Recap: The meanness of senior students extended to the Dining Hall. In my first week, I confirmed the authenticity of the claim that boarding schools had food timetables but senior students would not allow many of us to enjoy the new experience to the fullest. Our food timetable was something like this…..
PART 7: College Days (contd)
St John Bosco’s College Ubiaja: Food Timetable (1974-1979)
The items on the school menu, which were rotated to create a semblance of balance, were bread and tea with boiled eggs; rice and stew with meat or fish; boiled yam with stew; beans with ripe dodo (fried plantain); beans and rice combo with meat (Arobele); plain beans with boiled yam and stew; akamu (pap) with akara (bean cakes); eba with egusi (melon) or okra soup plus meat or fish, fried unripe plantain (plywood) with stew and meat, and beans/yam porridge. I think moin-moin (beans pudding) was introduced at a point. In case you are wondering whether we had salad with the rice, stop dreaming. We only saw salad inside textbooks. But salad or no salad, some of the meals were to die for or, at least, to fight for.
The items on the menu were rotated to achieve a semblance of balance
First on the list, which incidentally was the first meal of the week – served on Sunday mornings – was bread, tea and boiled eggs. Students of today would of course be wondering what was so special about that. Some wouldn’t even eat that for breakfast when they could jolly well have macaroni or spaghetti with egg sauce and 100 percent fruit juice. But in our days, if anybody had mentioned that macaroni or spaghetti was some kind of food, most people would have looked at them as if they needed urgent psychiatric attention, as the names of the food alone would have sounded like swear words; just as if somebody had said they wanted to eat dessert, someone would have probably asked, “Which one; Sahara or Kalahari desert?” Very few knew there was even a difference in the pronunciation of the two words.
So, preparing for the dining hall on Sunday morning was like preparing for the Olympics; all because of eggs. You had to be a fast runner if you were to meet any egg in your plate. There were Table Heads, usually seniors who were placed in charge of dining tables of about 8 to 10 students. They usually got to the dining hall before the other students. Some even helped the cooks and the Food Prefect to serve the food. The good table heads ensured that every member of the table got their food while the bad ones appropriated items like eggs and pieces of meat from other students’ rations. Those who smuggled other people’s eggs ended up with half a dozen or more and sold them later to the highest bidders. These were usually the notoriously ‘wicked’ students that no junior dared to challenge. There was no issue of reporting them to the authorities either, as efforts in that direction often failed to yield desirable results. A game of eggs was also played whereby students knocked the end of one egg against another and the owner of the egg that got cracked in the process surrendered it to the other. Egg war, you might say!
Another meal of contention was rice and beans combo with meat aka Arobele, which was served on Tuesday afternoons. Some students who came late to the dining hall found their plates empty and there was very little anyone could do about that. Also on Friday mornings, when akamu with akara was served as breakfast, laggards would meet the akamu scowling in their plates with the akara nowhere to be found. Plywood, the hard unripe fried plantain served on Tuesday evenings had very few fans. The only time everyone met his ration intact was on Thursday evening when eba with okra soup was served but sometimes that too would be without the meat.
An incident happened in the dining hall one Thursday evening over three decades ago that remains etched on my mind and that galvanises me to speak out each time I cringe from voicing my inner emotions. Friday Okoyomon (God rest his soul), the Labour Prefect then, and a senior dreaded by even some of his classmates, had emptied a plate of okro soup on Moses Macava’s head for disrespecting him. Although Okoyomon was like Goliath to Macava in size and physical prowess, that did not stop Macava from saying, “But Okoyomon, you are a fool o!” I had held my breath as I thought Okoyomon was going to smash Macava to pieces but he only laughed and said, “You this one, you’re looking for someone to kill you”. Macava had voiced his feelings and the heavens did not fall.
School Prefects were usually served in the hostels. Their ‘boys’ took their food in special plates from the dining hall to the hostel before the bell was rung for the rest. The prefects got more food than the other students; more eggs and more pieces of meat as well. It was considered a privilege to be a boy or one of the boys of a prefect, especially the Senior Prefect and the Food Prefect. These two got the biggest rations and that meant they usually had leftovers for their boys. Somehow, whereas Senior Prefects were always among the best in the final exams, Food Prefects almost always managed to pass while some failed woefully. It was an open secret that they ate too much, slept too much and read too little.
Another good thing in having a prefect as your ‘master’ was that you enjoyed some level of protection from senior students and bullies. I had a mentor who was fairly well respected because he was one of those ‘strong-head’ seniors who would not stand by and see a junior unduly oppressed. His name was Anthony Ekata. Yes, my namesake. He was from Ugbegun, a neighbouring village bordering Uromi to the east. When he found out that I was bearing the same name as his, he immediately ‘adopted’ me as one of his boys and that gave me a level of immunity from undue harassment. It was the first time that I met someone sharing the same name with me. There was yet another instance and that happenstance, to some extent, redirected the course of my life towards what I believe is divine destiny. But that was many years later.
Class prefects also wielded some power. Although class prefects were peers, you needed to cultivate their friendship to get small favours from them. Form masters sometimes gave the class prefects the responsibility of marking the attendance registers. They could therefore mark absent students as present if such students were in their good books. They also had the duty of compiling a list of noisemakers or those who were in the habit of speaking vernacular in class. These laws were both easily violated. If you were not necessarily a noisemaker you could be caught speaking vernacular so they served to keep the classroom quiet most of the time and made the class prefect bossy. One of my class prefects along the line was Godwin Ebewele, my friend of over 40 years now. In fact, I was the Best Man at his wedding in 1991. Recently, we were discussing old times and he told me one more thing prefects used to do for the form masters which I will tell you in the next volume of My Sojourn.
The prohibition of vernacular was meant to help students catch up with good spoken English so everyone struggled to show a mastery of the language. Now, the Vice Principal, Mr. Ojobo, used to do routine checks for school fees defaulters. We were required to bring our bank tellers (deposit slips) to the class as proof of payment. One day he came into our classroom and ordered everyone to stand up. Then he ordered those who had not paid their fees to come to the front of the class while those who had paid should sit down and raise their tellers. Everyone obeyed the instructions except Abraham who kept standing. The class was in silent anticipation. Abraham was one of those who really struggled to speak ‘correct’ English.
“And you!?” the Vice Principal barked at him.
“Excuse sir, I have pay my school fees but my teller is dey domentri”
The classroom was still somehow quiet except for those who could not hold their laughter. Mr. Ojobo stared at him for a moment, shook his head, and blurted out:
“You idiot, go and get your teller from the dormitory!”
The Vice Principal was standing close to the door with his long cane. Abraham did not know whether to go through one of the open windows or the door. Of course, going through the window would have been bigger trouble so he moved cautiously towards the door. As he got close he made a dash for the door. The VP was waiting for him and a swift stroke of the cane on his back escorted Abraham out of the classroom.
Abraham was not the only one who murdered English occasionally. There was John who earned the ironic name Ogundipe after the name of the author of an English Language textbook in use at the time. Ogundipe was a master of transliteration. In my language, ‘water’ and ‘rain’ are called the same thing – ‘amen’. One day, as the rain was drizzling, Ogundipe, in a bid not to speak vernacular said:
“I first talk say water go fall today,” meaning “I knew that rain would fall today”
Another day he said:
“The soup I like pass is paper soup.” That was to say, “My favourite soup is vegetable (leaf) soup.” Leaf and paper are called the same thing in Esan language. But who could blame them when some teachers in some primary schools knew no better? Or was it Malvolio, a one-time punctuality prefect? Malvolio got his alias from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Narrating his encounter with some miscreants one night, Malvolio said:
“As I was coming from the night prep I hear some noise near by the dining hall. So I start moving yee, yee, yee (as he said this he demonstrated his stealthy movement). Then I flash my torch wa wa wa wa! And the people just run gbidi gbidi gbidi and I say Ah-Ah!” That was onomatopoeic Malvolio for you.
There were prefects and there were prefects. One prefect that any junior who knew him would not forget in a hurry was Friday Okoyomon (Okoyo). Okoyo was a labour prefect and his trademark was making students to rake the debris with their bare fingers after cutting overgrown grass on the school field. He would make students to stand side by side with their legs apart, facing the north for instance, and then get them to bend down looking at the south through the gap of their open legs. Together the students would then start ploughing the cut grass backwards in rake-like motion, not stopping until they got to the other end of the field which was not less than a hundred metres away. The exercise, if you could call it that, left the students exhausted. But it also left the school field cleaner. Okoyomon later ended up as a naval officer, which was not surprising given his hardcore ‘jaguda’ nature.
As new prefects were appointed annually, the baton of oppression of junior students was handed over unofficially. In our set, there were seniors dreaded by junior students and even classmates. Two of them were Cademon and Hercules. These two were always at loggerheads and continually in a brawl of supremacy. One day they fought ferociously over something to do with one punishing the other’s boy unjustly. It was a fight of two elephants except that in their case it was not the grass but they themselves that suffered. By the time they decided of their own free will to adjourn the fight, they were both bruised and bleeding.
There were occasions when animosities took the backstage and everyone had a good time…..
What were these occasions? Find out in Part 8… coming next.
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