1991-University environment was so different from any environment I have been in my twenty-two years of existence. It was a case of multi sociocultural mix up.
No one gave a damn about my age! In fact I was not the oldest in my class of seventy students at 100 levels. I had married men and women as class mates! I had my age mates and younger ones too, no one cared about age and that feeling was soothing to me unlike what I passed through in my secondary school where my class mates and the whole school tagged me an uncle.
The social life was something else though. I had to adapt. For instance, I needed to stop bowing too low or try to prostrate while greeting someone who is older than me. I needed to curtail the excessive use of “yes sir” while discussing with an older one, be it student or lecturer, I could start a sentence with “yes sir” and end it with “sir” it was strange to the eastern people when I discuss with and older person and show so much respect. They laugh at me, they say I am local.
Another thing I observed here was the public show of affection between male and female students. I was always carried away when I see a boy and a girl taking a walk hand in hand or worse still when a girl seats on the lap of a boy discussing in public. I would forget myself and mope at them until they either shout at me or they shy away from my presence. It was not easy for me to stop looking at skimpy dressed ladies exposing their luscious cleavages and thighs in public, people were so free. No class prefect or school prefect to bully you. The class captains here were mere stooges for the lecturers.
There were joints where we go to buy snacks and soft drinks. One could also go to town in the evening to drink alcohol or whatever pleases you. The evenings were my favourite moments as I would go out and sit closer to the school gate to watch the array of visitors trooping in and out of the school to pick up our girls. I saw exotic cars in their numbers; cars I had thought only existed in foreign movies, porch cars with convertible roof blaring out loud music and occupants dressed like movie Stars.
I would watch girls dressed for the night walk out of the school gate to board taxis to town. My favourite sit out was at Mallam Musa’s Kiosk close to the gate, I normally buy groundnut or biscuit and a bottle of Fanta as I sit and feed my eyes.
In my first year, I rarely went to the school joint. It was not meant for my type. I had no money to spend, the two times I went there was on invitation by a friend called Maduka. He had insisted I accompanied him there for a snack. When we got there, it was a beehive of activities. Every table was occupied with students’ spending money, eating and drinking. We had to wait for some students to finish eating and leave before we took over the chairs they sat on. I saw a student commanding the waitress to serve about seven other students seated around him with whatever they want.
I also saw wastage of food and drinks. Many of the girls that ate at the joint did not eat up their snacks, they barely drank half of the soft drink and bite off half of the snacks, the only item I know they ate up was meat. I hardly saw any left over stick meat. I wished I could pack up all the left over’s and take to my room. It would do me for a couple of days.
Year one was like an extension of secondary school. I did so well in my courses because I was already good in physics and other science subjects before entering the university.
The school was quite affordable because it is a federal government school. I was in the dormitory and we ate at the refectory while some of us cooked. I did both.
Mr. Adegoke and I were still in touch through letter writing and I always looked forward to reading from him.
Yes! Lest I forget, I had problems pronouncing the names of Igbo friends, names that starts with “Chi” I would pronounce as “she” it was practically impossible for me to change that tone, even when I tried to pronounce it right and it sounds right to my hearing, they still laugh at me and said I couldn’t get it right. I would call Ikesukwu instead of Ikechukwu. It irritated some of them and they would rather I called their English names while it amused others. All in all, it earned me the name “Omo Yoruba” in my first year. I am Yoruba by tribe and my accent stood out.
In the hostel I was quiet and reserved. I do not exceed my boundary, I do not mingle. I simply coil up in my bunk and dig into my books. Mr. Adegoke had told me that I needed to start working on my grades from my first day in school so I do no miss classes, I do not miss assignments and tests and when the second semester result was published, the name “Omo” became a force to be reckoned with. I cleared all “A”s and my CGP was 4.96.
I stayed back in the hostel during the holiday. I had nowhere to go to. Few students stayed back also. My money had run down and I was wondering how I would cope in my second year when school resumes. I could still pay my school and departmental fees, but then I would be left with very little to feed.
I went into town; I walked the length of Okigwe road to World Bank area looking for anything until I saw a vacancy advert posted on a gate. It read “Holiday Tutors wanted “. I knocked at the gate; it was a private school that needed Science teachers for students on holiday as well as preparatory classes for SSCE and JAMB examinations. I got the offer to teach Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics to SS1 and SS2 students. I started work immediately. It was fun and engaging and the pay was good. I solved every question the students threw at me to test my capability because I looked young and inexperienced.
Within two weeks of my working at the school, the number of students doubled. I have my ways of teaching that it made the students to want to be in my class, I told them that if a Village man like me with the least support in life could clear all “A”s in my SSCE then it should be an easy ride for them that are in the City and have every family support they need. I made the students to solve equations themselves. I gave them home works and the next day we solve it together. The students looked forward to my jokes and my accent too, but in all, they got to love the subjects that I taught.
The most important aspect of teaching was that it also opened an avenue for me to research and improves on myself. I had to read wider to prepare for those naughty students who liked to disgrace lecturers by bringing problems that are out of the curriculum for the lecturer to solve. Some will ask irrelevant question just to embarrass the Teacher. These were children of the elites in Owerri. Spoilt Kids.
I made more money during the November General Certificate Examination GCE. The private school where I taught during the holidays was an examination centre for the GCE. The proprietor hired me to assist the students that were writing the examination at his centre. I was kept in a secured room and question papers from the examination hall were brought to me to solve and provide answers for the students. I went on different days to provide answers for Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics questions. I was sure the Students would clear those subjects with “A”s. except the student that refuse to pay up. I was rewarded handsomely for my effort and on resumption for school in 1992 at the age of twenty-three, I was ready for school.
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My overall performance in the first year endeared students to me in the second year. Many students that never as much as said a “hello” to me in the first year were now coming around me and seeking for space in my schedule. Maduka was the only friend I had in my first year but in my second year, “Omo” became the “man”. I was not carried away though because so many friends meant distractions.
There were two guys and a girl who were being viewed as the best three in the class while we were in year one. They were quick to answer questions in class; they were always handy to give assistance to students who had problem understanding certain topics. They were good but the overall result at the end of the session showed that I was better. I was a recluse because of my Yoruba accent; people laugh when I speak so I do not ask or answer questions in class.
The trio became my rivals in school, they watch out for the kind of books I read, they monitor the times I read. Whenever I am asked a question by the lecturers who have now known me, they interfere and want to show superior knowledge on the subject.
One of the boys called Chukwuma even told me to my face that any brilliant person who cannot teach others is not worth the name. He said I was hoarding knowledge. I did not reply him, he did not know that outside the school, I was a teacher and my students are proud of me.
In my last letter to my mentor, I had updated every happening at school to him including the rivalry. He replied and said it was very natural, he then advised me to make friends with one or two equally good senior students in the faculty, a year and two years above my level.
I went to the four hundred levels and met with Samuel Ajibo who was the overall best student and Jane Nwankwo in three hundred levels. To these two I took academic problems to and I gained superior knowledge from them.
Towards the end of the first semester, I had just come out from the examination hall and was walking towards the hostel when Maduka cornered me and handed a bag to me and walked away.
Maduka na wetin dey inside? I asked but he did not reply, he simply waved me to go on.
I opened the bag and saw clothes, I called him to ask what it was meant for but he had gone far, he did not look back.
I took the bag home and emptied its content on my bunk. It contained three pairs of Jeans trousers, three Polo shirts, two Chinos short sleeve shirts and a pair of sandals. All were exactly my size. It couldn’t have been Maduka’s because while he was sturdy, I was lanky and the clothes matched me when I tried them on.
My bunk mate Chinasa, a weird fellow from Isialangwa in Abia state walked into the room from the examination hall, when he saw the clothes he started screaming “thank God o”! Thank God o! Bolaji don vex o! Make una come see o! Omo Yoruba don vex o! He don go charter Boutique o!
I hurriedly tucked away the clothes inside my box and locked it up, and then I ran out of the room as curious students started to troop into our room.
I went behind the hostel building and sat on the terrace to reminisce.
So people have noticed that I do not have clothes? Imagine Chinasa screaming and calling the whole dormitory to come and see my supposed new clothes! What a pity! What an embarrassment! How was I to know that anyone gave a damn about what I wear? I never gave a damn about whatever anyone wore so long as it was clean.
I have a Jeans trouser and two shirts, a three-quarter short, four boxers and two singlet. I wash anything I wear daily but for my jeans that I wash on Saturdays or Sundays.
My classmates also would have noticed my material deficiencies else Maduka would not have offered to clothe me. I wondered how much the Lad must have spent to procure the clothes for me, even though I would have preferred the cash equivalent because dressing was the least of my problems; however I was grateful to Maduka. I got up after thinking and soliloquizing for one hour and went to visit Maduka at his hostel.
There was as uproar when I walked into the examination hall the next morning. The hall was turned upside down. The hullaballoo was due to the new pair of black and red stripped shirt I wore on a new black Jeans. One of my class mates actually attempted to lift me on his shoulder and I ran out of the hall as the examination was yet to begin. That was when I shed tears. I cried because I was emotion laden by the fact that my poor condition was opened to all while I had thought that no one gave a damn!
I could not go back into the hall until the guy that tried to lift me up came to meet me under tree where I had run to, he saw the tears in my eyes and he hugged me. I cried the more.
Easy Omo! Easy! He said; I am so sorry for embarrassing you, but the fact was that I almost did not recognize you! You know I am so used to seeing you in your blue baggy jeans and green shirt! Seeing you like this today blew my mind and the mind of others as you could see in the hall. I am so sorry, please forgive me, he said as we hugged once more.
Wipe your tears; let’s go back into the hall for the invigilator has arrived with the examination papers.
Thanks a lot Godwin! I said.
But my guy, see as you fine! He teased; you be fine boy o! You come dey behave like a Jew man! Which babe you go toast now wey no go trip for you? He asked jokingly as he pulled me along laughing.
I got the same reaction from every where I went to that week. I used to be referred to as “Omo baggy Jeans” behind my back.
The first semester examination ended well and the school went on break.
I had nowhere to go to so I stayed back in the hostel and when the hostel was almost empty I went to town to the school where I taught during the last long vacation. There was no vacancy. Very few students registered for extra moral lessons so I was not needed. The proprietor told me to come back by the next holiday when students would have started preparing for GCE and JAMB examinations. The implication of what the proprietor told me did not hit me until I got back to the hostel and checked up my money. I was left with seven hundred naira only.
To be continued
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