Sunday 30 August 2009

Childhood: Shocked into adolescence

Send the child to our roots

Some memories came flooding in the other day about my childhood or is it my adolescence. Now, whilst I have written extensively about my primary school days, I realise I have barely scratched the surface of the wealth of stories to tell, I believe I would eventually visit those times, nothing would be strictly chronological in presentation I dare say.

My parents even though we lived in the North of Nigeria in Kaduna felt it was necessary I go to secondary school near my ancestral roots in the South where I could learn my father’s mother tongue of Yoruba properly – I never made much academic headway with Yoruba, I barely passed any of the examinations, though I did end up learning something.

They also had this feeling that sending me to boarding school would toughen me up; I had always lived a life of some privilege, much of which has hardly withdrawn once I left the confines of the parent-sanctioned borstal.

Steering to secondary education

So, in January 1976, I was put on a flight to Lagos where an uncle collected me and ensured I was able to attend a number of common entrance examinations to secondary schools – thankfully, there was no socialist fervour about selection, if you did well you did get noticed and get offered a place.

I had also been booked to attend an examination in Ibadan, I cannot remember which school it was but as we drove to the home of my hosts the driver got engaged in some distracting activity with the other kids and I found myself handling the steering wheel of the car with a gorge to the side of the road, the realisation that my turning had dramatic effect must have been seared in my memory that I never touched a steering wheel for another 15 years.

I had to learn the difference between arithmetic which we did in the North and mathematics which was done in the South. Negative numbers? Whose idea was that? I had the services of an aunt who was studying Electrical Engineering at the University of Lagos.

Between a cemetery and a forest

Eventually, a number of offers came, the nearest to my ancestral home was Odogbolu Grammar School, the other was Remo Secondary School in Sagamu where I had very close family.

I had a very terrifying experience when I returned home after 4 months down South when my aunt and our houseboy was chatting about appearances of evil and to the mind of an impressionable 10-year old there was fertile land for imaginations that could produce untold realities.

That night as my parents entertained guests, our kitchen was detached from the main building and as I went to place the dishes out at the washing area, I saw what I believed to be the devil and my life changed completely from then on, I knew fear, I knew terror, I found out that having my parents present did not save me from what my imagination could conjure for my seeing.

Anyway, that meant Odogbolu Grammar School was completely out of the question, the grounds were literally shared with a cemetery, I would have lost my mind if I chose that school.

Preparing for school

When we settled for Remo Secondary School there was the frenzied activity of acquiring uniforms, linen and other essential goods. The instructions seemed muddled, I ended up with grey shorts rather than green ones, and my cutlass was completely unusable for the activity we were to engage in.

The indelible ink of choice was Kandahar, and this was used to label all my effects, the school and house uniforms, the linen, my sandals, my pail, my mattress, my pillow and my metal portmanteau which was acquired from Panteka, the metalworks market in Kaduna – it was black with red dots and it had a hinge link for a padlock.

The first day at school was without much event, we arrived a few days before the seniors apart from the room seniors, fresh students had their own dormitory well away from the seniors.

Eventually, we were allocated our house groups, I was put in Adedoyin House that excelled in coming last in my first 3 years at school, it was a slow start but as soon as we began to settle in the reality of it all began to dawn on all of us.

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