Saturday, July 3, 2010

Chapter 6 - More school

The oppression I experienced both at school and at the hostel made me wonder about the world I found myself in. I felt that something was severely wrong. Some part of me knew instinctively that this was not right. My heart told me - a fresh young, innocent child, should not be experiencing this kind of desolation and pain. I was far more perplexed by these feelings, and was much more concerned about them, than I was with my troubles at school. Even at this young age I knew that a child was not meant to feel this way. My soul screamed that a child was meant to feel loved, enjoyed, embraced. How was it that I could did not feel embraced, safe, protected?

The adults around me did not understand my distaste for their world. They didn't even try and understand! They just assumed I should buckle under and give up my mind, my soul, my self. But I thought, "Why should I adhere to what they believe, what they have to say, when what they have to say turns my stomach?" Their whole belief system, their implementation of it, was not legitimate to my mind, to my heart. I could see the results: the lies, the disingenuous, the coercions. I was determined to understand the world according to my heart, my instinct for truth. What they believed, what the had to say, needed to go through the fire of my insight, or probably more correctly, my instinct for truth. In later years I thought of my insistence on truth as a curse, not because i didn't want the truth, but because to seek the truth, put one at odds with so many others, and caused much pain. It was as if I was singled out to walk a truth that was only supported by something in me, unseen by others. Difficult for an adult, almost horrifying for a child. I thought the adults around me should reveal the truth, not try to force me to look away.

I was determined to respect my own mind, my own heart, my intuition. Why? I have no clue. I didn't care how long it would take or what the consequences would be. I could not just accept their view of the world. My own inner self was too strong. I knew that to respect myself I would have to understand the world in a manner that was mine -- mine alone.

My constant curiosity and questioning of everything did not endear me to my elders. My hostel parents, and other missionary adults on the compound saw me as a disruptive force. Unyielding, disobedience, stubborn. They would look down on me with their rigid glares and condescendingly ask, "Why can't you just accept our word? Why don't you just believe, as we do? Why can't yo be like the rest of the kids?" I could have spat in their faces. I did not find truth to be what they said it was. It certainly was not my truth. A passive acceptance of what they said felt like death to me!

So I resisted with all my heart and soul. And I kept my soul mine, though they covered it with the mud of their arrogance. I never gave my heart and soul away. Yet, I would never wish the pain and anguish I felt on anyone. Something in me resisted the "unexamined life." I had no inclination to accept as given, what others believed. Having already been a stranger in numerous schools, in numerous cities, and even foreign lands, I was already inculcated with the understanding that no culture had a lock on truth. My keepers were no exception.

I would lay in my little bed, with the other boys and girls, thinking to myself, "Why were these adults not sensitive to the pain they caused, -these commissaries of God, these do gooders, these missionaries? This lack of sensitivity to a child was a red flag for this one. For I knew that without sensitivity, the truth would never be known. I realized young, that becoming a person unto myself was not going to be an easy task.

Saturday and Sunday were the only two days of the week that were free from the tyranny of school. Yet, here again, our trustees made life miserable. They just never let up. Promptly after lunch on these two days we were put to bed and told to rest for two hours. It was called "rest period." Although the heat was at its peak this time of day, it was not oppressive. It was not a custom of the natives, and I knew that. But somehow, a rest period in the middle of the day was day was deemed necessary. The adults felt it was the perfect time of day to relax for a couple of hours. Why they forced us children, longing to play outside, into their routine, I'll never know. The results were disastrous. Yet their never was a change in the schedule.

Instead of letting us play outside under that shade of some large tropical tree they made us kids lie down in our beds. We were not supposed to talk, even in a whisper. Can you imagine a dozen kids, midday, laying down and taking a nap? We not in preschool. Did we children oblige these adults? Never! As soon as the door to our hostel room was closed, we were whispering. Then we got louder; there were sneers and jeers. Anything to get something started. Soon a pillow or a shoe would be thrown and then chaos would erupt. Sometimes every available item in the room would be picked up and thrown. Once we even stained the walls with some rotten mangoes. We really paid for that!

Of course Aunt Vel would be aroused by all the racket and come to punish us. She would emerge, strutting, through the door to our room with a fierce, angry look on her face. Incensed at our insubordination. She was usually in her bra and panties only, and seemed converted from her normal self into witch and exhibitionist! Perhaps some wish for exhibition, well suppresed, came out during these daily romps. Being only in bra and panties, exposing herself to a number of preteen boys, we had difficulty concentrating on much besides her body. Her breasts, heaving in anger, clamored to get loose of their moorings. With her face contorted, she would glare at us looking for the most guilty party. "Who started this?" She would scream! Silence.

Not one of us would admit to starting this rumble in the jungle. We would all deny partaking in any unsanctioned activity. For this, we would all be punished. Her favorite weapon was a 4" wide razor belt. Each of us in turn would be whipped. But while she spanked the others, and they screamed in protest, the rest of us boys would be watching her smooth round ass with intimate pleasure. We would watch her breasts jiggle with glee. We were young, but we were already well aware of our desire for female flesh. We lusted after it even though we weren't old enough to do anything about it. I always suspected that Aunt Vel loved having an excuse to be roused from her bed and parade among us half naked with her adulterous feelings.

Mealtimes at the hostel were no less a torture than much of the daily routine. Of all the meals, breakfast was the worst. Our morning milk was powdered milk. A dried white powder mixed with water, tasting more like weak cement than anything edible. Because it tasted so bad, and because it was difficult to get us to drink it, we were allowed to add some powdered chocolate. Many of us would have preferred to drink water, but that was "No substitute for milk," we were told. We had to finish one full glass before we were allowed from the table.

For me, one full glass was one to many. Adding chocolate, for me, wasn't helpful, for as a child, I did not like chocolate. Without chocolate, the mild was a lumpy, sticky, chalky milky slush, and it tasted like cement to me. I would wait till my hostel parents weren't looking and I would hold my nose with one hand and gulp it down as quickly as I could. Since Uncle Clay and Aunt Vel didn’t drink milk, as they were adults, they didn't have to submit to their own requirements. They didn't eat the porridge we had to eat every morning either. They had eggs and toast. The oatmeal we had came in one of those round cardboard boxes. However, having been shipped by boat from half way around the world, by the time it arrived on our table the humidity and heat had transferred the flavor of cardboard to the oatmeal. And that is just what the porridge tasted like - cardboard! As a result of poor fare at the hostel, we were a rather skinny lot of kids. We didn't hang around the kitchen for treats like stateside children.

Because of the poor nourishment we received at the hostel many of us took to foraging on the compound. Luckily for us there were many fruit tress. There wasn't one single fruit or berry on the compound that we didn't know how to gather and eat. We knew the seasons and where the trees or bushes were that bore it. We tried to be the first there to eat it. No tree on the compound was free from our climbing, struggling bare feet and sweaty, eager hands. We were impatient and daring scavengers, and would climb high and far out on the limbs. Eagerly, we wolfed down mangoes, guavas, star apples, African cherries, ceour de beoaf, and many as yet unnamed fruit.

While we children ate all the fruit we could find during the day, fruit bats claimed the eating and foraging in the night. What the fruit bats didn't get at night, we found during the day. The nights were cool and pleasant and good for sleeping. We liked to listen to the crickets and bats and other night criers. We just hoped that the bats didn't get all the fruit. We are not talking about little bats, these fruit bats had a wingspan of several feet, and their bodies were the size of a large rat. They had very ruffled noses, like the skin of ones' ears, convoluted, and thin, designed to smell and feel the fruit they ate.

That entire year my most pleasurable moments were private ones. These pleasures consisted mostly of daydreams, played just for me in my head at night. Since I didn't do well in school, I got no rewards there. So my little dream world expanded into the day, and occupied me to such an extent that I could not pay attention in school. My inattention left me never knowing where the rest of the class was - what text they were reading, or where on the page they were. When the teacher would call my name, invariably I would have no idea what place in the text they were reading. It would always have to have it pointed out. Usually I would be brought to the front of the class to have my fingers spanked with a hard wooden ruler. Then I would have to return to my seat and read longer from the text than normally required.

So that first miserable school year in Africa passed. I flunked the third grade, as I had the year before. Flunking a grade, especially for the second time, made me feel that something was wrong. However, I didn't blame myself. I knew that my childhood was not normal. Hadn't I already moved every year of my life? Hadn't I been taken from town to city, from one continent to another, always a stranger, always the new kid? And wasn't I going to school studying in French, when my native language was English?

When the school year ended, I was sent back to my parents out in the bush. As soon as my father saw me I knew I was in trouble. His stern and angry face had not even the hint of forgiveness or understanding. I was spanked as hard as he could do it and informed that I must do better and would have to study all summer. I was in trouble, as usual. I reminded myself that it was just me that was afraid of him. For I remembered that when he would come to visit at the hostel, which was only a couple of times, the other kids would hide because he looked so stern, and mean. He tried that summer to keep me completely under control. But I still managed to have some free time and enjoyed it when I could.

end chapter 6


Betty Camhi said...

wonderfully honest and well written.........
i am so enjoying your tale........

bazoleo said...

As am I. You express yourself so directly without fanfare or pretense it brings the reader immediately into the core of your described experience. Thank you for taking the time and this tremendous effort.