Religious Tolerance & Dundun Brought Me Back
My Lagelu Years – Part 2
For my mates from Lagelu Grammar School, the experiences I write here will, in many instances resonate with you. For those collective experiences, where because of passage of time my recollections stray from your understanding of what happened, please assist by drawing my attention to this and I will easily make the needed changes.
Otherwise, as with every other person reading these lines, kindly provide your comments below the write-up.
I wasn’t cut out for boarding school, the evidences were there from the very beginning but no one saw them.
I was just 10 years old when I was shipped to boarding house and had to start learning that life was not about running around the neighbourhood naked and playing “felele” ball or “Okoto” which I enjoyed very much. Okoto was made from Bic biro covers and Berec battery caps. Using our thumb and middle fingers, clasped around the biro cover, we spin very hard and the okoto will start spinning. Just as it was about to stop spining, we use the middle finger to flip it with the aim of getting the battery cap flat on the floor and the biro cover pointing upwards. If you missed getting it right, you have to turn the back of your hand up and allow your mates to strike you with the Okoto, always a painful experience but the sheer joy of winning and inflicting the pain on others was all the motivation that kept us in playing it. The game was one of sadness and joy.
I had left all these in a twinkle of an eye to the regimented environment of boarding school. As new students, we took turns in being helping hands in the kitchen. There was a roster for us, junior students, to wash the plates and help to serve the foods. It didn’t stop there. Pipe-borne water was not regular in the Agugu of those years and it was our lot to ensure there was water for everyone to take their bath each morning. So, when the public water was not running (which often it was not), we had to make it to the well to fetch water. Each student had to make at least two trips – first trip to get a bucket of water for the school father and the other for self.
The well in Lagelu was deep and the water level was often low, fetching a bucket of water from the well had to be done by throwing the bucket into the well and pulling it out with the rope attached to its handle. On one of the occasions, I had gotten to the well late and there was barely any water left in the well. I had tied my bedsheets to my towel and then to the bucket, yet the bucket wad barely touching the water. So I did the next silly thing, I raised my feet from the ground, extending my full self into the well. I lost grip and was heading down into the well shaft, head first. It was “Bob Killer” that grabbed my two legs and pulled me back. It was this quick intervention by him that stopped my descent into certain death, I had starred into death’s fierce eyes and lived.
We did have visiting days and mother always took it upon herself to come and check me out. Visiting days were one of great joy as I looked forward to seeing her with the nylon bag containing Bournvita, Nido, Garri and Kulikuli. She would ask after my health and my school father, in his best behaviours, would be quick to tell her that I was doing well. When she is leaving , she will give me some pocket money and my school father would always get some coins as well from her. But these were days of sorrows too. As soon as she leaves, my school father will call me, give me his coins, and demand that I go to the school gate to buy him Akara Washington, as well as a few other things.
The problem was, the money given to me was never enough to buy the items he requested. I had made the mistake, once or twice, to point this to him and the beating I got quickly informed me that I needed more work either with my Arithmetic or common sense. Eventually I figured it out, the idea was for me to supplement the money from my allowance and if need be, from the food items that I had just been given! Man’s inhumanity to man and exploitation didn’t just start in Nigeria today, the corridors of the hostels were its breeding grounds. I vouched to myself, my kids will never go to boarding school
Lagelu Grammar School stood on acres of virgin tropical forest in those days, hence having squirrels, bush rats and the snakes that chase after them was expected. I detest snakes but unfortunately, Lagelu had them in abundance. It was like a ratio of one snake to every student on the admission roll. I had very close encounters with them on not a few occasions. One night, while making my way back from “preps” to the hostel, with a kerosene lantern in my hand, I almost stepped on one. It was lying down on the road enjoying the warmth when I disturbed it. As it slithered quickly away from me, I dropped the lantern out of fear and ran. By the time I was calm enough and had recollected myself, I went back to pick up the lantern, the glass was broken. That was another trauma, I would be serving some punishment for that. At another time, I was brushing my teeth one morning on the cemented entrance to our dormitory. I spat out the toothpaste in my mouth on what I thought was the green grass. Out of nowhere, a snake took off, its perfect camouflage now revealed by the white dots that the toothpaste had formed on its body. I freaked out and fell off the edge of the concrete.
The straw that broke the camel’s back came later. Our school Uniform was a brilliant white shirt on a pair of green knickers. My school father was sitting the WAEC examinations and had asked me to wash his clothes. I did and spread them on the line to dry but forgot to take them off the line at night. Overnight, the wind had blown the uniform off the line and the pigs in the school yard had trampled upon the white shirts. When he discovered this in the morning, he became a raging lunatic! In a twinkle of an eye, he had brought out the belt and started beating me. As I ran away from him, I was crying and shouting at the top of my voice, no help came. He was hot in my pursuit and kept on striking me with the belt. I must have ran the length of the corridor three to four times with him continually whipping me with the belt before I bolted out of the dormitory. My back was all swollen and, there and then, I made up my mind that I was not continuing in the boarding house.
I moved all my possession into my school locker. At the end of school each day, I would briefly show up for dinner and return back to sleep in my classroom, under the desks. For two weeks or thereabout I did this before my mother came on her next visit. I wouldn’t let her leave until she took me with her. The initial error in the choice of Lagelu now manifested itself fully, how was I to commute daily from Oke-Labo to Agugu for school. Apart from the distance, the cost for such transportation was nothing that we could afford. Soon, Iya Olorunda arranged with her relatives in Ode-Aje so that I could stay with them from Mondays to Fridays and come home only on weekends. Ode-Aje to Agugu was a more leisurely walk than Oke-Labo to Agugu.
Brother Raufu, her nephew, was married and had kids of his own. They were all living within a room and parlour in Ode-Aje and they opened their home to me. He treated me the same way he treated his kids, may be a little better. It was only when it came to religion that I was treated differently. They were Muslims, I was not. He enforced strict Islamic principles on his family members, required his kids to observe the five daily prayers but spared me from this. His religious tolerance was exemplary, at no time did he make any effort to proselyte me.
His mother, my grandmother’s sister, lived not far from him. She had a room in a mud house which I remember was always dark and claustrophobic. The room had just one tiny window and seeing who and what was in the room was a challenge. Her house, at the Junction of Ode-Aje Ololu Road and Oluyoro Street, was my first call on returning back from school. Not for anything else but for the hot bowl of “Dundun” spiced with pepper that was always awaiting me. Her daughter, Iya Oni-dundun, was trading in fried yam and pepper by the road side and made sure that I was never hungry in her vicinity. She always had a big clay vessel on fire in which the fresh yam are roasted with palm oil. The back of the clay vessel had turned charcoal black from sooth from the open fire she kindled with fire wood over the years. I thoroughly enjoyed the dundun alata, which she most times add fried fish to. Once full. I take water from the “Amu” in the corner of Iya l’Ode-Aje’s room and would fall asleep thereafter. Later in the evening, I will make my way to Brother Raufu’s house where I would pass the night. I did that because Iya l’Ode-Aje’s house had no electricity but Brother Raufu had and that meant that I could watch the NTA Ibadan’s television program that starts transmitting around 4:30pm.
There were favorite programs those days. I loved the “Man from Atlantis”, the weekly International Wrestling Association (IWA) matches were exciting and if I remember correctly, the Yoruba plays such as Ogun Adubi, Sango, Gbonka and Timi of Ede, were amongst those shows that kept us wide awake till the wee hours of the night. I dared not miss them as doing so makes one become ostracized during the commute to school as they were the topics of discussion as we made the trip.
The Ileya period was a special one in Ode-Aje. Iya l’Ode-Aje doesn’t toy with it. She always had a ram killed but weirdly, she will not cook or distribute the meat on the day the ram got killed. I am still yet to understand why but her Ileya meat only get distributed when it had started having some stink to it. I got to think that Ileya meat had to stink before being eaten, a thought that took years later to disabuse from my mind.
With the love I got from this family, school started having meaning to me. I started developing interests in literature, especially the many stories contained in the Ashanti Tales that we were reading in classes. Mabel Segun’s My father’s daughter, the Incorruptible Judge and Soyinka’s Trials of Brother Jero and Jero’s Metamorphosis started capturing my young mind. I loved the sound of my voice such that whenever the teacher asked who would read a particular chapter, my hand would be among the very few to go up. “Okay, Seun, read Chapter 2”, the teacher would say and off I would go. Though I did so, struggling with the pronouncing some words, our teacher would correctly pronounce them and asked me to continue reading.
I could breathe again. I became friend with some classmates residing within the Ode-Aje – Agugu area and these became my buddies on our daily trek to school and back.
I read your piece with quite a nostalgic feeling. Although I was never in boarding school, I knew of the horrors and terror of the seniors! I had to change school from Prospect High School, Abanla to Lagelu when my father who was taking me along in his car while working at Oluyole local government area, Idi Ayunre was transferred. I had to commute on my own from Agugu to Abanla via Oja’ba garage to Abanla on my own for some time in a term before changing to Lagelu grammar school.
I could relate with the Okoto games, tyre races and bathing in the rain running around the neighbourhood in pants (pata) among other childhood games. The religious tolerance of those days can not be rivaled. My uncle in whose house we stayed at Agugu was a practising Muslim with his family. My father was a Christian, a pastor occupping two rooms in his Muslim brother six room of face me-and face you house. No imposition of any religion. We ate the ileya ram meat with relish. The rams of those years did suffer some sort cruelty in the hands of boys who pitted them against one another in fights on schools fields. Some rams were not so lucky! We were always on the road watching the procession of worshippers going to the prayer ground at Yidi-Agugu. Do you remember ileya ram after being slaughtered would have some of its meat hung in the house rafters?
Thank you for taking me down this memory lane.
Wao, Gbenga. What a relatable experience. Thanks for bringing your perspective to the story and appreciating my write up.
I am joyful to note that the essence of my writing was fulfilled with you being able to recollect your own similar experiences.
👍Love this! Thank you.
Wow, this is inspiring and interesting. I went to a boarding school too
Samuel, thank you. I hope you were able to pick a lesson or two. If none, remember that if you persevere, you will succeed.
Loved your memories. Thanks- looking forward to more.
As a kid in Perth, we too played with tyres. Well, once.
Dad had new tyres on his Humber Hawk and my older brother loved rolling one of the old tyres down the path at the side of the house to the front lawn. I was little and just followed. But as he got more confident, my brother pushed harder…until on one big push, the tyre bounced down the front steps and escaped – rolling into the middle of Stirling Highway!
Fortunately, the road was much quieter then but still a car had to brake to avoid our runaway tyre!
After that, the game was stopped by my father.
Thanks for this and being able to relate with an aspect of my childhood.
Looking back, we had a mixture if sadness and joy but we survived it all. I guess my perspective about life has been molded by these experiences and I am grateful for them.
I write to share these experiences with the aim to awake hidden memories in my readers and hoping that we all look back and appreciate our journey so far.
Thanks for your feedback.
Amazing piece laden with humour and nostalgic experiences common with children of that age. For a moment I got jolted with that narrative at the Lagelu School well. I imagine the fate of many who had not had such divine intervention. That was pretty scary. Never heard of it. “Killer” was sure an angel in human form. To God alone be all the glory.
Bob Killer was really our saviour from the bullying of the bigger boys. His real name is Odunlami, who through an unfortunate event was sent away from school in year 2. He was big and a rebel to all and every authority but very nice to those of us, his friends.
Wow! You brought back memories. Lately, I’ve been having moments of this kind of reminiscences with my old school mates. We even set up a WhatsApp group where we share the stories.
Having been to boarding school from 1978 to 1983 myself, a period which I presume would be very close to yours going by your references, all I can say is, it got better with the years. I first thought my parents were hateful of me to have thrust me into the boarding house situation in 1978, at less than 11 years old. My first shock was to have been woken up at 5:00a.m. the day after we arrived, and to have been ordered to line up according to our classes outside in shivering-cold Ondo State weather, and then to have been matched to locations within the school compound where we were asked to cut grass which had overgrown during the long holidays. Manual labour at 5:30a.m!
I can also relate well with the seniors! Those pesky bullies. 😃😃
It got better with more time in school though. I learnt more coping skills and survival instincts kicked in. By the middle of my second year in school, I didn’t want anything but boarding house anymore. I found all the loopholes for survival within the system. I even became a lover and advocate of the boarding system, and later made my own children go to boarding school too.
Thank you for the reminiscing again, and thank you for writing so vividly. You got me transported back to the years of my youth.
Wao! Wao! The experiences were not far apart, that was the system that produced us. It wasn’t perfect but we are not made of butter that melts in the sun, we were thoroughly baked.
When I remember the journey to this point, I am just full of gratitude