When a girl is growing up, there is so much that goes on in her mind (and maybe in that of those who care about her) before she actually gets to understand who she is. For sure we have questions within us that usually never get answered. I am not sure what boys experience because I am not one of them, but I guess they too have their own issues.
I realize that there is this particular age-group in which a girl is so much ‘neglected’. Very few adults, especially parents seem to notice this. At this age, she is not able to understand and fight her ‘wars’ fully, yet she seems abandoned by the people who she expects to guide her through this process. At this age the parents are less keen on buying clothes for these children, especially the inner wear. Nobody asks why this child is withdrawn. Very few parents are interested in the homework of this child. This is the stage of a child in which most parents have no business being seen in public with them. Unfortunately, this stage is the onset of puberty to slightly mid teens, which ironically should be a period that the girls are given more attention by the adults in their lives (especially their mothers).
Have you ever wondered why this is a period in time when many girls are raped? Why is it that most boys have their initial sexual experiences with the female house-helps at this stage? This is the age that falls somewhere between eight to twelve years; about the time when these children are in standard four or five of school. In this generation, this is the onset of sexual adventure. It is the appropriate time for parents to guide the children on sexual and relationship issues, but do they?
The biggest concern is that it is at this stage that most parents believe that their daughter is now ready for boarding school. I did not escape this experience. In as much as I do not wish to shape your ideas on boarding schools, but I so much believe that it influenced my perception of so many things in life in a lot of ways. I have an abnormal love of all kinds of meat, for instance, thanks to that boarding primary school that I attended.
When I was growing up, boarding schools were the in-thing. Every parent wanted to be among the ‘who-is-who’ of society and this was only merited with the ability to have their children educated in prestigious boarding schools. My elder siblings had all gone through this system and I could not escape it. Each day I saw it get closer to my being one of the ‘girls’ in the village.
My mama did not have so much money because she was only a primary school teacher, but she wanted the best for us. She was always indebted in bank loans to pay our fees. Daddy was not part of us in this at all in this. All that mattered to him was to show-off to his friends, and village people that he has children in good schools.
He never bothered to know how much mama paid for fees; neither did he even give us a penny for pocket money just to warrant him to brag about our being in those schools. This never seemed to worry mama, and neither were we interested in his support. We had grown seeing all the other mothers (his wives) struggle to educate and raise their children, so how special would we be to have him contribute towards our education anyway?
Among the positive attributes of polygamy is that it ensures competition among the women in an effort to outshine each other in winning their husband’s favor. Most of this rivalry among them is manifested through children. My mama is human and not an exception to this. She too had her share of positive competition with her co-wives, and I guess she won because I believe we went to the best schools than our entire step siblings.
I admired the boarding school life so much. I was always envious of the padlocked metal boxes that my siblings had. I loved the way they arranged their clothes in them in a possessive manner. I was jealous of the little pocket money they were given. Each time mama shopped for them to go back to school, I cried because I thought I too needed my own personal toiletry items.
Just after my standard three, mama announced to me that I would be joining boarding school for my standard four. You have no idea how many weird pictures crossed my mind that night and a few others until the day that schools opened. I fantasized so much about the life and the new friends I was to make in the school I was to join. The language I was to speak and how I would come back to the village and prove through my lingo that I am in boarding. I just loved the thought of it.
A week before the schools opened, we went for shopping with mama. There were high excitement emotions for me on this occasion. I was very excited when we got to the first shop and bought toothpaste and brush, bar soap, shoe polish, petroleum jelly, two pens, four exercise books, a pencil, a ruler and an eraser. We went to the next where she purchased the school jersey (sweater), a pair of white socks, a plastic basin and a white full petticoat. Our last shopping was that of shoes and slippers (flip-flops). This was to be done specifically from a Bata shoe company shop. The school that I was to join was very strict on the uniforms and insisted that all students must have Bata Prefect brand of shoes and that the slippers must also be of the same company. They were quite costly but mama had no choice but to get them for me.
When we got home, I was very excited. I kept checking my belongings just to confirm that they were actually mine. I made my big sister write my names on almost everything in exchange of doing dishes for her duty. I was to join her former school. She was then excelling to form two. I loved this thought, oh my!
So here I am in that so much awaited boarding school. The first day is still memorable to me. I shed tears like I was being paid to cry. You would be mistaken to think that they were tears of joy. I cried because I realized that finally I am here and that it is time for me to start fighting my own wars. I cried so much because I realized that the stories that my sister often told me about ghosts in boarding school will soon be evident. I cried because the matron did not look friendly to me. She was out rightly nasty, and she was not the type to be mean with words. I just cried and cried until mama left me in what she believed were caring hands of Jacinta, a girl in our home neighborhood who was three classes ahead of me in that school.
All my money and belongings were given to the matron as was the rule. Jacinta was told to take good care of me and to inform the matron incase of any problem. Mama gave her some of my bread to grease her elbows in being my ‘big sister’.
The first days were quite hectic to me. Waking up at 4 in the morning was not what I was used to. Taking a cold shower was not pleasant and more so when you find that all the shower cubicles are full and therefore you must do your thing outside in the wind-blowing cold. Getting water was not easy and therefore one had to make sure she has collected it from the usually long-queued lightly-dripping taps that would go on to way past midnight. This is not to mention that sometimes you wake up and find that your hard-earned water has been stolen by some clever lass who maybe thought you do not deserve a bath.
Then there was the neat spreading of the bed. We never had beds at home, and this was just a punishment to me because I had no idea how to go about it. The first few days Jacinta did it for me and she actually made me feel like a baby. She spoiled ma and I enjoyed each bit of it.
Later when the matron declared that my sugar and Cocoa powder were over, my ‘big sister’s’ attitude evidently changed. It became an ‘every man for himself and God for us all’ situation. She never again checked if I had water to shower, she never helped in the spreading of the bed, and she avoided me during the meal times. That was a good lesson that was well learned.
As the days went by, I saw less and less of her and it dawned on me that it is time to accept that this is the boarding school. I thank God for my elder sister who had been here before. She had psychologically prepared me for the hardships that awaited boarding school children.
What annoyed and still makes me go bananas is that whenever mum came to visit me, Jacinta would always come to ‘greet’ her and share my goodies. Mama believed she was a very good girl. She always entrusted her with my pocket money and the foodstuffs. Do not ask me how it always was, but it is worth my tears. I never got to see her people, but I know they visited her frequently. The fascinating part of this story is I never ever told mum about it until now when I am writing this because I know age has got the best of her and therefore she cannot read this.
There are various social lessons that are only well learned in boarding primary school. I got so many that I have lost track of most of them. The ones that stick in mind are the painful ones. These are ones that one has to really endure in order to survive in that environment. One good example is that of water saving. Water was like gold in that school. It was never enough even if it would have rained ‘cats and dogs’ non-stop for a whole month. Somehow we always thought there would be no water the next day and therefore did all we could to save some. With time, I also became a water thief because I realized it was a survival tactic in that environment. Unlike me, most of these thieves were the older girls whose age and body size threatened others.
It is also during my innocent days of two years in a boarding school that I realized that there are very many manufacturers of sanitary pads. I am sorry if this puts you off but it cannot go without mentioning. Huh! They were littered everywhere. I mean those stained stinking pads. I had no idea what they were and what they might have been used for, but I could never escape their sight. The bathrooms had them in all corners, the toilets were decorated with them, the fences had them, the open drainage system too was dotted with them. That was pathetic but we learned to get used to them.
I wonder why the school never organized sessions, even on weekends to educate the girls on how best to keep themselves clean and their environment free from those unsightly things. I did not know what they were and whenever curiosity got the best of me and I asked anyone, I was told that it is something for big girls and that when I get there I will understand. How would I understand this when our class subjects had no such contend yet I was exposed to them each day?
This really frustrated me. I just needed to know what they were, and why they looked and smelled that gross. All I knew is that occasionally I would encounter a girl whose behind is stained with what looks like a reddish-maroon color and I would silently wonder why she chose to sit on blood. I always thought that these were the type of uncultured girls that kept hovering around the school kitchen in effort to steal meat or any other food. Forgive my ignorance!
It is also from this boarding primary school that I learned that there is nothing like stale food. I mean, food was just food and therefore meant for human consumption. Sometimes your parents would visit you with lots of home-cooked goodies that you had longed for. The food might be too much for one person to be able to consume within a day or two. Friends were not part of an individual’s food from home. We hid the food in our metal boxes. The matron could not access it although the written rules clearly stated in simple terms that all food must be surrendered to the matron for keeping.
For the very mean type, there was always a remedy for them. Metal and tough as the boxes were, someone always got a way of breaking into them. They were broken into at the most unexpected times and all the valuable possessions were stolen, including money. This would mark the beginning of the whole school knowing that so-and-so had chapatis, mandazis, eggs, fried beef, or even boiled chicken. People always ate their food at night after lights-off. If they must eat during the day (weekends), one would cover herself in the blankets and bite that mandazi as if it is a mouse stealing bread, bit by bit of each protruding corner. I now wonder why we acted like thieves to our own food.
All the same, boarding life was not the best thing to me. I hated it to the core and nothing could change my determination to quit it before the end of the very first term. War after another of words and a generous supply of long emotional weekly letters, eventually my mum bought my argument after two hectic and long years. Phew! There I was, out of that place. I hated it; for sure I did.
What am I saying? Boarding schools are not all bad; there are some exceptionally comfortable boarding schools that you and I know of. My concern is to my fellow women. Mothers, visit your children in boarding schools as often as possible. They need you to guide them on various issues. Talk to them whenever you can and try to understand their concerns. Our children believe in us and let them not grow up with bitterness and a feeling of a much unfulfilled childhood.