It is back to school season again and for some of us who have either taken the tough decision to send the little ones off to boarding or who already have children in boarding and will be packing for the start of a new session, what part of resumption is the most fun for you?
When we were in boarding school, once you get past the realisation that you were about to be sent off to the mini torture houses run by the Federal Government, you consoled yourself with the fact that you were going to get a lot of “contraband” items to sneak into the hostels and eat under the covers at night.
Okay, some of these items were not even “regulars” back home.
Take garium sulphate (sometimes known by its chemical formula g2o or its botanical name, garrium di oxide – or simply “garri” to the uninitiated), back home we only soaked garri as an accompaniment to beans porridge or moin moin.
It was never considered a whole meal on its own, or even comfort food by any stretch of the imagination. It acquired comfort food status when it was declared contraband by the dormitory authorities and students resorted to sneaking it in, as an act of defiance.
Ditto sardine, chocolates, biscuits and when we were in FGC Kaduna, raw rice and boiling rings.
The connection between the two? Well, cooking in the hostels was prohibited for extremely obvious reasons. It was a dormitory and food would be provided thrice daily, with occasional snacks on weekends and special days. Beyond taking an occasional snack or beverage drink, the need to cook in the hostel was completely moot!
Except for the fact that when you have a large mass of adolescents with raging hormones congregating in such close proximity, the propensity to take a detour into mischief in defiance of laid down rules was 99:1, with the odds unfairly tilted in favour of breaking the rules.
So most days, after a hearty breakfast of bread, eggs and tea in the hostel dining hall; a heartier lunch of eba and watered down soup consisting of 80% water, 5% salt, 5% edible green leaves of indeterminate origin,10% palm oil and something that looked like lumps of egusi floating around in the soup somewhere, the students would retire to the hostels, pull out their boiling rings (banned) and rice (contraband) and proceed to make concoction rice with sardine (contraband) and maggi (contraband).
The only thing legal about the entire meal, was the process of consuming it. The assumption was that once the food entered the student’s mouth, it nullified all the illegalities involved in preparing it – of course the school authorities didn’t care either way and would still mete out the same level of punishment irrespective of what stage of the process they intruded on.
Once or twice, a teacher’s missing chicken would have found its way into that pot of rice – but I am not telling. I was not in the boarding house then and would not like to be banned from my old boys association whatsapp group.
Of course most of the contraband items could not have been packaged without the assistance and connivance of the parents. Some of whom having passed through the system earlier, knew some of the creative places to hide contraband items.
Like pouring garri into an empty beverage container, carefully sealing it with the tamper proof foil pack, and sneaking it into the hostel as an extra tin of Milo. Some items were sewn into the stuffings of pillows (I have seen someone sneak in a humongous loaf of bread as a pillow), sardine cans were stuffed into cornflakes packets and carefully resealed; some items were sewn into the hems of dresses or hidden in the pockets of trousers.
The more creative the adult assistance the child received, the easier it was to sneak contraband items into the hostel unnoticed.
Anyway, my daughter had initially resisted going to boarding house and so I had enlisted a lot of family and friends, some who already had kids in boarding, to talk the experience up for her.
Slowly, her resistance turned to curiousity and then excitement – she was eager to go off and experience hostel life and naturally, she asked a lot of questions and I responded with a lot of jist (most of which received a little bit of embellishment) to encourage the enthusiasm.
One of the things I jisted her about were the contraband items and the creative ways parents and students went about beating the system and the consequences sometimes when students were caught. Of course I tols her how punishments never deterred the students from trying and how sometimes, the same student who was caught and dispossessed of contraband items, still had a stash hidden somewhere.
And then the school list came…
Everything was contraband except for items of personal hygiene and underwear.
That was a tough one but I figured out since they would be fed thrice daily plus two snacks, they would survive.
Off we went to school on resumption day and to my greatest surprise, parents were being stopped by security at the gate; bags and boxes were being searched and tons and tons of contraband items were removed and handed over to the parents who then proceeded to find another means to smuggle the items past the gates – this time around, the parents took the items in.
But, there was a second level of security, at the entrance to the hostel. Again these items were searched, removed and sternly returned to the parents who proceeded to think up other creative ways of introducing them into their kids luggage and lockers.
I could have told them to desist, I had observed a pattern where there were dorm supervisors hovering around. I knew any item seized after this point was going to be taken to the kitchen and shared out amongst the other students and the bearer of the contraband goods most likely punished, but I “faced my front”.
I had carried in a fun sized pack of chocolates and had asked at the gate, “is this allowed”. Once I received an unsmiling “No” in response, I returned it to my handbag, and then proceeded to share it out to my daughter’s friends afterwards.
It only struck me later, that these parents, the ones who had found a way to beat the system and sneak in contraband food items and other electronics, probably also wanted a better and corruption free Nigeria.
The irony of it all, right?
Here we were, teaching our children how to break rules and find ways around the system. How to lie with a straight face and consider personal instant gratification over and above the laid down rules and policies of their communities, but we would be the first to point fingers at others and call them names.
The school authorities were even in on it s I remember one student/parent advisor in one of the schools we had interviewed with telling me with a wink, “so so and so items are contraband but you know you parents now, you always find a way of sneaking them in and if we find it, we confiscate it. But only if we find it”.
These were the leaders of the future o.
The hope of tomorrow.
And as we enrolled them in schools to hopefully finish off the character development process we had started off at home, we inadvertently hard wired a virus into their systems as we packed their boxes.
We have packed contraband into the physical boxes they will carry into the dormitory with them, but what are we packing into the boxes of their fertile minds?
Wetin dey inside our pikin dem “boxes”?
Ah, the shame of it.
These ones would grow up knowing how to exploit every available loophole in the system, finagle their way in and around it and when they finally realise they are too tainted to attempt a rescue of the moribund society, will hand over the burden to their children – you are the leaders of tomorrow, you will rescue us from all this naija wahala.
And then proceed to set them up too to fail from the moment they packed their boxes, or encouraged them to break rules, however flimsy or irrational they might consider those rules.
But, it is not yet too late you know, the term has just begun.
There will be visiting days and mid term breaks – other opportunities we make use of to break down our children’s sense of what is right and wrong.
If you packed any contraband item in your child’s box as they set off to school this session and successfully smuggled it into the hostel, please “hands up”.
Now form that hand you have raised into a small fist and drop that fist with as much force as you can gather into the centre of your skull.
Hopefully, we have konked all the “kwarrepshen” out of you.
I know that “change” begins with Buhari and Alhaji Lai-Lai Lie-nus Mohammed, but we can also resolve to instill in our children from now, the sense of what is right and wrong.
If you packed any contraband items in your children’s boxes, or have subtly been encouraging them to break the law, please resolve within yourself to apologise to them for leading them down the road to perdition and explain to them how a better Nigeria is possible with their generation, if they imbibe and practise the right values now.
Let us begin to work the change we hope to see in the future.
Please note the key words “in the future”. For the present, we wait for Buhari and Lai to lead the charge.
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