Lately, the twitter population (tweeps) has had a reminiscing phase recounting Primary school experiences. From being canned in the butt crack ( they called it “bum-line”), to putting one’s clothes under the mattress at night so they would look ironed in the morning and then someone mentioned something unusual that happened at my own school and then all the memories came flooding in. I could have dedicated a whole day on my twitter timeline to recount those memories but that I thought was impractical. Then I thought about summarizing a few in a tweet but let’s face it, how many memories can one tweet (140 characters) accommodate? Having made the above considerations therefore, I thought I’d write a detailed piece of my own recounts.
I’ve always said that my primary school was equivalent to a military boot camp and this is not so much of an exaggeration. In a few minutes I will be telling you why but before I get to it, let me tell you how I ended up in boarding primary school in the first place. I had a great childhood, I did. First born child, daddy’s little princess, mummy’s little jewel, name it. My parents showered me with love and lots of affection. I got everything I asked for, was taken places, my 3rd to 6th birthday parties were held at hotels for chrissakes!….and as you might imagine, I became a little “spoiled” if you catch my drift. It is because of this and a little push from some evil, yes evil: friends of my parents felt the need to ship their little girl off to boarding school. We (read: they) tried a certain school near home first but it didn’t work out because of environment, school academic standard, etc. They, through another friend then later found what was described as, and I quote, “the best primary girls’ school in Uganda.” Applications were made, I passed my interviews and within no time I had been admitted and I later, reported to school.
School for starters strictly prohibited carrying food, grab (read snacks) and money. Yes, our parents were to drop us to school and leave us with just our property. The catch, as written in the circular was that the school provided a variety of foods and snacks already and that they gave pupils some pocket money over the weekend which was provided for in school fees and there was no need for extra. This pocket money I later discovered, to my disappointment, was Ugshs 500 and might I add, ONLY! Now you might argue that in the 90’s (this was 98), that was a fair denomination, make no mistake. Saturdays when this pocket money was given to us was a highly anticipated day. It is when for the first time during the week, the canteen was opened and one had a chance to eat something other than the regular school food potions. So as soon as you got the money, you went to the canteen and spent it all on Riham biscuits (the ones with the red pack). 2 packs of biscuits and your pocket money was gone, all spent! One fateful Saturday, I gleefully walked to the canteen and reached into my pocket where I had tucked my precious 500 shilling note only to find it wasn’t there. Panic….I searched and searched deeper…I traced my steps back hoping that it was still lying where I had dropped it but nothing. I went back to the dormitory verandah and cried my eyes out….yes I cried, you would too. The other girls bought their biscuits and ate them I just watched because I didn’t even want to ask to be given some of those biscuits only to be asked in turn why I was “begging as if you didn’t get your pocket money!”
Let’s talk about meals. We had black tea with a bun for breakfast. Milk two days a week for break and a jerrycan cover (yeah, that red thing) of roasted soya beans other days of the week. Lunch was worse. Before I got to around Primary 5 and the school adapted the cafeteria system, we had “table leaders” whose role was to get to the kitchen earlier than everyone, get the food in dishes and bring it to the table (each table sat 12 people). These table leaders who were Primary 6 pupils would then proceed to serve the food onto twelve plates, of course they served themselves a lot of food and us so little but that was an unwritten rule that we all conceded to. One day at lunch however, I humbled myself and closed my eyes to pray for my meal but when I opened them, my plate was gone! Somebody is just playing a prank on me and they’re about to return my plate, thought the optimist in me. This was never to happen. I looked around for about five minutes and everybody was quietly eating from their plate, not a single look towards me. So I stood up, walked out of the dining hall and walked to class…..crying, again!
The dormitory was a challenging place. In Primary One for instance, we woke up at 6a.m and walked outside to the compound stark naked, with our buckets full of water and sponges to bathe. Outside we were required to form a circle with our buckets and the matron would then hand out the soap and proceed to give us instructions on what body parts to scrub. Now should you be caught for example scrubbing your feet when the matron was screaming, tukuute emikono (let’s scrub our arms), you’d be at risk of a slap. The water was cold of course and so was the morning air. But we persevered. In Primary Four, the dormitory corridors had terrazzo floors reminiscent of missionary built structures that had over the years become rough as quarry stone. These floors that we mopped daily were on Saturdays, to be scrubbed clean of all the dirt and dust that had accumulated onto it during the week. We used hand brushes and the whole time while we were on our knees scrubbing hard, the matron, who had the last word on whether you had scrubbed clean enough and could now stop went around ordering us to scrub harder. The harder you scrubbed that floor, the better chances you had at being let go to leave the rest toiling.
In the evenings after classes, we had to wash our uniforms and for one to rinse and hung, you had to be cleared by the matron. Which meant that when you felt like you’d washed the uniform clean, you’d have to take it where she always sat and display it, she then decided to either send you back for another washing session, or clear you to rinse and hung it. The earlier one was cleared, the earlier they left to go shower and prepare for supper. When you were cleared late, you bathed late and you were consequently late for supper. At the Dining Hall gate the teacher-on-duty stood with a cane waiting for the late comers. Therefore whenever you were late ladies and gentlemen, you lay down to be canned so that you could eat. With no consolatory snacks back in your suitcase, no hope of the canteen being opened till Saturday and having had your last meal at lunch, knowing your next was the following day at breakfast, getting a few canes was clearly the wiser choice compared to foregoing supper.
The traditions in my school were inclined to a certain culture: you had to kneel while addressing the teachers and the matrons regardless of where you were. Almost everything was conducted in accordance to it. On the days when the leaders of that culture visited (which was often), we woke up early and lined up on either side of the road from the gate to the trading centre awaiting their arrival. You can relate it to Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, only we never laid our clothing on the ground. One random night after prep as we prepared to sleep, one of those leaders notified the school authorities that he would be shortly dropping by to see his daughter. So at 8:30p.m, the matron walked into the dormitory corridors ordering us to get out of our beds, dress up and follow her. We, amidst a lot of confusion obliged. She let us to the gate and there, we were lined up on either side of the path leading to the Headmistress’ office and asked to start clapping. In a few minutes, the leader walked into the gate with a few of his subjects and went straight to the office where his daughter and the H/M waited. As soon as they entered, we were sent back to bed!
Yes, school life was really hard and I could go on and on about every other hardship I encountered, but I will not. Instead I will acknowledge a few great lessons I learnt while there. This school taught me some great values. Its Christian based and girl empowerment foundation for example, kept me in check with my values as a believer and a woman. I learnt the importance of prayer and how to value my femininity even at very young age. At this school, I also learnt how to dig, how to peel and how to wash my clothes clean. It taught me discipline, respect and above all contributed greatly to the strong woman that I am. For that I’m entirely grateful.