Now You Know Why I Hate My Boarding School Years
We had a practice: a group of buddies would come to a mutual agreement about how they’d consume the tokens our parents gave us at the beginning of the year. Or those they’d bring during the visits we had on the last Saturday of every month.
My mother would make fried plantain chips, fried groundnuts and chin-chin (small cookie-like flour based crunchies). Garri- a cassava based product best consumed with water, sugar and one of the items in the list above- was banned from campus. According to the authorities, it was the source of various eyesight problems.
Then again, it was affordable. You know what that means to African parents. Plus, I loved it anyway.
After a vetting period, one or more individuals would approach the party they’d like to merge with and have a conversation. During this conversation, both parties would agree to share a trunk. We had all our stuff in trunks with locks, given that we’d spend sometimes up to three months on campus.
In each trunk, the parties would decide where to keep what, who would have the keys, when to eat, what to eat before what time, and some basic rules. One of the most interesting rules was what we called unleashing.
Unleashing governs the the acceptable time to open a packet of sugar or any other edible product that hadn’t been opened yet. This rule also extended to non edible items. For example, if I had a new pair of flip flops and you needed them to save your life, if I hadn't unleashed ( used ) them well…you could could as well die.
This rule worked well to stave off beggars. But this is another story.
To be able to join with another school mate, the conditions were pretty similar to seeking a life partner. Or- to be less serious-a business partner. Compatibility at various levels was important. From what your favourite Manga show was ( this was before Naruto, Bleach and One Piece) to whether you loved novels or if you could sing the Micheal Learns To Rock Album off hand.
We were 10 to 12 years old. This shit was pretty serious. You could not have any weird Sentai-loving-Harry Potter-hating- non-Lestat-fan sharing a trunk with you! 絶対に!
I’ve had my share of compatibility tests. And mostly, I failed. I always ended up getting screwed over. For some reason, even up to now, I still can’t vet the people I let into my life.
Getting screwed as a teenager over the only thing that mattered to us at the time (food) has a way of seeping into your mid-twenties and with sprinkles of trust issues and cynical angst.
Now you know why I don’t have many friends. And incidentally, why I hate boarding school.
I’ll admit, I know a lot of people. Acquaintances. It just takes a really, really long time for me to trust you. Heck, I am more likely to trust a regular reader of my blog than a human being I went to University with. Case in point: in my graduating class of 2015, there is only one dude I call my friend. And he knows himself. I spent three years with these people.
Am I proud of it? Not really. Am I worried? Not really. Will I fix it? Hell no. Nothing is wrong with me. I hope…
Anyway, joining was one part of my secondary school life that crystallized a lot the bonds I forged in my life. Interestingly, since I left high school, the only people I have kept in touch with are people I never considered joining with. In fact, one of the people I consider a brother was someone I met a year before we left high school. We never shared a trunk. I don’t remember us quarreling over who would have the Ovaltine first. Yet, he’s the one I message when I get my scheduled existential crisis that follows every heartbreak and she-was-the-one moment.
I wasn’t bullied. But I might as well have been.
I got screwed over by these guys who were a year older than me, I was not able to play any sport ( there was an actual term for this — anti sporter), not good enough to be asked out by any girl( I got my first girlfriend in the University), and the best part:
Whenever I opened my mouth to make a joke, the whole class was silent. I was the most boring person on campus.
Now tell me, after seven years of this treatment, do you really think I haven’t turned out pretty good?
I think I have. And I think a lot of these scars would go away with difficulty. Writing this, I realize that I haven’t itched the surface of the damage that I had to sustain on campus for almost a decade. And moving to the University with a lot of my classmates, a lot of this didn’t change- the subtle jokes, the mockery.
In the African (and especially Cameroonian) context, peer influence hasn’t been documented enough. There might be a few like me whose lives have been dramatically transformed because of how they were treated by their “friends”.
But I am old now. These things happened over 10 years ago. I should be fine. Right? Well…no.
First of all, having a good memory is a blessing and a curse. I still remember how I felt in 2000 when my Uncle died. I have no memory of him, but there is this intense feeling of loss that marked that period . I still have images of the house. Flashes of my Mom weeping the loss of her baby brother.
I remember how much I hated the fact that my mother was a teacher. She organized after school school for my classmates. I was 7 years old. I loathed the remedial lectures. A good memory keeps the laughter of my classmates fresh in my mind everytime I meet someone the first time.
And now you know why I don’t like meeting new people.
Second, if I had not found the likes of James when I did, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to take my life into my own hands. Mostly because African parents don’t talk about these things. To them, the only reason why you look sad is because you’re hungry. Not because your neighbours said you could not play with everyone because you were a “messer” and couldn’t kick the ball straight. To them, Corm Flakes were too expensive and a waste of money. And why wouldn’t you, the kid, understand that times were so hard? Every year?
I always be grateful for the internet. For discovering James’ Blog and for meeting people I can call my friends. People whose words shed the mockery from years ago. People who make me believe that joining is still possible. And that I may not be as boring as my classmates thought.
Maybe I grew too fast. Maybe I have issues. I still can’t play any sport. Ok Maybe table tennis. But I sure as hell have real friends now who don’t try to eat my chinchin because my Mom made the best in town.
Now hand me that cup’a Garri.
Hi. I’m Tchassa Kamga and I write. I live in Buea, Cameroon. I’m an English Language Post Graduate student at the University of Buea.