PART 5: College Days (contd)
That was the beginning of an eventful first week in boarding house that was full of many firsts. For instance, it was the first time I had to eat rice with fork and knife instead of spoon.
It was the first time I would eat a piece of meat with almost every meal. But the fact that we weren’t allowed to eat with our fingers made it not as enjoyable as it would have been because I had to struggle with fork and knife all the time. However, with some coaching, teasing and mockery from the senior boys, those of us from similar backgrounds soon got the hang of it and took other subsequent first experiences in our strides.
Writing about college days would make a huge volume on its own. Living and learning with strangers from different parts of the country, and even of the world – there were children of Indian teachers schooling with us – was an awesome experience. We struck friendships that have lasted over decades. We made circumstantial and ephemeral ‘enemies’ too, consisting mainly of senior boys who were out to show some superiority through bullying, extortion and unnecessary punishments. As we became seniors, we too became villains albeit to different degrees and more out of keeping to the tradition than sheer villainy.
A lot was suffered in the name of discipline at the hands of the Principal, Mr. M.O. Ojo, a no-nonsense man who would not think twice before slapping the mouth of a delinquent student; the teachers, some of whom seemed to take delight in wielding the cane; the prefects, who would find the slightest of excuses to ‘show you pepper’; the seniors, including those who were just a year ahead of you but who would always remind you that ‘365 days is not a joke’, and even some classmates who by sheer size and age would bully you secretly.
Mr. Ojo was a real toughie who used to go to Adesua Discotheque in town, frequented by St. John Bosco’s students just to fish out those boarding students who were in the habit of jumping the school fence at night or simply bribing the gatemen to go and catch some fun. The story was told of how one day, he accosted a student on the dance floor and interrogated him. Godwin was a day student but obviously, the principal knew him from a previous encounter at school. When Mr. Ojo asked the chap whether he was not his student, he replied, “No sir, I’m a worker”. The principal did not argue with him but thereafter, he scouted for him at the assembly ground until one day luck ran out on the student. Mr. Ojo apprehended him, brought him out to the front of the Assembly and asked whether he was a student or a worker. Before he could answer, the principal slapped his mouth and instructed the prefects to bundle him to his office. Then he told the story of their encounter at the discotheque. The student was suspended from school and by the time he returned his name became ‘I’m a worker’.
Our principal was also a very trendy man who drove a Citreon car. His car was something of a tourist attraction. It was the first time that I, and I think some of my classmates too, would see a car that could grow and reduce in size. On the press of a button, the car would go so low that it seemed to hug the ground with its belly. Then suddenly, it would ‘grow up’ back to its former size. Mr. Ojo almost always wore a tie and his fingers moved up and down to straighten the tie all the time. It was amazing how his fingers would be straightening the tie one moment while talking to a student and slapping the face of the student the next moment.
It amuses me these days when my children would come home late from school and tell me that they were serving punishment for lateness to school or some other misdemeanor – that punishment being ‘detention’ in the class for an hour or two during which they are made to do their homework under the supervision of a teacher or just sit there with the teacher until detention is over. In South Africa, corporal punishment is punishable by the authorities.
In our days, a teacher like Mr. Wogu, who was rumoured to be an ex-soldier, would make you to ‘smell your yansh’ by administering some blistering strokes of the cane to your buttocks if he caught you in a misdeed. In fact, Mr. Wogu used to box students, as in physical blows to different parts of the body, including the head. Or was it Sergeant Waribugo? Sometime during the military dispensation, the authorities thought it ‘wise’ to post soldiers to schools to help maintain discipline. Sergeant Waribugo, a tall, dark man with bloodshot eyes was posted to our school. Whether it was true or not could never be confirmed but it was speculated at the time that Sergeant Waribugo did not like bread and tea for breakfast. Instead, he preferred Ogogoro (local gin) and Indian hemp. God save your soul if after such a sparking breakfast Sergeant Waribugo caught you (day students) coming late to school or was invited by the principal to teach you (an aberrant student) a lesson. He would first march back and forth, salute the principal before descending on you with his koboko (horse whip/sjambok).
Some of the punishments meted to students by prefects and seniors included frog jump, cutting portions of the overgrown school field, kneeling on pellets of stone with hands raised and eyes closed, standing with one foot stretched backwards and two hands stretched forward, using a teaspoon to fill an empty bucket with water, and going to the stream to fetch water for seniors or to wash their clothes. Some really mean seniors would send you to go and buy something for them from the school kiosk without giving you money but would instruct you to bring back a certain amount of change with the item.
The stream was a small river several kilometres from the school. It was the source of water when the taps ran dry. Going to the stream wasn’t such a bad punishment after all. Although it was some distance away, running down the steep slope to the stream in an unofficial competition to get there first was fun. Navigating the different paths to various parts of the river, splashing in the cold water, and fighting to fetch water, which sometimes resulted in injuries, were all a good diversion from the routine of boarding school. Then there was the real reason why almost every boarding student loved going to the stream.
Going to the stream gave us ample opportunity to interact with the outside world even if for a brief moment. Other residents of the town went to the same stream to fetch water. Some boarding students from the town sometimes ran into family members and friends on the way to or at the stream. If you were a friend to such students, you would get to be introduced to such people and share from any goodies, especially cash gifts that such encounters produced. It was even more interesting if such friends had beautiful sisters who came to the stream.
The most interesting aspect however, was the chance to meet students from Sacred Heart College, the female teacher training college located not too far from our school, who also came to the same stream to fetch water. It provided the opportunity to admire them and for the daring amongst us to exchange love letters and greeting cards. For this reason, some of our senior students also came to the stream but without buckets. Rather, they would be the ones to help the girls draw water from the ever rowdy stream just to impress them. Fights often broke out in the process, accompanied by injuries. Some of those fights were resumed at school if it turned out that two students were interested in the same girl. Wisdom dictated that junior students withdrew their interest from any girl a senior student showed interest in to avoid all manner of punishment for real or imagined offences.
Another common ground for us to mingle with students of Sacred Heart College was …….
To be continued in Part 6
Excerpt: Seniors even pilfered provisions belonging to junior students. With time, junior students found a way to get back at mean seniors. Some seniors could open padlocks without breaking them. They would flip a compass or divider from their mathematical sets around in the keyhole until the padlock clicked open. They would then help themselves to items in the locker and lock the padlock back neatly. There was Tokoz padlock that some students could dismantle and reassemble easily. This they usually did during night prep when students returned to the classrooms to read for a couple of hours before going to bed. One particularly stubborn junior student in my hostel, an Igbo boy, taught his secret tormentor an unforgettable lesson one day that forced the senior to blow his own cover. He had noticed that his Bournvita and Peak milk kept depleting without apparent cause and for him, to drink garri with Bournvita, sugar and milk or sugar and groundnuts was a delightful experience that was being threatened by that development.
Find out how the junior student dealt with his oppressor in Part 6… coming next.
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