Growing up in Maragua definitely had its perks – and its shortcomings. The local Primary School I went to was a complete pushover, thanks to my larger-than-life imagination and the association with my older siblings. Besides, Mom was a teacher at the same school back then and I was forced to be smart, literally. She was much harder on me than the other students and that really sucked, but that made me perform better in school.
I literally waltzed through the first half of primo, Std. 1 thru 4. Not to say I was always first in class – far from it. I always did OK though, with little – if any – effort on my part, and was just starting to get used to the idea that school was easy. Unfortunately Mama >d® [M.D.] mistakenly thought me a young prodigy and often verbalized that I should be shipped off to a more challenging school where I could realize my full potential. Not only that, but I was starting to get into trouble and sometimes came home all cut up from neighborhood scrapes or with my uniform torn or dirtied. After a number of such eventualities M.D. was like hell to the no, >d-money needs out of this school. And that, ladies & gentlemen, is how I found myself in boot camp.
After much research and word-of-mouth, [she had climbed a couple of rungs up the ladder and packed considerable clout] she settled on a school in Murang’a – St. Martin’s Boys Hostel.
That name right there should’ve set off multiple alarms in M.D.’s or my head, but it didn’t. Hostel? Whoever names a school Hostel?! Isn’t a hostel a place for the incapacitated or the ill; a Hospice?
Before I knew it, I had a bucket in one hand and an all-metal box in the other standing in line waiting to get my student ID # along with 100 or so other newbies, all the while stealing glances at the formidable-looking faculty members, all of who wore stern expressions. After the ID-ing we were herded off to the dorms and shown our respective bunk beds. After all the orientation and familiarization was complete, life in that hellhole began. That was the end of life as I’d known it and the beginning of what I can only describe as Armageddon. Let me fill y’all in.
*This was a Catholic school. There was a Headmaster and Deputy and everyone else below them as is customary, but the one that really ran that joint was a Catholic monk. ‘Monk’ would probably best describe what he was, I think, coz he went by the name of Brother Martin.*
I was 10 years old then – just an FYI. The day began early – 4.20 am. The bell would go off and a split-second later the lights in the dorm would come on – stark white fluorescent lighting that actually hurt when they first came on – that’s how bright it was. Now, Brother Martin was always on the prowl at this hour, preying on those poor souls that were a little slow in getting up. If that poor soul happened to be you your little ass was toast. He’d pull you out of bed and give you 2 of his best, right then and there, underwear or not.
After that we’d put water into buckets and clean the dorm. Yes, that early. We had till 4.45 am to finish the job and then we’d go to class for early-morning prep. As anti-morning as I’ve always been this was easily the worst time of the day. No one could, or would, dare doze off coz Bro-man was still on the prowl and would light that ass up if he caught you dozing off. Prep would proceed till 6 am when we would all shuffle off, zombie-like, toward the chapel. Like I’d said, this was a Catholic school and Catholic or not, Christian or not, early morning mass [and every other mass for that matter] was mandatory. I wasn’t raised Catholic but best believe I was reciting Hail Marys in a few short days. I had no excuse not to anyway coz they gave each of us a booklet with all the Catholic ‘recitals’ in it. Besides, good ol’ Martin would drag you out the chapel kicking and screaming and light it up if he caught you not pleading with Mary to pray for you. Over time this recital became personal coz you started praying in earnest; the phrase Holy Mary mother of God pray for us sinners… ceased from being a forced recital to a cry for help.
Mass was usually over in 40/45 minutes and we'd trudge to the dining hall for some of that oh-so-delectable institutional porridge. The cooks usually served the muck while we were at mass and by the time we got to the DH and sat at our designated spots with our personalized bowls the porridge would’ve morphed into this half-ug half-porridge sugarless and milkless barely-ingestible thing that I absolutely detested but HAD to put down. That was the rule – everybody eats or everybody gets punished.
After choking that down the day got better coz the classes began. That’s one thing the institution had going for them – great teachers. Of course we got our share of classroom horrors like getting beat over low grades or making noise in class but it was good for the most part – with the exception of my Std. 6 B-Ed teacher who was so passionate about the subject he wanted to shower all of us with it, literally. I never did fathom how so much spit could come out of a single mouth but believe me, there was enough for all of us! It didn’t help much either that I sat at the center column, and in the front row, which meant I usually was the brunt of all this ‘affection.’ I specifically remember a phrase he said that somehow stuck with me: [or is it stuck TO me?]
“…. and you feel a lot of pain….”
Not pretty. Some words should’ve been erased from his vocabulary.
Lunchtime: usually murram or ug. I’m a shags modo so the murram is like 2nd nature. Not so for the ug – I never could eat too much of it, and definitely not that institutional ug that tasted raw, was spiced-up with weevils and had numerous uncooked spots in it – as in you cut a piece off and flour poured out. Need I remind you the everybody eats or everybody gets punished motto? Veggies – they were grossly overcooked and humongous – they cooked the carrots whole and didn’t shred the cabbage at all, or so it seemed.
Then it was back to class for the afternoon session. This was the laziest time of the day coz we were all stuffed and it was usually hot. It wasn’t too bad though, save the infrequent instances when the Deputy caught you dozing off. Some guys were slick though, like this one dude that could sleep with his eyes wide open. Lucky bastard. Wish I could’ve done that.
After classes were finally over with we all had to do what was loosely described as ‘General Cleaning.’ There was nothing general about it at all, believe me. If anything it was very specific, and we each had designated spots that were supposed to remain spotless all the time; something like ‘Adopt a Highway,’ only then it was more like ‘Pick up the trash or your ass is grass.’
After that we could chill and goof around. This was easily the best time of the day coz we just acted a fool or picked fights or instigated them. In short, normal, healthy boy stuff. This lasted till we had to go for the evening mass and, after a couple of hundred Hail Marys, we'd hit the DH for supper where, again, we either had ug or murram depending on the day.
Soon after it would be time for the dreaded evening prep. It was easily the most treacherous and the longest, but it could also be the most entertaining depending on, of course, how much homework we had to do. People dozed off all the time and other cats played tricks on them while they were asleep – funny, funny stuff. The funniest, by far, was smearing a dab of Vicks Vaporub right below Sleeping Beauty’s eyes. When dude awoke he’d at first be fine, but then the vapors would irritate his eyes and he’d rub them absentmindedly but inadvertently smear the Vaporub into his eyes and in a matter of moments he’d be in agony and would make a beeline for the nearest bathroom.
Sometimes we’d be making a racket and Brother Martin would burst in through the door, larger than life and brandishing that [infamous] flexible cane and give us 2 of his best, every last one of us. Either that or he’d find people dozing off and order us to open the windows and to keep them open. That, of course, meant that we’d be sitting ducks for the mosquitoes and all sorts of other insects. You’d almost think they’d be waiting outside hoping the brother would let them in coz they flew, crawled or hopped their way in soon as the windows were open. Not only that but we’d be freezing our asses off. [@ CK – “Brrrrr!”]
Prep was over at 10pm and we’d almost make a run for the dorm trying to go get some shuteye. Best believe I’d be knocked out soon as my head touched the pillow and I’d try not to think about the following day which would be a virtual replicate of the one we’d just got over.
Now, if that isn’t boot camp – and it was - I don't know what is. That’s the closest I’ve ever come to being in one. It’s just wrong to do that to a 10 year old. M.D., see how it really was like for me? I know I started getting better grades but at the expense of becoming Brother Martin’s bitch? Fair trade-off? I think not. But then again, to quote my friend G.R. who we go back like 8-tracks, all that shiznit is what made me who I am today. [I hope she meant in a good way.]
Weekends were always unpredictable, of course depending on The Brother’s mood. The one constant though was that on Saturday afternoons we’d have an hour-long singing session. You’d think that would be fun but it wasn’t, coz we sang some retarded songs that came from a songbook, if that’s what that was, compiled by none other than – you guessed it – The Brother himself. His taste in music was questionable, and I’m being extremely generous when I describe it as such. Shoot, how else can you explain a song that went like this:
Laughter makes the world go round
So the wise men say;
Laughter is the recipe
To make us all feel gay.