Once Upon So Many Decades

by Uzoma Nduka

I want to tell a story—

Story, story o

You can take it from there my people.

My people, a day began a year, a year a decade, etcetera. Once I was called a slow poison by my miss. I did not have the opportunity of touching my northern ear with my right hand before admission into primary school. So this miss incident happened years after the TOUCH-YOUR-EAR school days. But I can’t remember what transpired between the duo of us (miss and me). But to tell you the truth I can now sense that miss wanted a relationship (with the kind of embarrassing sexual harassments in our schools these days). This is my conjecture. But I was too tender to catch the signal. My mind was focused on soccer, swimming and other kiddies’ extraneous affairs. Another thing: I was kind-of-bright (not too bright o-o-o). At least I once came fourth (not first) in a class of thirty-three and a fowl was slaughtered by my father for me (THANK YOU DAD). So for once let me be that proverbial lizard. As a matter of fact, I guess this miss was jealous of my brilliance (but she was my teacher, so how come?). Moreover, pupils had no guts to report their teacher to their parents. Teachers were parents and patrons, gods and guardians. You could get some more spanking when you get home as a result of reporting that your teacher either flogged or punished you.

In any case, I and “my miss” mended fences down the road. And further became buddies (but not like we traded banters or did the “synagogial” hypocritical business).

During this period in history, school fences were made of well-lined and trimmed cherries and bamboos. Mango trees and guava were cautiously planted. Grasses were green and lawns cut to straight lines with ropes and GRASS KNIVES not cutlass. Fields were parted like hair-cut. Papers were picked and never littered every morning before classes.

At that time, pupils did recitation or read speeches. We knew all the names of the administrators, ministers, commissioners, president and prime-ministers and other government officials. We could tell the number of Local Government Areas not only in the region or state, as the case may be, but in the whole country. We could rush the STATES AND CAPITALS in a blink. We could tell INDEPENDENCE and CHILDREN’S days. Match pasts were uppermost. We crammed prominent dates and names. We knew our CIVICS. We could recite verses from Chaucer, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Midnight Summer’s Dream, Macbeth, and the Bible etc. One day I recited:

Friends, Romans, countrymen

Lend me your ears

I come to bury Caesar

Not to praise him

The evil that men did

Lives after them….

This was in my Primary Three. I swear. You could imagine the holler I got from everywhere: from the headmaster, physical education (P.E.) teacher, and all the teachers (including miss), and my fellow pupils. I knew I could make it. True to God! (Don’t take the name of your God in vain, God forgive me).

It wasn’t just me. Others read from the popular Psalms 23, 121 and 91. Some still read from Things Fall Apart (the centre cannot hold portion). Yet some picked Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

While we read ours in English, others read in vernacular (Igbo) too. Not that they weren’t sharp enough as to twist their tongues or give us some English phonetics but they choose that comfort route. They read:

Aka bekee gbuo

Dinta egbe gbaa

(Whatever that means)

These recitations were done during MORNING ASSEMBLY. For those who don’t know, especially the new-age or computer age pupils, during morning assemblies every pupil stayed in lines (single files or in threes) according to class and height, with tucked in well ironed (charcoal iron for that matter) uniforms. And they got instructions on what to do that day in school from their headmaster and they “fall into” their classes afterwards. Prayers were said during morning assembly as well. Ten Commandments were on display in our hearts and mind. There was this marriage of the church and school then.

During FREE PLAY we went playing some sports: swell jumping, menina throwing, lizard catching, TO-ME-YES, hide and seek, sand-housing, fish catching, swimming at local streams, uga(girls game of clapping hands and shooting out legs) (the games were plenty. We went bush-hunting and pear stealing (thou shall not steal).

Uchenna was a recalcitrant pupil. He fought both teachers-male and female- and pupils. He bought fights too. At least he helped me beat my traitor to stupor. He even one time threw his own excrement wrapped in cocoyam leaf on a female teacher. Uchenna was really a thorn on teachers’ pants.

Life was good. It was fun. Academics was sweet and competitive then.

Talking about competition, fun and sweet schooling, we graduated into MORAL INSTRUCTIONS from MORNING ASSEMBLY. This was when many of my school mates knew I was a reverends’ son. Not that I was hiding it, though (but, but, but). But they all got the confirmation. My dad gave us Moral Instructions. My revered principal whose nickname was “War” broadcast my name after one of those times. He said: Thank you pastor for feeding us with these Holy words and thank you for giving us one of your sons as our student. We are so proud of him and we know you are proud of him too. Please can we welcome (the principal mentioned my name) to the podium.

Shying, I walked out.

In the then days, every good was recognized. Excellence was rewarded. No short cut to success.

This was when AGGREGATES OR SCORES fetched you a premium college. This was when you had to have AGGREGATE 36 to get into Government Colleges or any reputable secondary school. That was how I became a-two-term Umuahian. This was in secondary school. Of course it is in secondary schools you have principals as head of schools (our children might not have been thought this). But you know a lot has passed through the murky bridge. So nomenclatures may have changed in other to adapt to globalization. Globalization indeed!

I ceased being an Umuahian after I rolled on beans water at the refectory (PUNISHMENT). This was after several other punishments like cutting a V- shaped soccer field, standing on one leg with head pointed south and the other leg facing west. This was how I became tougher at age nine. Yes nine! I’m grateful to those punishments (corrections) till this day. So when my parents took me to MADONNA, I became a don. I worked my way, but somehow through my immediate senior brothers’ connection (he was at Trinity Oguta but knew the SACRISTAN in Madonna). I served the Sacristan and afterwards the Labor Prefect. I was still in class one. But my experience at Government College Umuahia saw me through.

Those days (not too far anyway) we had men in schools. We were told they were affected by the Nigerian Civil War. Inside me I was like “what is war and what is civil about it? I mean men my people. Sorry if you were one of them. But I won’t forget this one. This time it was at National High School, Arondizuogu where I finally finished my O Levels (Madonna High School transmogrified into Imo State University). His name was Foster. Foster was always neatly dressed. He had his well polished brown CORTINA or (was it) BATA sandals on. He joined us in class five. I don’t know how he did it. But we just saw him attending classes with us. The first day he strolled into the class, there was cemetery silence all over. During RECESS, humming and murmuring was all over the place. Students perched in twos and threes. Eyes clicked and winked. Everyone was afraid to talk. It was like Goliath attending classes with David or Lilliputian Gulliver (as per physicality).

The double major in it was that Fosters younger brother was in class five too! Fosters junior looked more like Fosters last born. The last time I saw such age was in MADONNA. There were lots of them in Um

uahia, especially those in UPPER AND LOWER SIX. Long time ago!

The stories are plentiful.

Long story short, Foster was not restrained as we took the West African School Certificate (not the new version WAEC or NECO/Junior or Senior WAEC). We took WAEC! Cambridge exam was like having admission into one of the Ivy Leagues.

No one knew where Foster got the exam paper. It leaked! WAEC leaked! Foster got the EXPO. What is “leaking? Simply put the exam questions or WHITE PAPER was seen before exam proper. And how Foster got it nobody could tell. But Foster did it. My brothers, my sisters I swear again (but to Sango this time because I can take his name in vain), I didn’t see the WHITE PAPER. As the Almighty would have it, that exam was not cancelled because not everyone saw the WHITE PAPER.

Apart from Foster, there was another guy in a neighboring school. This dude loathed schooling but was coerced into it by his parents. Someone cashed in on his ignorance and told this boy there was a PASS-EXAMS-WITHOUT-TEARS method. And this mugu bought the stale goods. The deal was that he was going to get a MAGIC PEN which he will just place on his ANSWER SCRIPT and the pen will complete the assignment. Mugu fell into the ditch. He never read a line from his books trusting in the magic wand. Results came out and he surprised everyone like he boasted with straight POLICE NUMBERS or F’s (9 raised to power 9).

From there some of us wrote ourselves into higher institutions. There were JAMBITES and there were JAMBITOS. I became a JAMBITO! I was a little handsome and sexy looking. The plum of my youth was glazing (no longer now). I knew babes chased guys (at least with my experience with miss and the secondary school days) but this time I saw chasing on a different level. It was hot! We were RUSHED! Not all of us anyway but the AJIBO-looking (like me). If not because of my orientation and background, I would have fallen into temptation like Adam. The apples were so sweet and tempting. But I kept reciting “Our Lords Prayer” and Psalm 91. Then speaking in tongues was not the fashion so I spoke in plain and simple Queen’s English. At least the one God understood and I was at home with.

Boy we partied during our year one. My brother Lawman was the linkman. (Law how far?) We dragged ourselves from hostel A to B and crashed in C (female hostel). How I passed was miraculous and marvelous in my friends’ sights. It was in my year two that I goofed. Big time goofing! It was the only time I had a BC (we were graded A, AB, B, BC, C, D, E and F). But my senses came back in year three and final year. And that was how I made a Second Class…. (Don’t mention the remaining part please). You can fill in the blank space. School authorities told us we cannot be awarded the First Class because the school was still new and all that and all that. But we took our 3.5’s and took off.

What happened to those days? What story will our children tell? What legacy? How time flies and things change? Changing for the worse!

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1 comment

halal3k@yahoo.com December 12, 2006 - 5:39 am

Uzoma, you just blew my mind with reminisces of the past,good ol days.You wont believe that I was to recite " My mother, who sat and washed my infant head…" in primary 3 during PTA Day.I told all my folks and they came.When I mounted the podium, I say peering eyes, and my lips glued together.Tears strolled down my cheeks and that was the end of my "RESITESHION" ie recitation.

Guess what? I also went to the 2nd version of MADONNA after Gov. Mbakwe converted yours to ImO State University cos I am from Amakohia in Imo State.I also had an issue with my Class Miss who was rumored to have had escapdes with the Senior Boys..I was so naive and they said I was a brilliant student.She'd ask me to come to her house, but afraid dey catch me b/c, me no wan do anything wey go make my mama beat me ooo!She'd give me her lesson notes to copy for the class on the board and when I dropped the subject at Class 4, she felt so bad!

Truth is, I relish those "Otakara Primary School Days" and they stirred one's intellect.I knew about Julius Caesar as a primary 3 boy cos my elder sister in Secondary school then had the books, and they acted the plays…

"Uwa aaa busikwa popoooo". "Nwanne ihe e changielaoooo"!!


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