Saturday, June 26, 2010

Chapter 5 - Boarding School

At nine years of age I was taken from my parents at Sona Lala and sent to boarding school in the capital, Leopoldville. What a change that was! Never mind my protests about being sent away. I was ignored when I explained how I thought the jungle was a better teacher than a formal classroom. To me the jungle was alive -- a rich changeable field of life. I had spent hours with my slingshot prying into the jungle’s secrets, interrupting many an animals’ quiet routine with a well placed shot. I pelted everything that moved with pebbles. Here I was directly involved with the life of the jungle. My brother and I had learned an enormous amount about life. But that wasn't the education my parents were concerned about. They wanted me civilized. So they packed me of to boarding school.

I was dragged kicking and screaming across my front yard to the jeep waiting to take me away. I fought with every ounce of my strength, trying desperately to convince my parents that I didn't want to go. But it didn't help. I watched out the back window at my brother and sister who stood waving as the jeep drove away. I was the only one old enough to have to go away. I didn't wave back. I never did get used to goodbyes.

My eyes flowed so hard I could hardly see as the house and my family faded behind me. I didn't turn around in my seat for more than an hour. I just starred out the back window. I didn't want to talk to this stranger taking me back to the capital. He was no friend of mine. Could he see the tear in my heart that would only be healed through years of therapy?

The hostel to which I was delivered was a dreary two story cement building. It stood at one end of the mission compound in Leopoldville. The compound had about half a dozen houses. The whole compound was surrounded by a fence on three sides, and the Stanley Pool on the fourth. The pool was formed by a big bend in the Congo river, one of the largest rivers in the world. The name was taken from the great explorer, Stanley Livingston. The compound was a world unto itself. Like other missionary outposts, this was a white enclave in a giant city of natives, black people, many so black they looked purple.

On one side of the compound, just on the other side of the fence, was "Chanic." It was a barge and small boat manufacturing and repair facility. It was well placed to launch its product into the river. We kids would often spend hours, looking through the fence, listening to the great banging and clanging noises as large pieces of metal were formed and welded. How often I looked at those boats and wanted to escape on one of them.

Our mission board ran a tight little operation out of this compound. This was the headquarters of their African outposts in the Belgian Congo. Its major purpose was to see that their belief system was taken to heart by the natives. Missionaries came and went from this place. They started here on the compound, and they journeyed back through when going on furlough, or passed back through as bodies when their time ended, having died of illness or ripened into old age and sent home. As a child, I didn't know the word ego, but I felt in my heart that their efforts in the Belgian Congo paid great dividends to their egos. I must admit however, that some of them in time came to love the natives.

We children were not allowed outside the compound. We were fenced in, literally and psychologically, or so or keepers hoped. Prisoners, body and soul. Some of us were thought to have too much soul. We were the ones that didn't take what we were told, hook, line, and sinker. We were the ones that didn't make it in our parents’ eyes. Oh, but some of us knew that our souls were in danger. We fought back, even if just internally. We saw the discrepancy of what was espoused, versus what was done. We held fast to our own souls, and didn't give them up. This of course causes pain. And we hid our pain from our keepers, and stuffed it down, and hung on for dear life, not just physical life, but spiritual life. Of the fourteen of us that started with me at that boarding school, two died young, several became alcoholics, and a few others fell to mental illness.

The Secretary General, the treasurer, and the other dignitaries of the mission board, operated from the compound in Leopoldville. They would send out directives and communiqu├ęs by ham radio. Small packages and parcels would be sent out with the occasional jeep or carryall that was sent to the mission outposts. Often they would carry the letters we were forced to write to our parents, so they would know we loved them, even after all they had done to us. They never sent anything by the official, government mail system, as it went by riverboat, and would often take months, if in fact, it ever got to its destination at all.

Boarding school was a time of great loneliness and pain. At the start of each year most of us would spend the first few nights crying ourselves to sleep. It would always take a few days to adjust to being away from our parents. Most of us were not happy that our parents had become missionaries in the first place. And then to be sent off to boarding school, in a strange country, was even worse. Worse again, because our education was in a foreign language.

After a couple of weeks though, most of us would be adjusted to our fate and make the best of it. However, there were always one or two kids that just couldn’t hack it. They would cry every night for months, or even the whole term. One poor fellow wet his bed every night. He was punished every morning for it, but it never changed his behavior. They even put him in diapers and tried to ridicule him out of it. But that didn't work either.

Uncle Clay and Aunt Vel ran the hostel with an iron touch. We were not treated special unless we broke an arm or leg or vomited indefinitely. They had fifteen children they had to watch over, so they couldn't be bothered with any little aches or pains. We weren’t an easy lot to control, believe me. We were not volunteers. We hadn't joined this army, just belonged to parents that did. We were a rebellious lot. Strict discipline was necessary.

Since this was a hostel for missionary kids, one can imagine that there were some special problems. Some were created by the religious attitude itself. For one thing, we were all considered sinners. Condemned by original sin. We were tried, found guilty, and condemned before we were even born. This guilt was the primary fact of our existence. Everyone knows the guilty need to be punished. And we were punished a lot. Original sin was the root of the problem. It didn't take long for us to figure out that since we were guilty already for whatever they felt we had done, or thought, there was no reason to try and be good.

Since almost everything was a sin, especially if it was fun, we could never be good. We became amoral as a result of this. As far as we could tell, there was no difference between a bad thought and a bad action. So restraint didn't help. As far as we could tell there was no difference between saying a bad word and killing someone. With no gradation to the system, we were simply bad. So we were bad with as much fun as we could muster. Funny how our parents and hostel parents could never tell what made their children act out so much, and so badly. Yet it never occurred to them that they might be wrong. That their approach was a soul killer. A passion stifler. But we knew. We could feel it down to our bones. If we didn't rebel there was no hope but to die inside.

Every missionary sect had their own hostel so they could keep their kids in their own particular fold. Mind washing is more the word for it. One hostel for the Baptists, one for the Methodists etc. ad infinitum. There was every sect you could imagine here in the heart of Africa. The natives didn't have a chance. It was a simple case of divide and conquer. The missionaries did that well. And we kids, we were just so much baggage that had been brought along. And we knew, felt it, and carried it into our adulthood.

Monday through Friday we were bused to a French speaking school at the top of the city. The bus was always crowded, and the little Belgian boys and girls always outnumbered the rest of us. We were the odd men out and they treated us as such. They made no effort to accommodate us. There is a hatred that only belongs to children. The Belgian children wasted no effort in showing us theirs. They hated us with a passion. Just being different was the only justification needed. They did everything they could to embarrass or ridicule us. Their favorite means of provocation was to spit on us. They really seemed to enjoy doing it.

We would hold up our arms or our briefcases trying to protect ourselves, but usually someone would get a big wad on their face or hair and a fight would start. Sometimes the whole bus would be involved. Mass fists everywhere. Since I was the oldest American boy on the bus I would usually end up in the worst of it. I guess I felt responsible since I was the oldest. I couldn't very well let one of my hostel brothers get the crap beat out of him without helping. Often fights that started on the bus on the way to school would be continued at recess and on through the day and again on the bus on the way home. Many days I would get off the bus in the evening bruised and beaten. Aunt Vel and Uncle Clay never took any of this very seriously. They sort of dismissed it as child's play. Funny that I didn't take it that way.

At school we were the most ignorant of all. Since we had difficulty learning in French we were ridiculed by the teachers as well. We hostel children were spread out in the school so there were usually just one or two of us to classroom. This made us vulnerable. My first year there I was put in the third grade again because that was the level I could perform at in French. Made me feel real stupid, believe me! Repeating a grade was real depressing for me. I would pay for this my whole life. Sure didn't help my attitude any. I began to hate French and everything related to it. I hated the Belgians. I was immersed in a psychological war with the school system and I was bound to loose. I became a daydreamer which left me further and further behind. I never had my place right when the teachers would call on me. I would be somewhere else in some private day dream.

After a day's torture at school it was actually a relief to come home to the hostel. We children's first task of the evening was to get our showers taken. It was a communal affair, boys and girls together. They were really fun. Since the weather is always warm on the equator, we got to take our showers outside. There was an alcove formed by the stairway that wound up to the second floor and the side of the house. A couple of shower heads had been installed there in the corner. All fifteen of us would gather outside in our underwear to shower.

What was really funny was that we were supposed to keep our underwear on so we wouldn't see each other. But you know what underwear looks like on someone when it's wet. It clings just like skin and becomes clear. So it was really close to being naked. Well we all had a lot of fun with that. It was a very sexy shower escapade every night. Of course when there were no adults watching, we boys would pull the front of our underpants down and expose our penises. The girls always pretended to be frightened, but I don't think they really minded. It gave them something to get excited about. The girls were a little tamer than we boys. They were much less willing to expose themselves. They didn't have something they could whip out so readily.

When we boys really wanted to get the girls moving we would take the lid off the cesspool that soured nearby. It wasn't just the smell they didn't like, it was the giant cockroaches that would emerge in frightened crowds. If we would threaten to take the lid off, we could get them to take their panties down too. Oh what power we felt then! But the wet underwear pretty much showed everything anyway. When Cindy, the oldest girl began to bud in the chest - little tits, we had a lot of fun with her. Aunt Vel made her start wearing a T-shirt to the shower, but it didn't hide anything.

After our showers and an early supper, we were not allowed outside to play until our homework was done. You could never tell a lie about having done your homework. Some studious girl, it was always the girls, would tell on you. That was just the way it was. It was the girls who studied hard and took their schoolwork seriously. They always made sure the hostel parents knew what the lesson was, so they would make sure we all got them done. I don't think I liked that aspect of the opposite sex. I had a hard time hating them for their studiousness, but being sexually attracted to them at the same time. I don't think I was ever too young to appreciate women. I always did.

Because of my disregard for homework, Aunt Vel would hang over me like a witch’s shadow. She made it very difficult for me to daydream. But she did manage to make my life miserable. I managed somehow to get through the school year, but I sure wondered about my life, and why these people were in the life I had been dealt. I certainly wouldn't have chosen my parents, or these hostel parents. I got the overriding feeling that something was wrong. Something was very wrong with my life. The whole thing just felt wrong to me. This feeling stayed with me and grew, and as a result I always had the feeling of being an outsider.

end chapter 5

Formerly - M.K. Chapter 7 - from original draft

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