Sunday, 4 August 2013

Childhood: Learning to cope away from home

Sent away
As I was reaching the age of 10, having lived with my parents literally all my life apart from times when I was cared for by nannies when we were in England, they were thinking of where I would go to secondary school.
We lived in the North of Nigeria but they concentrated on trying to get me admitted into a secondary school in South-West Nigeria where my parents were from.
All down South and nowhere else
In fact, I cannot remember any instance where I was entered for any common entrance examinations or admission lists for any of the good secondary schools in Kaduna or Jos where we had lived for about 5 years.
Instead, I was taken out of school in January and put on a plane first to Ibadan where besides taking exams and one hair-raising incident where the driver of the vehicle I was in with 3 distant cousins left the steering wheel to me as we almost teetered over the edge of a ravine, only providence changed that course of history as I came into the most experience of sexual abuse in the week that I was there.
Liberties taken and voice lost
I returned home a bit tongue-tied, I had received many gifts but could not account for how I had given some away to ward off abuse which my parents took as evidence of me being a wastrel currying favour off people by being overly generous – how I should have spoken up but for the fear and loathing of my experiences.
Two weeks later, I was on a plane again to Lagos where I spent over four months out of school shunted between relations, grandparents and my cousins as common entrance examinations were scheduled throughout Lagos and Ogun States revealing stark contrasts between arithmetic that we did up north and mathematics that was the mainstay down south, I never knew the concept of negative numbers until then, it was an aunt studying Electrical Engineering at University of Lagos who helped me there.
Choices made from limited options
I probably attended 10 examinations in all completely away from the routine of school and the comforts of home that I had known all my life, it laid the foundations for what was to come when I had choices, I refused to go to one that shared its grounds with a cemetery, I had been sensitised to terrifying fear, in the ensuing months, something I never had before I went away.
Eventually I had one chosen and preparations for boarding school began – school uniform instructions poorly stated, a metal portmanteau, a machete/cutlass that was useless of the purpose it was intended for – cutting grass, it was heavy, blunt and probably it would have been better in the hands of a lumberjack than a scrawny tall 10-year old – they knew no better.
It was hell, just without the fire
I cannot elicit to any detail what informed my parents about this idea of sending me away apart from wanting to probably toughen me up and give me the opportunity to meet more of my close and distant relations as well as give me the environment to learn Yoruba.
Soon after I arrived at boarding school the process of toughening did toughen me as we found ways to compensate for the sadism and abuse that passed for discipline and corporal punishment sanctioned by the system of hierarchies of seniors and teachers – they all got away with it, our parents none the wiser apart from being assured that their kids were getting a comprehensive education for life ahead.

If I did have my own children, it is unlikely I would have acquiesced to this barbaric regime of treating children like stubborn mules that needed to be forced to respond and react to coercion imposed by inflicting pain – that is another story to be told.

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