I’m Nene Umeh , my friends call me Nenny. I live in Delta state and I am so excited about travelling to Niger state to complete my Secondary School Education. I am from a family of four, just my parents and my baby brother Naetochukwu.
I have been up since 3am, and for some reason, I can’t just seem to find sleep. The level of excitement that I have felt to further secondary education in a boarding school is huge. People say boarding life is the best, well I guess I’m going to find out for myself.
I know everyone says I would miss home and most especially my friends in school, but I am a big girl now, and at 13 I think I am ready to be independent. My friend Titi who is already a student of Federal Government Girls College Kabba ,Kogi state tells me about how she washes her own clothes, takes care of her provisions (hmmm!!! I can’t wait to carry plenty provisions to school, assorted biscuits, sweets and even chocolates….hehehehe!!!).
Titi also told me to keep a journal, she named her journal “Halle” (after the famous actress Halle Berry) that’s why I am writing this whole experience in my diary (which I’ll name ”Angie” after my favourite actress Angelina Jolie) this is so that I can remember every experience and also be able to always share my thoughts with Angie, until I make new friends (I intend to make a lot of friends!)
Three weeks ago, my mom took me to our seamstress Aunty Ejiro. We have been Aunty Ejiro’s customers since we relocated from Lagos when I was two years old. She has always been one to reassure us that our clothes will be ready on time but they are never ready. She can be a bit inconsistent. She took my measurements and she helped me sew beautiful house wears, school uniforms and even church white. I went to try them on three days ago and they are all a perfect fit, except of course Aunty Ejiro promised that they would be ready in one week, but they weren’t for a whole one week (chai Nigerian tailors and disappointment!).
I know I will miss my family and they would also miss me too (especially for the household chores and my singing) , Naeto has been very naughty to me lately and I know it’s because I would be going off to school. ‘We have developed this fondness since he was just a little boy (he is just 9). Mummy once said he used to run after me and cry whenever I am going to school (I tease him about it all the time!).
Daddy has been a bit sad and he has been calling me “Adannaya” meaning “ her father’s first daughter” the name he calls me whenever I am either sick or he is about to travel. I know he will miss me and I would miss him too. I would also miss our Sunday trips to KFC after church service (deep sigh!) .
Wow! It’s 6:30am already, let me check on my mom and see if she’s awake ,I don’t want to get to school late. I heard there is always a long search at the school gate on the first day. I’m so nervous can you tell?
My departure from home was a painful one. I always prefer to hug my dad before my mum but I wasn’t sure who I wanted to hug first so I hugged my mum, then my dad and when I took Naeto in my arms, he held me so tight till my tummy started hurting and the mummy started crying so much and gradually It didn’t take long before Naeto n I started to sob too. We could tell daddy was getting emotional but he quickly went out to start the car engine so we wouldn’t have to read the emotions on his face.
Mum and Dad took me to School and we arrived at about 5:30pm in the evening, it was a very long ride. We got to the school gate and the first thing I noticed was the very long queue of students. As Titi rightfully said, there was a search uniformed men were searching luggage n looking for contraband; the girl in front of me whispered “hope you hid your sardines and maggi sauce”. It took me a while to understand what she meant… Unfortunately, my mum was keen on not packing anything that was contraband for me. I quickly smiled and said “I didn’t bring any”.
After the search we went on to the registration section which was on the school field, daddy carried my luggage while mummy held me through every queue, there were teachers and house officers seated and documenting and recording our information in various registers, it was already approaching dusk and the weather became a little cloudy and we had to move into the hall. Mummy whispered soothing words to me “nwa amulamu jisike, oga di nma” (my precious child be strong, everything will be okay). At about 6:30pm and then we were done with all the procedures and protocols. We went on to meet my guardian Mrs Nwafor; she was is a middle aged relative of our neighbour back in Asaba, she was a widow with a boy and girl just as old as Naeto and I, prior to that time I had only met her three times. She hugged me and said Ada, you are now a big girl o, say goodbye to your parents so you can freshen up and mingle.
Mum had started to cry again (this made me cry too), I hugged both my parents and waved at them while I hurried to find my hostel. I already saw a long queue of girls whose house wear colour was the same as mine. The returning students stood under a tree and they started laughing at some of the junior girls who were crying. I quickly wiped my tears after all I was in SS1.
When it got to my turn, I was assigned a bed and was told to put my things in a locker, I was going to be sleeping on the upper bunk. As the slim and tall girl that I am, climbing wasn’t a problem. As I opened the locker, a lizard jumped towards me, I screamed and jumped on the bed. Everyone started laughing at me and I didn’t know when I started laughing too. The girl beside me said “thank God you didn’t break your leg”, I turned and stared at her, that comment reminded me of Naetochukwu.
I smiled and asked for her name and then I recognized her, she was the girl in front of me on the queue with the contraband. She said her name was “Hadiza Ahmed”, and she was an indigene of Niger state and also a returning student. We exchanged pleasantries and she excused herself saying she needed to fetch water before the crowd at the tap increased in number, worse. As I looked around the dorm to see if this was another thing Titi warned me of, I noticed that most returning students were beginning to rush out in a haste, I began to rack my brain to see if Titi warned me of this.
Oh no! I remembered, it was too late at this point. Although it was already dark, I could hear their footsteps approaching and as I hurriedly ran to carry my bucket, I heard loud and clear “last girl!!!”…. The senior girls were around and even my long legs couldn’t save me even though I had calculated the distance between my bunk and the door… I could hear some of my colleagues already grumbling and suddenly everywhere became quiet and when this huge looking senior walked in, my room became quiet….
The entire hall was quiet, so quiet you could hear a pin drop. My heart had started to beat fast, so loud I could hear it, beating wildly against my rib cage. There were at least ten senior girls who walked in, there was one that stood out, she looked like the leader, and she walked differently and had this irresistible charm and charisma. She was taller…they seemed like SS3 students; she stopped at the middle of the room and said “I see you have mind abi, I called last girl and you all stayed back right?”
We were about six fresh students in the hostel, she asked us to crawl on our knees from our hostel to the dining hall… ‘It was a really gruesome experience. Some girls started to cry, some even continued to until we got to the dining hall. Although I cried, I didn’t as much because I was already exhausted; I just wanted to complete the punishment so I could go to bed.
The dining was a long spacious bungalow hall, there were long benches with tables in between them, arranged in such a way that two students were seated across from each other. The cooks, who comprised of women, made eba and okro soup which was horrible by the way. The eba was no different from soaked garri, I could barely hold it in my fingers. The okro on the other hand spilled to my elbow , at this point, It was then my mind raced back home, I remembered Mom’s version of okra soup; it was rich, thick and really yummy.
I was jolted back to reality when someone nudged me to adjust so she could seat next to me which I unconsciously did, I looked up to realize that it was my new friend Hadiza, I was so happy to see a familiar face. After a brief chat on how our day had gone so far, I chipped in my “last girl encounter” to which she called me a JJC (Johnny Just come), “don’t worry, you will learn as time goes on”’, she said.
At night, my house mistress, Mrs Akeju screamed out the words “lights out” her voice was really loud, it got everyone talking the next day. We all went to bed, but for some reason, sleep eluded me. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much my life would change and how bad things might go, my belly rumbled… That dinner was one terrible meal, I haven’t had to eat that in my entire life.
The nights are usually cold, very cold and breezy too. Thanks to the duvet my mom gave (I was reluctant at first) me, I would have felt quite uncomfortable throughout the night. My eyelids were heavy and so I slowly started to drift away to sleep when I remembered that I hadn’t read my bible. It was becoming a habit for me, my dad made sure of that. I quickly took out my bible and read a few verses; trying to memorize anything would be futile cos my whole body has started to shut down….
When I heard this distinctive sound, it sounded like it came from a shoe. I thought it was the house mistress but then again she was only here, few hours ago. What would she want at this odd hour, I thought. Convinced that it wasn’t her, I decided to stay up to confirm the identity of whoever it was. Everyone was asleep, except me. As the sound started to gain more momentum, I asked ‘who’s there?’.
Suddenly, I began to hear a loud distinctive sound which went “koi koi koi koi” repeatedly. Although it was lights out but most of us started waking up, the sound grew loud and closer “koi koi koi… Someone jumped from her bunk with a loud thud and screamed “madam koi koi is coming…. Run!!!”
That night was so terrifying, I was so scared when I heard madam koi koi was coming and after running and screaming I felt someone tap me and I jumped so fast, only for my leg to hit the bunk (long leg problems!). Suddenly everywhere became so bright and I started hearing footsteps, that was when I realized… It was just a dream… A nightmare, all the terrible stories I had heard before resumption started making me hallucinate.
I told myself I was going to enjoy my stay in boarding school no matter what. I decided to put on a smiley face and enjoy every bit of it; the good, the bad and the terrible lol. The alarm sounded at 5:30am apparently but I was too busy running in my dreams to hear it, it was the house captain Senior Tomi that woke me up. I went ahead to do my house duties, some of my other colleagues and I were to mop the rooms, corridor, and toilet etc.
After our morning duties, we went on to have breakfast which was white rice and stew that was tasteless but ‘Hadiza had given me some maggi sauce which she smuggled and I sprinkled on my food in the dining hall. The maggi sauce made my food taste a bit fair, but definitely not as delicious as my mum’s . Hadiza and I discussed while eating and she introduced me to some of her friends and they all seemed friendly.
When we got to class (I was in SS1D), my seat partner was a boy named Femi, he looked a bit shy and he welcomed me with a hand shake and told me to choose the part of the seat that I would like to sit on throughout the session, I choose the right side.
The first period we had was English language and Mrs Jaiyesinmi was our teacher. She introduced herself and asked us to do the same to the entire class and tell the class the name of our previous school which we did.
We had lunch at 2pm and by lunch time my table was quite active, Hadiza and Femi were friends before so it wasn’t had for either of us to come together for lunch and discuss, Femi had an even better tasting flavor of maggi sauce than Hadiza; he had chicken flavor which made my egusi soup and semovita taste like there was an invisible chicken in it. After lunch we went back to our classes and not many teachers came to class because it was the first day at school…
Hadiza was in SS1 B and they were notorious for noise making and were presently undergoing punishments when I walked past their classroom on my way to the bathroom. Mr Nwosu the maths teacher asked them to ride okada; a punishment where you squat with your hands shaped like you were riding a motorcycle. Hadiza is short so her seat was at the front and it wasn’t hard to see her sweating and I am sure she was silently cursing Mr Nwosu. I tried to resist laughing but it was so funny I had to cover my mouth and wave her goodbye.
‘Days, weeks and months had passed, I was already enjoying boarding school, I never fell a victim to all the “last girl” tricks. I did my portion on time and I always manipulated my way out of trouble. I also made more friends but I forever cherish Femi and Hadiza. Femi always danced with me during social night on Friday which we fondly called “socials”.
Visiting day was always so emotional as mum, dad and Naeto were mostly sober and teary eyed but as time went on they began to get used to it and Naeto soon resumed boarding school too in Delta state which wasn’t far from home (last born!) that was towards the time I started SS3…
The excitement of being in SS3 was very high, we were all reading hard for our ssce exams and studying day and night, Hadiza and I used to meet up with Femi to discuss practice questions and help each other out with difficult questions especially mathematics (Femi was so good at maths!) . One day during night prep I decided to read my diary and relax a bit and then I heard someone say “Neneh, are you not supposed to be reading your textbooks? Give me that thing you’re reading. That was how Mrs Jaiyesinmi seized the diary I kept for three years. She took the diary but she could never take the memories of my Nigerian boarding school experience… It will forever be in my heart.