(Note: The archives are arranged in reverse chronological order. The story begins at Part I, below.)
By the end of my first year, I was feeling pretty good: discipline problems resolved; teaching under control; learning Hausa; comfortable with an amiable, even-tempered headmaster.
If you’re sensing ominous foreshadowing, you’re right; our headmaster was reassigned and a new one arrived, bearing a volcanic reputation. He did not disappoint.
In our first face-to-face meeting, as we discussed the sports program, his clerk came in for a simple signature. The headmaster turned red and, in a chilling Charles Laughton/Mutiny on the Bounty imitation, sputtered, Get out! Get out! then, leaning toward me, growled conspiratorially, They’re trying to get me. They’re trying to get me. But they’ll find I’m a TOUGH … NUT … TO … CRRRRAAAACK! I wished I had fled with the clerk.
Morning assembly struck fear into the students, as the headmaster strode out of his office onto the porch above them, wrapped in his black academic gown, scrutinizing them silently, shouting, Dahiru, seize that boy and beat him! if he caught a slouch or a smudge.
This was the extreme side, regularly interspersed with mere eccentricities. Tough enough in the bell-jar environment of the school day, they even intruded on leisure time, mine especially.
The new headmaster was an avid tennis player and quickly identified me as a partner. He ordered a tennis court built, and put me in charge. I thought I could rely on the school’s laborers, who had recently produced a fair approximation of a dirt-surfaced basketball court.
The tennis court might have been a crowning success, but for the fact that it had to be dug into a moderate slope, and ended up losing as much altitude at one end as it gained at the other.
Curiously, the headmaster didn’t seem bothered that his erratic shots more often went long on the downhill than the uphill side, probably because his real passion, in tennis as elsewhere, was gamesmanship. Thank You! Thank YOU! he boomed out at his opponent’s unforced errors. HARD CHEESE!, his Terry Thomas/School for Scoundrels imitation, was saved for a well-contested point that happened to go in his favor.
His belligerence did have its uses, however. He fought hard for, and often got, resources the school badly needed, including more teachers to relieve his overburdened staff. For our field-hockey team, he even procured real sticks to replace the bamboo-root-and-shaft makeshifts that marked us as country cousins against the more established schools.
His signal achievement, though, was electricity. When we arrived at the school, there was already a designated spot for a generator, and fond hopes for it, but nothing in our first year. Then, after he came, a pad and roof got built, the generator arrived on a lorry barely able to fit through the school gate, and, within a month, we were up and running, with my friend/teacher/horse-keeper Lawan in charge.
The kids could now study properly in the evening and all of us could be a little more comfortable, rid of our more-heat-than-light-producing kerosene lamps.
Air-conditioning was still way beyond us, but we did have a clever recipe for cool naps: soak mosquito net in water; re-hang over bed; wait ten minutes for evaporation to begin; nap as evaporation cools; wake as evaporation ends and heat inside becomes unbearable; go to basketball practice, refreshed, or to tennis, apprehensive.
As hot as the summer months were, they at least brought the rainy season, a blessed relief from the long, cold, dusty dry season that was especially tough on the students. Their light cotton uniforms, even with long pants in place of shorts, were little protection. They could wrap themselves in blankets in the evening, but not at morning assembly or in class.
It was as the dry season began to yield to the rains that my two years at the school ended. I — we, actually, since my teaching partner was leaving too — said goodbye to the students and staff. Difficult, especially saying goodbye to Lawan. To the headmaster, less so, though, by the time our trusty VW Microbus was nearing Kano, I found myself smiling, just a little, at the thought of Dahiru, seize that boy! and HARD CHEESE! booming out, not quite loud enough to reach across the growing distance.