2006 February. I cannot recall the date but I vividly remember. It was a hot afternoon, all my bags packed and I was dressed in one of my favourite attires back then. I had a poor sense of fashion at fourteen years. An old yellow cashmere sweater, black stretch hipster pants and plain sandals and I felt like I was ready to rock the world. My hair had a faint scent of being burnt after being exposed to immense heat at the salon. It needed to be straightened like it was relaxed, were the instructions I gave. Remembering this sends chills down my current hair. My dad put everything in the boot of the car and we were off to pick the daughter to a family friend. We had been called to the same high school. My heart was dancing. I had never owned items before. Having tissue, soap, box of biscuits, blankets, bedsheets all to myself was surreal. I felt like an adult. I had arranged them carefully in my blue tin box and had looked at them excitedly for the past three days before sleeping. Boarding school, at that moment was a dream. I would sleep away from home. I would have my own things. I would have money under my name. That was the life!
We arrived late in the afternoon. First thing I saw were girls in sports attire. Dusty shoes, t-shirts in different colours representing different teams, I assumed, and light blue wrap arounds walking towards what seemed to be a field. They all blended in to this lifestyle, none looked uneasy. It was normal.
The new intakes were directed into a small room where there were older ladies, who I was not sure who they were, but they opened up my innocent blue tin box and carelessly disarranged my items that I had arranged so very carefully with so much love as they marked a list and after five minutes I was marked as clear. We moved to the next step where they gave me a green skirt, a white shirt and a sweater in a darker shade of the same green. I was asked to put it on and when I came out, they were clearly oversized but they said it won’t take long for me to fill them up. With that they gave me an extra item of each and the next person was called in. On my way out, they pointed to a girl seated on a chair and they called her my school mother. She did not seem excited to see me. She had this aura like she had something else more important to do. And as it turned out later on, she would rather study than be involved in any activity that wasted time in her opinion.
By this time the sun was going down and it was getting gloomy, which depicted the state of my heart. It had stopped dancing and I was getting uneasy. The more the processes continued, the more I did not want to stay. My school mother took me to where I was to sleep and we were accompanied by my mother. It was a large hall with small double-decker metal beds on each side. The windows had no curtains, instead they were painted to obstruct view. The old cemented floor had dust and seemed like it had stories to tell of many that had lived there before. I finally settled on one next to a window. Windows are always a safe bet because of ease of fresh air access. There were other girls inside already making their beds. Others wore sad, worried looks, others seemed happier. Others already had friends, others were as lonely as the only A in a school after results announcement. When I asked for drinking water I was directed to the bathroom, which was a hall with bathrooms on each side. The wooden doors were worn out and the paint was falling off and some could not close well, the walls were old and mouldy. The roof was scattered with old cobwebs and the floor was thoroughly chipped. I could feel my heart sink. I felt cheated. No, this was not how I had imagined.
My school mother left me because she had other things more important than me to do. My own mother helped me to make my bed and we walked back to the car so I could bid them goodbye. With every step, I could feel tears building up. All of a sudden I felt the universe was against me. I was meant to be rocking it. In my head I had imagined my own personal room, or share it with three other girls, with its own bathroom and toilet. A wooden bed. Hot shower and maybe have a section to boil water to fix some hot chocolate. I was going to start living my own life. But I got served something else that I did not order. Nothing prepared me for this. I had no choice but to say goodbye to my parents and walk back to my new called home with a broken heart. That night, as I wore my shower cap to protect my extra straight hair and turned on the shower, I cried.
Looking back at the four years in Loreto High School Matunda, I know for sure I would not want to re-live the life, but I am glad I lived it. High school taught me how to survive and how to adapt to uncomfortable circumstances. During the four years, I did not know who I was. I was merely going with the wind. I had only one goal, get an A-. For what? I did not know. My future, in my little head, was written in Germany. I chose German as a subject and I rocked it. I loved speaking it. My teacher, Herr Kosian, a German Jew, who also told us WWII stories, would fill our heads with what life in Germany was like. He would bring us German magazines so we can read about German affairs. By the time the four years were over, I was sold to the idea of applying as an au-pair. That of course did not go as planned with my father in the picture.
I had no sense of fashion or what being feminine meant. Everyday was the same attire with the same hairstyle. There weren’t any boys to impress. The only days I would dress better were during visiting days, and that just meant a slight tweak to the hairstyle and borrowed perfume. I never owned a dress all of my high school years. I knew what it was like to be in a dress during the last year where I took part in a German play and I acted as a princess. I was handed a dress by a friend. Looking at myself in the mirror in it awakened mixed feelings. I remember feeling like a young independent attractive woman and wondering whether it was even right to feel that way.
I struggled with identity problems and peer pressure. I applied relaxer on my hair because it was fancy to have straight sleek hair at the time. I know for sure it killed my mother when I told her but I wanted what I wanted. It did turn out fancy. I had long black bouncy hair that received lots of compliments that I thrived on. I did not have skin problems but I bought fair and lovely cream so that my face could be fairer. During entertainment hours I would see other girls with lipstick and I would wonder how that would look on me, so I bought lip gloss and began applying. I got my eyebrows shaped by a class mate and it was a total transformation for me. That is when I knew what it meant to have eyebrows on fleek.
As years went by skirts got shorter and different scents of perfume filled the air. Particular days like symposiums and innings or visiting days demanded shaped eyebrows, straight hair in a fancy style, fair and lovelied face, short fitting skirts almost tight, polished shoes, perfumed wind-breakers to show your arm skin because sweaters would hide them and glossed lips. All this because visitors were coming. Having outsiders visit our confined enclosure was a thrill for most. The struggle was so real, even on Sundays. There was this particular boy I vividly remember. He had curly hair and a fair complexion. He was the reason many would dress so nicely, attempt to smell heavenly and sit on the bench just right in front of him.
My leadership skills were hinted to me by others even before I could see it myself. I never understood why my name always had to be suggested every now and then for a leadership role. All the way since primary school. I was just a quiet nice girl who was trying to score a good grade and go her way. Why would people want to distract me? I was nominated to be head girl but I denied it. I settled for a lower role that involved taking care of the sick. I had passion for community back then and I did not even know it 🙂
I had no spiritual life. I was raised Catholic. I always attended mass and all the required classes for baptism. I would repent every so often until one time I began questioning. Why do these feel so routine-like? Why do I have to cram what is on book to be baptised? Why do I have to go to another man to confess my sins? Can’t I just go directly to God Himself and speak to Him? And that is when it all changed. When I joined high school I also decided I am not a christian, or any religion. I acknowledged there is a God but I wanted nothing to do with Him. I’d be comfortable and okay on my own. This however changed in my last year of high school where out of nowhere I got an overwhelming desire to seek God again and thus the beginning of my Christian journey.
I began writing in high school. I would give anything to find the books I wrote stories endlessly in. Writing gave me life. When I was bored during preps I’d write. I’d look forward to weekends to write. Love stories. Life stories. Philosophical. Poems. In English and in German, I’d write. The most exciting though was when we ganged up four of us to write a book. You could only pick up from the last writer’s train of thought and the next writer would pick up from yours. You also had to write more than three pages. It was so thrilling and spontaneous and always surprising with the different twists every writer brought in.
As I walked around the high school on Friday, December 30th 2016, 10 years later, the paths were drenched in memories. From the moment I joined to when I left, memories flashed continuously in my head. Walking down the hallways I remembered prep sessions, 2hrs long only but it felt like forever back then. Chemistry lessons that sometimes overwhelmed me. Biology lab practices that were my favourite. Hiding upstairs in the library to read story books over the weekend and getting lost in my fantasies. The school parade reminded me of claps during awards and creative marches by rangers and sometimes loud rumbling of stomachs out of hunger or from yesterday’s beans. The dining hall reminded me of the big bowls that were served with bread and how we would attack them. Entertainment sessions where we’d quarrel over what movie to watch, every movie would always have someone grumbling. Sunday evenings watching news and getting excited that half an hour of prep was being used up. The dorms reminded me of boxes of biscuits, jars of drinking chocolate and thermos flasks, of course. Buckets on the hallways and the rush for the best bathrooms when the doors were opened. Sitting outside over the weekends washing hairs and oiling scalps.
Everywhere I walked there’d be something, and I savoured every moment. Some memories made me smile, even laugh. Others made me cringe and feel pity for my younger self. As I walked out of the gate to leave, I remembered my last day after my last paper. Leaving the school feeling very relieved, not knowing what to expect from the outside world, but very excited for it, all I cared for was how it felt having the freedom that had been snatched from me four years ago when I walked in to be registered as a student of Loreto High School.