On a late night in September, 1995 (or was it 1996) a young man in his thirties and a 10year old girl pulled up at the gates of a boarding school in Yola in northern Nigeria after just alighting from a late night flight from Lagos. On presenting our admission documents, the security personnel led us to an open space where we waited for the hostel matron who was an elderly woman to come take over the process. Once she got in, she told my dad that he could leave. I do not remember any tearful goodbyes, I was just anxious to be in the system already!
That night I was given a bed to sleep in the matron’s house and the next morning, the Senior Prefect by name Mariam Savage (Snr Mariam, my mum used to play on the name by calling her the sister to Randy Savage who I believe was a wrestler, and that would make me cry) was given the responsibility of helping me settle in. She took me to her room and gave me her up bunk to sleep on. She also told me I was her school daughter!
But I was too independent to understand the privileges of having the Senior Prefect as a school mother. For instance, one time she assigned someone to wash my clothes, they were returned with my towel missing.
Our school uniform was a choice of two outfits, a white blouse with a maroon colored skirt and a maroon beret or a maroon trouser with a white Muslim lady sort of long top and a maroon scarf. These were a lot of whites for young me to keep sparkling and I failed many times at looking neat. I remember a time I had a sick friend quarantined for chicken pox, I would go to the sickbay every afternoon in the short time between end of lectures and lunch to quickly wash my white top and trust the northern breeze to dry it up so I would appear at lunch looking good to impress my school mother!
I was however tops in class though I became somewhat of a local champion as my speaking of English began being characterized by Hausa slangs such as “fah”. I can’t say I made any friends in that school, my time there was fleeting and had to change school for financial reasons.
I never could go on mid term breaks, I and a few other girls who lived so far away. One time all my provisions finished with the exclusion of my granulated sugar, well I did lick/eat sugar out of hunger. Once my mum was able to send me provisions through some stranger she met and begged at the airport, that was Christmas to me!
But before the start of third term, my family finances dwindled and my mum couldn’t send me to school. So she spoke to her sister who lived in Kano and they offered to take care of the responsibility that term. She begged a friend who was driving to Kano from Lagos to take me along. I spent a week or two in Kano then was sent to school fully prepared. But at the end of that term, when it was time to go home, the principal called me into her office to tell me that they had not received my ticket to fly back to Lagos(phones didn’t exist then), and asked if I had relatives close by, so I replied yes! And the school paid a bus ticket and sent me off to Kano (looking back now, that was risky, I was still only 10!).
I got to my Aunty’s house in Kano very late that night and knocked at the kitchen net door. My cousin who was washing plates, saw me and screamed running in to call relatives rather than opening the door for me. Guess she thought I was a ghost!
And so my northern boarding days ended and I was on my way back to Lagos soon. I spent one term at home going to work with mum who taught in a state school while she worked a transfer to a closer Federal school for my second year.
A few funny and not so funny things happened during my first year days. Like if a student was caught stealing, they would strip her naked and paint her body either white with dusting powder or blue with washing blue and make her walk through the dorms singing that she is a thief!
I had my share of troublemaking there too! So I was later moved to the dorm that was assigned to first years and stopped staying with my school mother. I had one room mate who constantly was on my matter, I can’t remember the details now, so my then wicked self decided to pay her back by thrashing a few of her belongings in the pit toilet. Oh how she searched for them.
When going for a meal in the dinning, students are mandated to always wear a sandals or no entrance. One meal time I couldn’t find my sandals, I went to the dinning nonetheless and began looking at everyone’s feet until I saw my sandals. I collected my thing. No mercy in such a scenario when food is on the line! I do miss the food called “tuwo shinkafa” though, not sure I have eaten it since I left that school.
Those were good days, the school i later finished in had more drama, there I learnt what lesbianism was and there I earned my title of being a weird one. But why tell you about that today when I want you back here tomorrow?