel on tile is a sound I won’t soon forget. I hear it every day in the hall, as the room is never set up the same way twice when I enter and I always need to move desks. It is cacophonous and unpleasant and the sound of 20 students moving steel desks on tile echoes and reverberates mercilessly. They can be thrown and dragged and stacked and abused and they don’t seem to mind. There is nowhere to put them when we move them, so we are creative in smashing them together to make room to hold an acting class. I crave Peter Brook’s empty space.
I have seen students enter the classroom late from the rear of the hall and walk precariously on the seats toward the front of class for thirty rows because the desks are so tightly packed. When there is no room to move you improvise.
These desks are dragged out of classrooms by students and dot the landscape of the entire campus. The desks are nomads. Perhaps they move at night of their own accord. I love seeing a single student sitting under a tree in a steel desk working, or a single student in the middle of a lawn in a steel desk. They are grouped, moved, forgotten, used hard, put in a circle in the shade, or tipped over, a reminder that someone needed a place of rest at some time.
When I think of Kenyatta University I think of steel desks.