Monday, June 23, 2014

A Very Short Story: My First Month in Boarding School

It’s been 4 weeks since I enrolled into an all-girls boarding school, and it’s been nothing I imagined it to be. I’m not sure where to begin to describe my boarding experience, but I think my first day is a good start.

On my first day at boarding school, I was assigned a dormitory, an apartment and then a neighbor. Apartments are huge halls varying in size that are partitioned into corners with the help of bunk beds and lockers. Junior students have their lockers placed in front of their bunks, while senior students have theirs in their corner.

Girls who share a bunk are referred to as neighbors. Usually, seniors occupy the bottom bunk while junior students sleep on the top bunk and are expected to perform miscellaneous tasks for the bottom occupants. These tasks involve, but are not limited to, fetching water, running errands, making her bed, washing and ironing her laundry.

Personally, I find some of these menial tasks annoying to undertake because everything in school takes undue time and energy to perform. Take, for instance, the task of ironing clothes: The laundry room where every junior student is expected to iron their clothes has only ten sockets which, by the way, never work simultaneously, so people have to take turns to iron. This usually is frustrating as you have to wait for 10 or more other people to iron one item of clothing before you can iron your next item.

Topping off this frustration is the fact that the room perpetually reeks of sweat with the occasional stench of human feces. What’s more, the usual heat generated from irons and human bodies makes ironing an insufferable activity I’ve come to dread. Another nightmarish task I dislike is fetching water. Since the location of the six taps servicing the entire school is quite a walk from my dorm, toting two buckets of water every day isn’t exactly a walk in the park for me.

Admittedly, the first week was very rough for me. Between figuring out my new environment and grappling with bouts of homesickness, I had to work out the pecking order in my apartment and where I fell. This was crucial as it determined how your peers and seniors related to you in future years.

I discovered that there is a social spectrum with those on one extreme branded ‘jebbies’. Generally, jebbies are polished girl from rich homes. They are easily recognizable from their school bags, sandals as well as the types of provisions found in their locker. Junior jebbies are treated nicely, sent on fewer errands, and since they have the protection of their neighbors, who were mostly in their final year, they seldom get punished severely.

At the other end of the spectrum are the ‘kpakos’, who are usually less refined in speech and manner, and had fewer provisions. They are treated less kindly than their polished counterparts, and are liable to be paired with a kpako neighbor.

Depending on the size of the apartment, some Kpakos are given the worst corners in the apartment, which means they occupy bunks closest to the door of the apartment along with the dirtiest girls in the apartment. Door corners are deemed the worst corners since everyone passes through them and there is no privacy. Moreover, since most apartments are missing doors, there was no protection from the merciless wind when it swept through the gaping entrance.

Notwithstanding, the social spectrum is fluid, so one could end up on the other side of the spectrum depending on one plays the game. A dirty or rude jebbie could easily end up at the door; while an amicable kpako who associates with jebbies, makes friends with senior girls may very well find herself in the big leagues.

By default, I am jebbie and intend maintaining that status, or at least, falling in the middle of the spectrum. I’ve realized maintaining this status requires finding the sweet spot between diplomacy and passive-aggression when dealing with senior students, as evidenced by a recent incident between a junior jebbie and her neighbor. The senior girl had used her neighbor’s towel to dry her wet hair which understandably upset the junior girl. When she voiced her displeasure, she was punished and made to scrub all toilets, after which she was banished to a spare bunk at the door corner.

Personally, I felt the punishment was cruel and uncalled for, but I quickly learned confrontation is never the way to go. For example, my neighbor has an uncanny habit of giving me her undies to wash. The first time she did it, I thought it was a mistake so I removed them from the bucket containing our dirty laundry and left them on her bed. Minutes later she walked to where I was washing, and dumped them in a bucket without saying a word. Needless to say, I was incensed but I knew it would be suicidal to let my emotions get the best of me. Instead, I simply put her undies in water and hung them out to dry without washing them. That way, I managed to tell her to go to hell without uttering a word.

One of the things I can never get acquainted to are the filthy toilets. I’ve never seen anything as vile and putrid as these dorm toilets in my life. For the first 3 weeks, I couldn’t get myself to use them which in turn resulted in constipation. Most users don’t care to flush the toilets after use and often wipe their filthy hands on the walls. Their inability to flush after use is mostly out of laziness, but sometimes it’s because the toilets are blocked and the only way to get them to cooperate is to pound the excrement with a stick, which demands a lot from one’s eyesight and nostrils. This unpleasant task of pounding the toilet is usually best reserved for toilet workers (mostly junior students), or for the unfortunate soul who falls into the trap of a prefect or SS3 student.

Another contributing factor to my constipation, I believe, is the awful food served in the dining hall. The so-called dining hall is a large room with a few rotting wooden tables and seldom any benches to sit on. Most students either sit or kneel on the floor to eat. Strangely enough, the dining hall is usually full on days when rice is served. I think this has to do with the fact that rice portions are relatively large compared to other meals and it can easily be made palatable with the help of spices and tinned sardines. Incidentally, since meal portions are usually measly, girls strike deals with fellow table diners to forgo their least favorable meal in exchange for a larger portion of a much preferred meal.

It’s been only 4 weeks and I’m already weary of boarding school. I’m tired of the school uniforms. I’m tired of being greeted by the urine-fragranced lawn morning, noon and night. I’m sick and tired of waking up before 5am every weekday just so I can take my bath in the smelly, lichen-decorated bathroom. I’m tired of subsisting on my provision, but most of all, I can’t stand the ever-clanging bell that announces the next cycle of events.

It’s been only 4 weeks and I’m not sure how I’ll survive the first year, let alone the next five.