My parents instilled in us at an early age the value of education. I was home-schooled up until age 5 when my parents enrolled me in class 1 at Ephraim J Robinson Municipal School (ask my parents howJ). My mom was a stay-at-home mom who had decided to quit her job and focus on raising her girls after the birth of my older sister and subsequent arrivals of me and my younger sister. And so, every day after school, my mom would help us with our homework and we’d spend the rest of the afternoon alternating between reading and playing. I loved reading and would read any and everything I could lay my hands on. This passion was nurtured well into my teenage years when I would spend hours late into the night trying to finish one novel or the other.
As kids, we were not particularly excited about evenings when our dad returned from work. Our dad, a math whiz, would spend most evenings tutoring us. If you didn’t understand for the purpose of passing the test, fear of the bamboo cane/ belt would make you understand. Not surprisingly, each time we brought home our report cards, our math grades were the first point of interest followed by English. My dad could care less about your position in the class if your math grade was less than 70 or worse, in the red! Besides any position other than first was met with a not-so-subtle disapproval.
I must have been invisible in class 1 because I have no recollection/ memory of those days (my report card supports this view). I do remember though how in class 2 I was teased about my worn out shoes. The said shoes were actually a pair of stilettos, the locally made rubber stilettos, that my parents had bought me; my dear stilettos had served their term and were hanging at the threads when some silly boys decided to dangle them on the teacher’s cane (like a pole) and walk around the class laughing at me as they did (the teacher was not present). I remember being deeply embarrassed. Even at that age. I remember coming home to report the incident to my mother, hoping she would go to school and warn them but she didn’t. She just told me to ignore them and not allow their teasing to discourage me. That year, I topped my class clinching first position, a position I would hold all through my remaining years in primary school.
But my shoe woes would follow me into my early secondary school years (thanks to my wonderful dad J). At the start of the school year, my dad would require each of us to step barefooted on a plain A4 paper where he would carefully trace an outline of our feet. Armed with sketch in hand, my dad would head to King Jimmy (an open air market) where he would bargain for what he believed was the best deal in shoes , one pair each for the 3 of us to last us the whole school year. (My mom would buy us some nice shoes for thanksgiving. Those shoes were reserved for church). Functionality and affordability guided my dad’s decision on what shoes to buy and my dad was convinced that the flat moccasins (NOT the cool fancy type that’s now used to make a fashion statement) was ideal for school; they lasted longer not just because they were durable but because he always bought a size bigger (which we’d stuff with newspaper) believing we’d eventually grow into them. The long trek to school and back each day – first to St Anthony’s and later St Joseph’s – took its toll on my shoes and so at age 9, I was introduced to the genius that was Mohamed Alie. Mohamed Alie was, according to my dad, the real deal when it came to shoe repairs. He used to own a shop at Sanders Street and everytime there was a hole in my shoe (which was often), I would take it to his shop for repairs and he, with artistic devotion, would restore my dignity and my shoes to its near original state.
Up until class 3, I carried my much treasured raffia bag to school. (That was way before raffia bag became the cool accessory that it is today). One fine day I was walking home from school when I ran into this young lady who took a liking to me and asked to be my friend. Sao was her name and she lived right next to our school. She later met my parents. Sao bought me my first non-raffia bag to school. It was a denim backpack and was one of my prized possessions until the day Sao was fatally hit by a car at Roosevelt Secondary School (now Vine Memorial Secondary School) at Congo Cross. I couldn’t use the bag after the incident. I was devastated and for many many years (10+) wouldn’t visit the compound where she used to live. My dad must have resolved to buy me a proper backpack after that because the following year when I was promoted to class 4 I got my first proper backpack to school. My family would often tease me about how I carried the bag in its plastic wrap to school and back the first week until my mom finally decided to get rid of the wrap.
And. Then. It. Happened.
In July of 1995 as I was preparing for life as a class 5 pupil, my dad along with some other employees were made redundant at National Petroleum. It should have been our downfall but it turned out to be a blessing. Even though it marked the end of the era of Christmas chicken and toys it also signalled a new beginning in our lives. Our family economy was about to experience some growth.
First move: we obtained a transfer from our local primary school, Ephraim J Robinson Municipal School to St Anthony’s Primary School where I joined the newly promoted class 5 kids. This move was prompted by two things; one was the issue of overcrowding – there were more kids than the classes could hold and not enough furniture (my younger sister, for example, had to tote her chair to school and back every single day) – and two, to avoid the risk of drowning in the lake that formed in the middle of the classroom when it rained. Besides, the hygiene and sanitation at the school was less than ideal; there was no running water and so we could NOT use the bathroom at school. Since most of us were from the neighbourhood/surrounding area, we had the option of going home during lunch or break to use the toilet – if we could hold it/ wait that long, that is. Those pupils who couldn’t wait did their business at the back of the school. I’ll save you the details on the stench.
In spite of all that, I loved my old school and I am still proud that I passed through those corridors. It was at this school that I first began to realize my potential and my class 3 teacher, the late Mrs Christiana Martin was instrumental in that regard; she was probably the first person, outside my family, to recognize my potential. She was quite fond of me and it was under her tutelage that I performed my first public reading at our annual carol and thanksgiving services. She inspired confidence in me. It was also at EJRMS that my leadership skills were first nurtured when I was first appointed class prefect in class 3 and later class 4. But it was time to move.
And so I was the new kid in class when school reopened that September. Dynamics were different at my new school. Whereas most of us were from similar socio-economic backgrounds at my old school, that was not the case at my new school. St Anthony’s had students from different socio-economic backgrounds which required some adjustment on my part. My mom was now one of the traders at the school; she had been able to talk to the administration at the school to allow her to sell frozen kool aid (ice). At lunch, we’d walk over to the stalls where my mom would give us each a packet of frozen kool aid (ice) to have with our lunch (yes we now had lunch!), our very own homemade peanut butter spread with bread. Yet none of that undermined my resolve to succeed. By the grace of God, I secured first position in class 5 and 6 and would later proceed to have the highest NPSE score (333, not very high but it meant a lot for someone like me then) at the school, which would earn me a place in the first form at St Joseph’s secondary School.
Looking back, I can confidently say that God was preparing me for something much greater than I could have imagined. Next week, I’ll tell you about how this girl from Congo Town gained admission to one of the world’s top international schools in Singapore and how I graduated from a prestigious liberal arts college in the United States and all the travel stops in between. Of course, I’ll tell you about how I got there including getting an aggregate 9 in BECE and being one of the top scorers in WASSCE at SJSS.
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are….(1Tim 4:12)
Do not despise these small beginnings….(Zech 4:10)
Daughter of the King