Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tales From Back When We Were We(e)

All this talk about caning in Ghanaian schools has made me very nostalgic. I loved primary school and jss. I was one of those talkertive, obnoxious, over-confident kids with no claim to fame. I was always bɔɔing walk. ie. walking from the legon gate to school as opposed to being dropped off in car. At some point, my parents got a lada and converted it into a taxi which would take me to school so I too could say our driver dropped me. Back in those days it was a flex (tr: a way to be cool). I was such a wanna-be (shown in photo). haha!

I know you all have tons of elementary school and jss stories so this blog entry is really more for you, but I will begin with two of my most memorable primary school tolis.

Toli Number One
When I was in primary school, we always had either a spelling bee or a math class quiz on friday mornings. Three or four kids would be selected from each section (red, yellow, green and blue) to represent their section and the whole primary school would gather to watch. Now in one of those spelling bees, I represented green with some other kids. We were in class 6. I was asked to spell mathematical. I thought, oh, such an easy word. It is spelt just as it sounds. Overconfident, I spelt it. The quiz master said, "wrong, try again". In my mind, i was like whaaaaaat? I couldn't have missed that. Maybe he didn't hear me. I tried again, confident that this time, he was paying attention, he said I was wrong again. What? Section green...last try, the word is mathematical. I spelled it. Wrong. What? To this day, I still don't know what mistake I made. It is entirely possible that I spelled it as m-a-t-h-e-t-i-c-a-l , missing the m-a in the middle but I don't know how I could have missed such an easy word three times! Some of the other kids in my section also missed their words so Green was last! Losing was the easy part. The difficult part was to come- how does one face his/her classmates after s/he caused his/her section to lose. There would always be "green kpee, bedi akpele" (tr: green is last and will eat akple, an ewe dish made from cassava dough), and then there was the song:

On friday mornings,
we have spelling bee
a section will be first
and a section will be second
a section will be third
and a section will be fourth
i'll say better luck next time

Class six children will stand in your face to sing "i'll saaaaaaaaaaaaaay better luck next time" tauntingly. Right then, it was not fun to be me. So after the quiz was over, I decided I wasn't going back to the classroom. No way! All this time, I had a mild toothache which suddenly started hurting really bad. I went to the assistant head-mistress, complained of my unbearable toothache and cried. Whether it was real or acting, It convinced her sufficiently and I was made to go home! yes! Let's just say by the time I returned on Monday, everyone had forgotten about Friday's quiz:)

Toli Number Two
I remained in section green and in JSS 1, again I had to represent green, this time in athletics. I think it was for 400 m, 800 m and 1500 m races. I don't know what happened to green that year but whilst other sections had strong athletes in JSS 2 and 3, somehow the best they'd found was this JSS 1 kid. me. How was I going to compete against the legendary Vinolia and other JSS 3 girls in other sections? In retrospect, I think it was all in my mind, and that I was defeated before I even began the race because I was so convinced that I couldn't out-race older kids. On the first day of the inter-sectional athletics competition, I was only to run the 400 m sprint. The longer distance races were going to be run the next day. So I ran, and I was last. I hated losing. Who doesn't? My mates made me feel so bad about being last. Even the boys, who were usually my paddies (tr: friends) were all saying things like oh Esi, what did you think you were doing? and then laughing at me. So i went home that day and failed to return the next day to run the other 2 races. Later when the competition was over and I returned to school, the teachers gave me a stern warning and I was made to write lines which read: "I will not let my section down again". I was quite surprised that they were so upset at me because I hadn't thought that I was letting my whole section down. I'd just thought of saving my own face. What happened was, when I hadn't shown up, the second best athlete green had was made to run those races and of course she was last in both races. Writing the lines taught me my first real lesson in responsibility and accountability to a team. I'd never written lines before so it was a big deal and I really felt like everyone was disappointed in me, more disappointed than if I'd run and been last. The great news is that in JSS 3 they gave me a second chance to run again and green won all the races and was first so I was able to redeem myself. yes!

What are your most memorable primary school and jss stories? It doesn't have to be about winning and losing, just whatever you remember. Please limit the stories to primary school and JSS, and save your secondary school stories for later this week. I'll be posting a special secondary school blog entry where you can tell us about your SSS/Boarding School/Sixth form days. I have some crazy inter-co (inter-colleges athletics) stories myself and funny letters from Presec, Adisco, Kwabotwe, Augusco, St. Peters, Motown, GSTS and Koforidua Sec. Tech. boys. One presec boy said he was "stupefied at my tyranny" eish scholar! Stay tuned.


  1. Charley...you've sent me back to school with this piece. Did you guys use the 'First Aid in English' book? What about the 'Student's Companion'?
    Our quiz was called K.I.P (Knowledge is Power). You were taunted with 'better luck next time' in your school? Our victor's song was about putting pepper in the loser's eyes. LOL!!!! Although it sounds serious, when you look back at it it's just too funny.
    One K.I.P. session will always stand out for me. This girl in my class (who shall remain nameless cos i don't want matter) was asked to complete the phrase; "First come.....". Instead of "First Served" she said "Second Come". Come and see!!!! Even now when i think of her i think of " First Come, Second Come"!!!!

  2. haha, anonymous, First come...second come" is enough grounds for a nick name...I can imagine.
    Yeah, we also had the first aid in english and the students companion. And we had "mental" where the teacher would ask something like 11x12 and if u didn't know ur eleven times table, u'd get some lashes. abaa bEwe nam style.

  3. Oops, Esi!
    I had to delete the previous comments because they were not meant for this post.
    Now my original comments are as follows:
    Creative tolis were the order of the day at school.
    In my opinion, they were the most appropriate means to avoid tricky situations.
    The problem of course was fabricating a toli so that not only you will believe it but those who it was meant for.
    The merciless canings led many of us to spurn unbelievable webs of tolis that eventually caught up with us.
    To survive the jungle out there, you had to be able to think on your feet and out of the box!
    The most original Kweku Ananse tales can never compare to some of the tolis we conjured to beat the system.
    Nice post!

  4. Good ol' school days. My brother bought beans with "tatale" (i won't translate that) and he had left the best tatale for the last. when all of a sudden, this pretty classmate of his came and took the thing and ate it. He couldn't chase her for it, cos he was shy. But if it were a guy that picked it,...

  5. I was a wild guerrilla (not gorilla, mind you) in primary school, fighting everything in my way except teachers. Then a girl just slightly bigger than than me, called Gloria Ofori (I think) crossed my path, and so we fought. I caught my heel over a desk and fell. She fell on me and we were quickly separated. Because she was on me, the rabble declared her the winner and I cried. I'd never lost a fight - not even to much bigger boys than me.

  6. Good show Esi, your writing had sent me back a lot memories- i can write a whole book on it. I have put a piece on mentals on my facebook. Will tag you. Thanks.

  7. amidst all the toli, two things come to mind:
    1. if i was at your UPS
    2. and if i was all-boy like i am today...

    then, i would most definitely have told you you look so beautiful i'd love to share 'atsomor' and ice-cream with you!

    how fly you look in those glasses!


  8. Esi, I cant stop laughing at all this stories. so I went to "aban" (cyto)primary and Jss. I remember in JSS 2 in science class, one guy was asked to say "small intestine, then he goes like " small entetin" which "entetin" means cobwebs or ananse in twi . I think =)

    In class 5, we had a spelling bee competition with the class six students. We were almost winning till i was asked to spell "Island" which i said out loud, " This is koko" (easy) so I go and spell it and the teacher, Mr Nyarko says wrong.. I start to argue tht I am right. They made another student spell it then i realized this is what i spelled " Highland" instead of " Island" which in my mind sounds like " Is & land"
    tht made the class 5 loose and it was all blamed on me. I went home and went straight to bed. The next day I carried all my frustrations on Mr. Nyarko. He was very mean. He beat his students with a belt. It was very painful. So I had a master plan very stupid one. I wrote somewhere On the school walls with chalk tht "Mr. Nyarko is a wicked Man" I told some of my class mates i did it and tht they shld nt tell anyone. Tht week the whole school was chaos cos the headmaster was looking for the culprit. well finally someone chuuked me. I was caught, they called for assembly and i was put on my table and lashed proper by Mr. Nyarko. I was asked to repeat after each lash, I will not do tht again. Can you imagine my tears and saying i will not do tht again"
    after the canes I was made to carry my table and chair and sent
    home for 1 week. suspension!!

    All through out JSS I was known to be "asheshe master" "asheshe is a condition where u put on so many "nika" shorts under your sch uniform" so u will nt feel the cain on your buttocks.
    So on one faithful friday afternoon, The JSS 3 class was prepaid for lashes. We are getting the lashes from our previous test in social studies from master kofi.
    If you get one wrong, 2 canes. So I got 11 wrongs out of 40 ques., which is 11x2= 22 canes
    I was already prepaid for my canes cos tht morning, I had 4 nika shorts: a misture of khaki and obroni w'awu jeans under my uniform. It was a bit had to detect cos i was really tinny at the time and my uniform is "pamsen" ( those tht u dont get measured but they just sew it like tht so then is big on u)
    Master Kofi walked in with our test results, if he calls your name thn u go forward , calculate hw many canes you recieve, get lashed n cry. People had 0/40 so u can imagine and they all got cain. So finnally, it was Honourable's turn. I was called "honourable" in JSS
    I go forward. I stand there like a soldier, master kofi says hold your dress, by this time everyone was cheering "honourable"
    Then master Kofi stop, he asked " wo ara jama w'asheshe? ( are you wearing stuff under your uniform?) I say " master Kofi D'abi" ( No)
    He holds my uniform and feels it. Then he said " Ko na ko yi" ( go n remove them) Charley by this time I am sweating and feeling the heat. I continued to say I have nothing under. He stops goes to his office and comes back with more canes and two other female teachers. He made them took me to the washroom for inspection. They made me take all the "nika's" out.
    Hmm, tht day, master kofi lashed me basabasa. I swear tht My buttocks was swollen. I could nt sit down for about 2 weeks. lol

  9. Esi, I also have a spelling bee story.

    In JSS 3, my school was competing against another school (I forget which now)on this Spelling Bee thing (it was on the radio, I can't remember exactly what it was called). We were way ahead of the competition and we were on the final round.

    As the team leader, I went first. The word was contemptuous. I missed the p. After that others in my group missed their words and we lost. Till today, I still feel guilty that we lost. I think by missing my word, my team lost its confidence and we couldn't recover.

  10. I rarely got caned in primary school on account of being too engrossed in storybooks to cook up lash-able mischief. But for three terrifying weeks in Class 5S I endured the diabolic reign of one Mr. Atta, who was temporarily replacing our regular teacher, Mrs. Amarteyfio, while she was on sick leave. The man had no end of twisted schemes to pull out his cane.
    One particularly memorable one involved lashes for “careless mistakes” on math problems. His theory was that if you got say 2/10 it meant you didn’t understand the lesson and it was his job to spend time with you explaining it again. However if you got 9/10, it meant you understood the concept but were careless about doing your work and so needed some incentive to pay more attention: you would get a stroke for every one you got right! Can you imagine?!!
    The tactic was extremely effective in modifying my behavior. You have to understand, I pretty much breezed through primary school with little to no effort. Schoolwork, especially math, was merely an annoyance to be quickly dispensed with in order to maximize storybook time! I got a lot of 9/10s because I wouldn’t bother to look over my work. During Mr. Atta’s reign of terror I got 10/10s on all but one problem set halfway into his third and last week!
    Words cannot begin to express my terror when he read it out (Everyone had their marks called out to the class as their work was handed back). I was SURE there had been some mistake but, alas, it turned out I was truly wrong. I’m going to leave the actual lashing from the story because this is already rather long, and the aftermath is much more humorous (in retrospect). Picture an 8 year old boy bawling like a baby while his classmates sing “Earthkwaque, little boy, don’t cry…” You know that lullaby? It wasn’t pretty.

  11. Ei, whoever anonymous is that remembers "First Come Second Come" is definitely a mate of mine from Morning Star, because I remember that incident like it was yesterday also! And I am 99.9% sure that the tragic mistake was made by a boy, so please check your memory! I think it might have even been someone from my own class...

  12. Hi AB-P. Yup, we probably were mates at the ol'MSS. Fancy meeting up through comments on a blog! Anyways, it was definitely a girl that said it. Her name was Eunice......i even remember her last name but i won't put her on blast like that :)

  13. ROTFLMAO. the peice and the comments are too funny. nothing comes to mind, i was pretty much a teacher's pet (sad to say cos now i have no funny stories to tell) but i really enjoyed reading this esp. earthkwake and broke african whose comments are longer than your blog, Esi. LOL

  14. Oh my. My worst JSS story is making 12% on my math final exam. When I got the result, I was seriously shaken. I had spent the whole semester hanging with the popular girls, mingling with the boys, and now ... my eyes were suddenly open. 12%? What would I tell my parents? How would I live? was my life about to end?

    Then I had what I thought was a brilliant idea: I would use the red pen to change the 1 in the 12 to a 4, making it 42. After all I wasnt greedy. I wasnt even trying to make it 92, just 42, still near fail, but at least I could then show the front page of my exam to my friends who kept asking what I made.

    But there is no end to greed. I saw people going to the math professor, claiming that the professor mistakenly marked them wrong for some answers. The professor was an old man (Mr. annan Morning Star) so I thought I would also try. Since I had already changed the marks with my red pen, I thought I would fold the top of the paper and just flash the paper and get him to add some marks. I was a little con artist!!But Lo and behold, my scheme didnt work and I got caught!!I had to answer to the teacher and to my parents when they found out I was 44th in a class of 45.

    Lets just say, after that incident, I found out that it was much easier to actually study and do well in class than make up a string of lies to cover a bad mark. Oh thank God for teaching me the right thing early in life!!! :))