My first term in boarding school was in primary six in a Catholic missionary single-sex school.
It involved an irksome struggle with difficulties in habituating myself to new rules and unwonted tasks. Unlike my former school, neither money nor grub (snacks) was accepted here. The headmistress, a nun, was a tall voluptuous lady who was so strict and particular. You would not want to get on her bad side.
A typical day began at 5am. We woke up in the stinging cold, bathed and laid our beds in uniform design before proceeding for morning prep. Breakfast was served at seven o’clock after liturgy. This included a mug of soya porridge which we ate hurriedly and immediately headed to the classrooms. Lessons commenced at 8am.
Lunch was always served at 1pm, mostly poorly-fried beans with black weevils floating in the watery sauce. I would eat just enough to rid myself of the hunger but not enough for nourishment. By five o’clock, when classes were done, the hunger always peaked, which could hardly be quenched by a mere cup of tea with no accompaniment.
We were always underfed, which explains why I went back home for holidays with protruding collar bones. One time, we were sent to the garden to collect cassava tubers from under the big mango tree for peeling next to the headmistress’ residence. We chewed the cassava tubers as we gathered them. The class monitor scribbled mine and other girls’ names for eating raw cassava.
The headmistress flogged us and made us weed the flower beds in the school compound. The coward in me pleaded and apologised profusely… and even swore never to eat raw cassava again.
“I insist you should be punished I will not have thieves in my school,” she said curtly with a resolute countenance.
The following Saturday, a week after the first incident, primary-five pupils were sent out to collect the cassava. We (primary-six pupils) were obliged to peel the bounty. My classmates started eating the raw cassava as usual. I tried to restrain myself but later joined the bandwagon. I ate at every tuber I peeled. Then, finally decided to look out for a delicious one, peeled it properly and then stood up.
I continued chewing at my cassava while standing. Little did I know that the nun was watching me through her window! We had all thought she had left. I, who had sworn never to repeat eating raw cassava, was now caught red-handed gnawing at a huge cassava tuber. I froze and hid behind the big tree. I knew it was all over now and braced myself for the worst. It came.
“Do not hide, I have seen you!” said the nun. Then aloud – how loud it seemed to me: “Nabwiiiiiirrre, come out right now!”
I was paralysed but I somehow wobbled towards the dreaded judge, and then my friends all stared at me in apprehension, and I caught one whispered counsel: “Do not be afraid, Immy. Just say everyone was chewing cassava.” The kind whisper did not help matters, for now I wished the very earth I was standing on could open and swallow me!
“Come over here, on my verandah,” said the nun pointing to the verandah of her house. And I stood there, waiting for her. I do not know how long I waited. I was in no condition to note time. I was only aware that doomsday had come, and that tears clouded my vision as I trembled all over… and that whatever punishment was going to be meted upon me, was deserved!
The nun finally appeared.
“Did you or did you not swear to me not to eat raw cassava again?” she said with a reproachful face.
I just nodded.
“So, you are crying already?” she questioned.
“You can go back!” she said finally, after a pause, during which she glared at me and shook her head in resignation.
“Whew!” I sighed in silent relief. I knew it was time to quit eating raw cassava.
Source : The Observer