Tag Archives: Discipline

So you think the ‘School of Hard Knocks’ is a metaphor in Nigeria? HAHAHA! I laugh at you.

Before I went to Nigeria this time around, I was always on the Hubster’s case about Tot going to school there. I spoke often and longingly of my own experiences in primary and secondary school in Nigeria; the ultra-strict teachers, cutting the tough elephant grass with a machete as punishment, the classrooms with no doors or windows, all that open space to play in, that one time my friends and I found a bullet as long as two index fingers in the sand around the smouldering rubbish heap outside Primary 6A…

“Hang on,” said the Hubster, his unibrow creasing up in one giant mark of concern. “None of that sounds very pleasant.”

“It wasn’t,” I replied.

“So why do you want him to experience all that?”

“Because…” I was confused. “What kind of question is that? Can you not hear all the things I have been saying?”

Sometimes, it is as if he doesn’t listen to me when I am talking.

Anyway, he finally gave in and the day before we left said “Well, when you get there, look around and see if you like any of the schools,” which made me very happy until I got there and realised that of course it was ELECTIONS followed by EASTER and all the schools had closed in anticipation of violence* followed by insane amounts of bingeing. But perhaps it did not matter because being home disabused me of the notion of Tot going to school in Nigeria, at least for now. Here, in order of increasing importance, are three reasons why this is the case:

3)  The discipline, my God the ‘discipline‘: By the age of eight/nine when I left primary school, in addition to the aforementioned grass-cutting, I had been flogged with a cane (several times), flogged with a switch (there is a difference), had my mouth flicked (painful!), been knocked on the head with knuckles (Hey! I can smell my brain!) and flogged on the calves (discouraged for girls, because you know, we have to maintain that hot-leg thing for future spouses). All this and I still do not know maths so it was pointless.

I am smiling to myself as I think about it but I admit, that reaction cannot be normal. However, it was part of life then. Everyone got flogged by their parents and teachers; for being cheeky, for not doing homework, for having a dirty uniform, for even looking at a teacher funny. This was just a fragment of life, there was A LOT of good. But tough preventative and disciplinary action was a big part of school where learning was by rote. No one cared if you knew why the sky was blue as long as that was the answer you gave when asked. It’s the Victorian way and as at the time I was in school, it had not changed.

There are a lot of Montessori schools in Nigeria now and a lot that do not employ corporal punishment. They were some of the latter when I was growing up as well. But, I would want Tot to go to a normal, non-ajebo school, like I did. One in which I do not have to pay through the nose for my kid to be treated as a human being. It’s the general culture of teaching we have that has to change, not just that of a few, choice schools. I’m all for discipline but it has to be equal to the misdemeanour.

Not like the time my sister was flogged on the ear for innocently asking a teacher how old she was. Or my baby brother,  flogged to get him to start writing with his right hand instead of God-ordained left. My mum went ballistic on the teachers in both cases but my brother now writes with his right. It was probably easier to avoid trouble – his mum wouldn’t be around all the time to fight his battles after all. For a while though, he used to write his letters backwards because his brain could not keep up with the switch.

(My kid is a leftie. Flog him for this and I koboko you right back.)

2) Paying through the nose for the level of education considered ‘basic’ here in London:  Which is frankly ridiculous. Some schools charge exorbitant fees because they follow the ‘British curriculum’, but they have no flipping clue what they are doing. The poor parents who will do anything just to see their kids get the best are sold all kinds of nonsense.

Case in point:  I have a set of cousins whose training my father is responsible for . Their mother was always demanding these sums for each child, close to the same amount which my father spent to put TWO of his own children through university per term. So he asked her “What on earth are they teaching them in that school?”

“It’s a very good school she said. They give them DVDs and uniform and all their text books are printed in Cambridge…”

“I don’t care what it is they give them, there is absolutely no reason it should cost this much. In fact bring their reading materials when next you’re coming and let me see,” he said.

The next time she came, we looked at the so-called material. It was full of Disney DVDs.  The school was making money selling the parents ‘The Lion King’ which they could buy in the market for a fraction of the cost. It did not matter if they kids had it or not, it was compulsory to purchase from the school.

Now, said Aunty could have been lying of course, taking the opportunity to try and get more money from my dad, yes, it’s possible. But I am inclined to believe it because it is the sort of thing we do in Nigeria. You want a ‘British’ education? Then you must do everything that goes it with. And buy this. And that. Or else.*

Or consider this: My sister Whatsapped me last year, complaining that her kids’ school had introduced compulsory swimming lessons. All well and good, right?

“So they have a swimming pool now?”

“No.”

“What?”

“They don’t. And they said we have to pay NXXX for both costumes and lessons, if we don’t have ours.”

I asked her to take a photo of the letter. The thing did not make any sort of sense to me.  Was there a provision to ferry the kids to the swimming pool? How were classes arranged? How were they going to assess the kids’ skill level? None of these things was covered in the letter.  It was just going to be by age, so you could have proficient swimmers in with kids who have never swum a lap in their lives.  Add to this a line which made me see red: ‘All teachers are to accompany their students to the pool’.  Were they qualified instructors? No. Would they know what to do if a child was drowning?

“How many children per class?” I asked my sister.

“17,” she said.

One teacher to seventeen pupils. In a swimming pool.

Bonus confusion: They’d told parents the swimming classes were compulsory but still gave them consent forms to sign. Consent for what again? I rest my case.

1) My kid has SEVERE food allergies. Here in London, a lot of food items on allergy lists are forbidden for kids to bring into school, as some kids might have contact allergies as well (inflammation of the skin when you come into contact with an allergen). Teachers are trained to respond in cases of allergic reactions, are trained in first aid and schools have certificates to prove it. Cannot say the same for back home, and I’m quite unwilling to risk it.

In the case of Tot, his soy and peanut allergies lead to anaphylaxis. The response has to be as quick as the reaction is and then you need to call an ambulance and he has to be monitored for an least 8 hours in hospital afterwards. We are simply, NOT EQUIPPED.

It is still my dream for him to be soaked in Nigerian culture. There was/is a lot of bad, but there is good as well. So of my best days were spent in boarding school (especially when I was no longer a Ju – junior girl) and the experience still features heavily in my writing.  I learnt so many life skills that if the apocalypse were to befall us, I would most likely survive. I’m not bragging. I just would.

However, for now, the challenges are overwhelming and so this may remain a dream for a little while longer.

PS Primary school, Awka, in front of Primary 4b. Can you spot which one I am?
PS Primary school, Awka, in front of Primary 4b. Can you spot which one I am?
Good memory: In the photo above, the PE teacher made some of us take off our socks and trainers so that those who could not afford any for sports i.e. had only sandals, did not feel inferior/left out. The girl still wearing hers arrived just as the photographer was about to click the button and was allowed to stay. We learnt football that day. I sprained my toe and never played again.

* Election violence luckily did not happen (or happened in a very small number of areas in Rivers State when some idiots tried and failed to hijack the process). We conducted our elections beautifully!

* My sister, Pastor, had to have a baby in a Lagos hospital. She had her delivery bag packed months ahead, checked and updated it regularly and was sure to carry it when it was time for her to go to hospital.  When she got there, they made her buy the hospital’s ‘Delivery Pack’ never mind that hers had everything, otherwise they said ‘she would not get a bed’. She had to take the receipt to another nurse before she was finally admitted. This is the sort of shit we do in Nigeria.

Don’t get me started on her ante-natal classes. Say you were in labour and you showed up at a hospital, they would make you pay ante-natal fees for all the classes you missed (even if you had done classes at some other hospital) before they let you in.  Not all hospitals behave this way. But A LOT of them are insane like this. What are you going to do? Not have your baby?

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Getting naked – in writing.

I’m having trouble writing at the moment.

It is a horrible feeling. It’s as if somebody has stuffed me into a wet, warm wool sheath, so tight that I can not move. My armpits sweat, my brain becomes sluggish and sort of itchy. I can’t concentrate on anything, the simplest daily task becomes a chore and soon I can’t even do those. So, my house looks a mess which only contributes to the clutter in my head.

I refuse to use the B-word. I just don’t think it applies to me. (I am also afraid of jinxing myself by mentioning it, haha! Superstitious.) I don’t think it applies when you have a lot of ideas but have trouble executing them, or finding the best way to. I prefer the term ‘fuzziness’ for when this happens. It’s like an extreme state of indecision that affects every facet of your life. But maybe it’s just bollocks. Maybe it’s the B-word and I’m just trying to dress it up. Maybe it’s  even the L-word. Laziness.

Be that as it may, that is what is happening to me now and it is excruciating. But I have discovered a sort of solution. It does not take care of the whole problem – that only happens when I push through the fuzziness, if I persist in writing something, anything just to keep my hand in, even if my brain is sweating bullets from trying to concentrate. Even when it is easier to bury myself in books and films – crucial to the writing process, but not the act of writing itself. Pushing through only goes some way to easing this fuzziness somewhat.

I’m talking about honesty. Emotional openness. It’s difficult to write anything worthwhile if you’re not open with yourself and your (intended) audience. This is very hard for me.

Before this blog, I started about three other anonymous ones which I abandoned and deleted as soon as people became interested in meeting me face-to-face. I was happy to share stories, both real and imagined, but I did not like the thought of people knowing which bits were real and which bits were not. I was funny – I like to make people laugh – but I avoided controversial subjects. I like to think that it is because I want people to get along, and I do. But I suppose at some point you just have to say ‘screw it’ and wade in. I’m not sure I am there yet.

I was careful not to let things slip in those blogs and that is hard. Because the act of writing involves risk. It involves putting bits of yourself out there for other people to peruse and enjoy or judge and disdain. You have to do this. It comes with the territory.

I am scared of this. The (not-so) funny thing is, I like to be open and honest in ‘real life’ sometimes to my own detriment. I just think the world would be a better place if people knew quickly what they were getting into. That way you call time on useless friendships before you’ve had a chance to really get comfortable.

This same level of honesty is difficult to achieve in writing. It’s partly because your audience on the internet or in a book or magazine becomes much more than a one-on-one. Your words can be replicated and shared quicker. The good thing is that since it’s in writing, your words will stay as you have written them. The bad news is that it’s in writing. Your words will stay as you have written them. Forever.

The other part of it is the whole Igbo girl/African woman thing. I really should listen to the Adichie talk on the subject but I have seen headlines. She apparently says something like ‘African women are taught to feel shame’ and she’s right. I carry more shame than I know what to do with. I am intensely aware of what my written words can do to my family, or people’s perceptions of my family. I worry about things that are not my fault, things that I had no control over. I worry about those that I did have control over. I have made a lot of crap decisions that I am unwilling to admit to anyone. And yet they influence what I write about. They have to. But I still cannot dip a toe into the waters of those memories. I’m so afraid of what will happen.

I like to think I am imaginative. But I am so flipping constipated with real world events that my imagination is…is…is…I am not sure what it is. Is it gone or has it  only retreated like a snail into its shell?

Ugh. I have reached my threshold of talking about myself. I am going to shake things up soon I think. This cannot continue, scaredy cat though I am. A friend advised me to write it all down, and change names and dates later and I suppose he has a point. I don’t know if I will do this in one chunk, I might let my voice come through a little at a time. I must cast off these masks and personae that are my stock-in-trade. I must also close two other blogs that are left, heehee!

My point is, don’t judge me when you see my stories. I make a LOT of shit up. But there will also be things I will not make up. And that’s okay too. At least it should be. Being any other way is killing me (my creativity).

And if you do judge me, screw you. Hopefully with that stick you’ve got up your bum.

There. I said it.

Editing my book ‘Recce’, disciplining children and other matters.

Editing is hard, man. I don’t mean that I hate editing myself, on the contrary I might like it a bit too much. Well, maybe not like, but I keep wanting to change things until the entire thing is completely unrecognisable. I am just going to have to remember that people seemed to love the book when I blogged it last November/December and not change it too much.

On the plus side, I am more than halfway done and I find myself actively enjoying the dialogue of Paul-O and Lucy the most. That boy was supposed to be a very minor character. I’m still surprised at how he keeps showing up.

Remember, even if you read parts of the book when I blogged it, THERE IS A SURPRISE TWIST! Muhahahaha! I love twists. (Hopefully) you didn’t see this one coming. Till July peeps! I can’t wait!

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I watched City of God for the second time yesterday and I cannot tell you how sad that film makes me. I just hope and pray that the only way for any of my descendants is up. I cannot bear the thought that someone descended from me will have the kind of life that the Runts had in that film. Nobody should have to live like that but that is the reality of the world I suppose. Things are hard in a lot of places. Even here in London, there are tower blocks and estates where the situation is no better; children living on their own because parents are druggies or work more than two jobs, hiding out form social services…stealing to get by, learning to kill to ‘get respect’ , a substitute for the love and care they are not getting at home.

This reminds me of rapper DMX’s ‘Intervention’ where he recalled that when he ran the streets and it was getting dark, the mothers of his friends would ‘whup their behindd’art, pull their ears for being out that late. There was no one who did the same for him, he says. Of course I am reluctant to put all the blame on his parents being a parent myself – I mean the guy is almost 50, take some responsibility for your life – but it’s easy to see how they can mess up a person’s life.

I will spank my children out of love.

It’s easy to get it so wrong though. Parents are human with their own worries, personalities and baggage. It’s easy to tip the scale from correcting a child to venting your frustrations. Before I had my son, I didn’t think twice about flogging or spanking a child. In fact, I will tell him something a few times and if he doesn’t listen, I’ll smack him. But then I read something a few months ago which made me feel like a monster. I believe the quote was something like ‘Children cannot fight back’. I wondered then, was I an abuser? I was flogged with a cane, slapped or spanked all my life as a means of discipline and correction but it wasn’t the nicest thing. Do I really want to do the same to my child? It especially hurt when I called my parents out on something they were doing which they’d told us not to. In those scenarios, spanking was supposed to discourage questioning or challenge to authority. I don’t think it was fair  but….that was society. You didn’t question elders. However, do I want to raise a child who is afraid to question, who – given his parents – is likely to grow up questioning EVERYTHING?

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Thank you to everyone who helped me when I asked for comments on adoption in Igboland. The latest issue of BBC Focus on Africa Magazine is out now and you can find my article on page 24. For details of how to subscribe to this magazine (including back issues) click here. I cannot tell you how much I miss working with these dedicated people, bring us entertainment, information and good news from the African continent. Please subscribe. And you can follow the editor Nick Ericsson on twitter (@nickericsson).

That’s all for now. It’s back to work for me.