17 August 2016

Hafiz Adewuyi

First day in (High school diaries Vol. 1)

The key events of my first day in the hostel of Federal Government College, Ijanikin, Lagos remain evergreen in my memory. I spent six full years in the hostels of the school and no one could have prepared me for the experience.

It was on a Friday afternoon in late 2001 (15 years ago) that I first set foot on the hostel grounds of Ijanikin. I had been to the school earlier for registration activities but I only went as far as the administration complex which is just by the school's main gates. Mum drove me from our place in Ilasamaja, Mushin together with all my sparkling new and well marked belongings to Ijanikin. Ijanikin comes just after Okoko on the Lagos-Badagry expressway.

Once I was properly checked in and I had settled in i.e. bunk assigned, bed laid and all belongings carefully arranged into my wooden locker, mum bade me farewell, leaving me to face a day on my own for the first time ever. I did not have anyone tell me what to expect so I was not in the smallest bit afraid of life in the boarding house. Naiveté can be a great thing sometimes. I did not remain naive for long though. In the future, my eyes would fill with hot uncontrollable tears as I watched my mum depart from me.

My first noteworthy experience was while I was out for dinner with a couple of my roommates. We were standing by the uncompleted arm of the dining hall, eagerly waiting for the gates to open. Some of the students were standing on the floor of the uncompleted arm and I thought that was cooler than being on the sandy ground around the building. Without much ado, I beckoned to the nearest boy up on the floor to help me up there, me extending a hand upwards. For some reason I did not understand, he hesitated. Unbeknownst to me, I was having my first exposure to seniority.

It took some explanation from my roommate who was with me at the dining hall for me to understand that the boy was offended by my request because "he is a senior". Seniors have no obligation to be nice to their juniors. As a matter of fact, seniors are expected to be mean to their juniors by default. And juniors, in reciprocity, are expected to relate with all seniors in fear, until there's some sort of good relationship between them. Looking at things from where I am in life right now, I'm just wondering how such a ridiculous mindset happened to become the norm in public hostels across Nigeria? Those days, the most notorious of seniors commanded more fear from the junior population than God himself.

I eventually got on the platform but I honestly cannot remember how. The next day or so, I ran into the same senior (he was like just a year ahead of me) on the streets and in the same vein as the previous day, I asked him what the time was (he had a wristwatch on). His reaction was not smooth and I can't even remember if at the end, he told me what the time was. But he just might have taken the chance to school me some on how I should show some reverence when asking a favor of a senior. I honestly cannot remember. Although, I know there was no physical violence involved in that encounter; something I would soon come to learn is the most common denominator of all junior-senior interactions in this environment.

After dinner on my first day in the hostel, I returned to the JSS1 dormitory and to my freshly laid bed. I can remember the room as being dark for god knows what reason. After sometime doing absolutely nothing on my bed, I figured everyone was going out to fetch water for the next day. So I thought, "why not join in"? I was about to be introduced to the world of boarding house hustle. The hustle that characterises virtually every part of your life in the hostel as a junior student.

I whipped my plastic bucket out from under my bunk. Little did I know how lucky I was that the bucket was still there. You won't know the value of a bucket and even moreso, a bucket that contains water until you place it in the middle of a boarding house hostel and sleep a wink only to realize it's no longer there. Keeping it under your bunk was child's play. Chaining the bucket to the bunk was minimum effort and only reduced the chance of theft by a small fraction. It was still a 50-50 chance that you would return to the hostel after a busy day out to find either an empty bucket (if you had water in it) or no bucket at all. 

My friend Usman once thought he had found the silver bullet to the water-theft problem. One night, after night prep (self-study classes) and just before lights out, he got himself a bucket of clean water for the next day's morning bath. He kept the bucket of water in a red ghana-must-go (woven synthetic) bag and locked it up. This was just before lights out. Lo and behold, his water did not survive the scourge of the desert that the JSS1 dorm was. Some desperate boy had managed to steal Usman's water during the night, despite the crazy measures he had put in place to prevent that. It was sad but hilarious. Later in the series, I will explore how the rest of Usman's morning might have turned out when I focus on morning life in the dorm.

It took me five minutes to walk from my dorm to the water arcade in front on the JSS2 dormitory. A water arcade is a public tap, like the typical one that government builds in Lagos to alleviate the water woes of the peoples. They usually have several taps lined side by side within a bordered space where people can stand and set their vessels while they fill or wait to fill up. 

There must have been nothing less than forty boys standing by the taps that night; each one manning his bucket and waiting for his turn to get his piece of the slow running water. I decided quickly that there was no way I was gonna wait through the queue, so I quietly turned around and made for my bed in the JSS1 dorm. Little did I know how naive my assumption that the crowd would diminish over time was. 

This cycle of me going to the water arcade and back to my bed in resignation happened about three different times. Each time I got there, the crowd only seemed to swell. Gosh, never in my ten years on earth had I faced frustration close to this. As a matter of fact, I doubt that I knew the definition of frustration until this very day. 

On my last trip back from taps to dorm, just a few hundreds of steps from the red metal gates at the entrance, I was stopped in my tracks by a bigger boy. He asked me if I had milk, Milo, Golden Morn and >insert any other breakfast ingredient<  (we called them provisions). I instinctively lied, and without even being asked, went on to explain how my mum would be bringing my provisions "this weekend". He walked me back into the dormitory and led me to a water-point within the dormitory which was nothing more than a leaking pipe. 

As expected, there was also a mob of boys gathered around the pipe, waiting for their 'turn to reach'. He got all the boys attention and proceeded to ask them to tell me who he was. I got to learn from my class and dorm mates that he was Senior Yinka, the JSS1 dormitory prefect (dorm-P) in SSS3 (high school final year). Once the introduction session was over, he dismissed me. I lumbered my way (baby fat) back to my metal bunk; placed my plastic bucket under the bunk and hopped onto my mattress on the upper grid of the bed for the last time that day. I developed a preference for the upper grid of the two level bunks such that in all my six years in the hostel, I never for once chose the lower grid of the bunk. When your bed is on the lower bunk in the dorm, your mattress is everyone's sofa. And there was a high chance that you would return from outside to see your well-made bed turned into a sandy mess.

Once in my bed, I was overcome by an avalanche of emotions. So much so that I cried myself to sleep that night. I think the single denominator of the emotions that drove me to tears that night was that for the first time in my life, I felt like I was alone. "Where is my mummy"!!!

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