I attended secondary school in Lagos, Nigeria in the 1990s. I have chosen to have very selective memories about my time there, so I dwell more on the memories of shared laughter and on the friends I made who I am still in touch with presently.
I will not dwell on the cutting of grass, the times I spent kneeling down for hours as punishment, nor on that senior girl who kept making me fetch water for her in her gigantic metal bucket which had no handle (I still remember her name).
No, I will not dwell on the negative memories.
Here are some lessons which I learned in secondary school which I have found to be relevant in my life as an adult:
1. Provision scarcity creates strange bedfellows.
I usually showed up to school with 1 ½-2 sets of provisions at the beginning of every term. You would have thought that by SS3, I would have learned my lesson and grown more economical with my consumption of milk and sugar, the holy grail of provisions.
This never happened.
By the middle of the term, I was often left with an awkward combination of Garri, Cornflakes and Bournvita; provisions which made more sense separately than as a combination.
During this period of provision scarcity, a few people were often labelled as being ‘friends-for-food’, meaning that they attached themselves to their fellow students who were fortunate enough to have surplus provisions throughout the term. The way I see it, they were merely forming strategic alliances to protect themselves from hunger.
Lessons learned: Save for a rainy day, and be strategic when forging alliances.
2. Keep your feelings to yourself.
So, you are a teenager who is experiencing puberty and a sudden awareness of the opposite sex. This is a very wonderful and normal experience, but one in which wisdom needs to be applied.
For me, I learned the hard way that just because you have a crush on a guy does not mean that you should tell anyone about it-that person you told might laugh at you behind your back, and make jokes with others at your expense.
Lesson learned: Secondary school kids are a cruel and judgmental bunch-but then, so are adults. Be wary about who you call your confidants.
3. Laughter can surface at inappropriate moments.
For some reason, everything in secondary school seemed so funny: the long queues to get food at the dining hall, the advances of a potential ‘toaster’, or the grammatical errors made by long-suffering teachers.
I cannot count the number of times when, as a junior student, I felt like bursting into laughter whilst being scolded by a senior student.
I really don’t know why this happened; I would feel the sensation of laughter building up inside me as the senior scolded me.
Luckily, I did not succumb to this instinct-my punishment for whatever crime I was guilty of would surely have doubled if I had laughed out loud.
Lesson learned: Try not to laugh when your boss is scolding you.
4. Nobody looks cool with a metal bucket.
The joy I felt when I graduated from my gigantic metal bucket to my first plastic bucket in SS1 was inexplicable. You would not realize the kind of “suffer-head” life that you are living until there is a period of water scarcity in your dormitory, and you have to walk quite a distance to the water reservoir to fetch your much needed water in your already heavy metal bucket.
If you were also toying with a ‘cool-person’ image, I can guarantee you that such an image would have evaporated as you gingerly carried your metal bucket full of water back to your dormitory (unless of course, a generous ‘toaster’ appeared from nowhere to help you carry your bucket).
Lesson learned: Do not buy a metal bucket. I repeat, do not buy a metal bucket.
5. Cutlasses were invented by the devil.
I cut my fair share of grass in secondary school, all in the name of ‘manual labour’. I am not sure if all that grass-cutting was supposed to teach me discipline and attention to detail.
All I learned was that my school was too cheap to pay for labourers to cut the never-ending growth of grass in the school’s premises and used us (the students) as free labour.
And the blisters I got…so many blisters.
The blisters were the end result of wielding dodgy cutlasses, which left my previously smooth hands blemished with painful welts.
Lesson learned: Unless you seriously enjoy the sensationof a cutlass digging into your hands, please pay someone else to cut your grass for you. Or buy a lawn mower.
What lessons did you learn in secondary school?
©Ivie M. Eke 2016.
(This post was previously shared on other platforms, including The Sparkle Writer’s Hub).