Wednesday 28 September 2022

Childhood: Standing up to the powerful

The headmistress’ daughter

Certain girls in my childhood experience were big girls, taller and fierce, bullies at times, against whom I could do little if anything. In one case, when I was just 8, and she was probably 10, the daughter of the headmistress would on occasion share the Land Rover school bus with us; my sister and I along with children for 3 other families that met in the front of the ATMN (Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigeria) offices in Rayfield, Jos.

I presume she would normally travel to school with her mother. However, in the time that we were on the school bus, for whatever reason, rather than be kind and friendly, she would pinch and bruise me whilst I grimaced and winced in pain, just wishing for the journey to school to end and be rid of her menace.

Getting a pinch back

It happened a few more times and I told my dad about it. He simply said, pinch her back. The next time we shared the school bus, she pinched me and quite immediately, I pinched her back. Maybe the shock of retaliation or something hit her, but now she reported me to her mother. I do not think I was called into the headmistress’ office, but the headmistress contacted my father to remonstrate my behaviour.

There was an interesting power dynamic at play that taught me a veritable lesson about not being afraid of people with means and influence, along with power and money. It was in the way my father addressed the issue.

At first, he explained that the girl had been attacking me for days before I reported the issue to him, that she was much bigger than I, that she had been bullying me, and what made the attacks stop was when I retaliated. I think the headmistress understood, and not only did the attacks stop, but the girl also never joined us on the bus again.

Don’t dread the powerful

Another thing, her father was the Managing Director of ATMN whereas my father was the Deputy Chief Accountant, they were all Caucasian, though that is beside the point, I had always been in an international school setting that race or identity in that regard never mattered to me, though I do remember that we as children were quite cruel to those of Asian heritage.

The broader lesson was in the fact that I was exposed to possible repercussions at school just as my father was to such at work, because of who the parents of the girl were. Yet, when he made the case of kindness, fairness, and justice, without fear or favour, for me and for himself, I learnt from that time that if you were in the right and were doing right, you could hold your head high in any place.

Then one thing that has helped me navigate power structures through life has been, to be honest, and true, then, I am only afraid and terrified of people who have two heads. So far, I have met none such and I am glad it is an imponderable of the imagination than a vestige of possibility.

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