Back then there were two types of boarding schools.
There was the posh variety where the kids of the well heeled went.
At this type of boarding school, all the kids conversed in the queen’s language. The teachers were usually imported from a proper English-speaking country and they taught the local kids to speak English just like them, through the nose.
At the beginning of the term, the kids were driven to school by mummy or daddy. The parents drove posh sedan cars befitting their children’s school.
Of course, there was the second variety of boarding school. This was the government school where the children of the humble were sent to acquire an education and hopefully lift their parents out of poverty.
At the beginning of the term, most of the students arrived by bus or train. Very few parents had cars.
Those who had vehicles tended to favour an open van which played a multipurpose role. When it arrived to drop off the learners, chances were it would be crammed with every child from the village who went to that particular boarding school.
At the posh school, the boarders used a fork and knife in the dining hall. They had egg and beacon for breakfast.
At the grassroots school, the boarders had to make do with much simpler fare which tended to be bread, tea and soft porridge. Almost everyone who attended the grassroots boarding school started using a fork and knife at varsity or when they started working for the government and had to attend sumptuous dinners, courtesy of the taxpayer.
The boarders at the posh school had weekends where their parents could visit. As for the government school the parents were too busy eking out a living and had no time to visit their children. As far as they were concerned, their children were perfectly fine under the care of the government for the entire term. After all, we were housed and fed by the government.
At the boarding school where the children spoke English through the nose, they were allowed to become homesick. If they fell homesick, they were permitted to go home for the weekend. Nothing like that at our version of boarding school.
Just imagine your parents busy
ploughing in the village only to see you arriving home because you were homesick. They would think you were sick upstairs and promptly take you to the local medicine man to exorcise the demons afflicting your soul.
At the posh school the kids were given pocket money every week by their parents. Because it was pocket money, they could do whatever they liked with it because their other needs were taken care of.
As for us, the only money we got was at the start of the term when a goat was sold. Even then, this was not pocket money but cash meant to pay for your every need. The goat money had to carry us through the whole term because there was no way another goat was going to be sold mid term when it could be put to better use, like being eaten at a funeral.
Obviously, being deprived and unable to afford the things that kids at posh boarding schools took for granted, we the grassroots had to improvise to make life better for ourselves.
One of our problems was inadequate clothing.
It was all fine during the week because with our two shirts, two pairs of pants and one pair of shoes, we could survive.
Issues arose when the weekend came.
With such a limited wardrobe, our casual clothes were soon threadbare and they were like a second skin. Being more or less in the same boat, we could, with a degree of accuracy, predict what so and so would be wearing at record night on Saturday. It became somewhat embarrassing to be donning the usual attire every weekend. So improvisation had to come in.
Within a circle of friends, we would swap clothes every weekend. If I borrowed your shoes, you could have my floral shirt. If you lent me your smart pants you could have my jacket. It was a lovely arrangement. With everyone having a limited wardrobe, we could pool all our clothes together and mix and match them so that every weekend we could appear in a new combination.
I mean, this was absolute ingenuity. With my two pairs of jeans, a jumper with holes at the elbows, a few shirts and my battered trainers, I, together with a few mates, could appear decent.
Unless you were observant you could never tell the clothes that looked so good on us were actually obtained from a common wardrobe.
The secret usually came out when friction ensued in the group. This friction could be caused by the fact that someone, wearing a borrowed, shirt managed to score with a girl the owner was eyeing. The owner of the shirt would be so incensed he would want everyone, particularly the girl at issue to know that the shirt belonged to him.
In his anger, he would spill the beans about other items in the common wardrobe. Information would be disseminated that the shoes worn by so and so last week actually belong to a certain fellow. There would be strife within the circle of friends. The girl would dump the guy for lying that the nice shirt belonged to him. But despite these teething problems, we managed to enjoy our years at boarding school.
We had more fun than the kids at the posh schools where exchanging clothing was not allowed lest the kids catch a disease. We did not give a damn about catching imaginary diseases. We wanted to look good.
Today as a working man, I see chaps with whom I went to school driving snazzy cars and walking around with pretty girls draped over their arms. These are blokes who used to borrow my shirts and shoes at boarding school.
Today when they are with their pretty girls, they give me an attitude and pretend not to know me.
Well, very soon I am going to embarrass them. I will walk up to one of them and ask if he remembers wearing my clothes at boarding school. I will remind him that he ruined my shirt and pants and I want them back now that he can afford an extensive wardrobe, and a pretty girl to boot!