Let’s talk about a hall.
One of the most important buildings in FGC Idoani.
This building is a major part of the life experiences in FGC Idoani.
It is the dining hall. Maybe it should have been called the multipurpose hall. This ‘dining hall’ was everything.
It was the dining hall, the chapel, the social nights venue, the venue for speech & prize giving day,….
Our weekly menu consisted of meals like rice & stew, rice+beans & stew, jollof rice, eba and egusi, bread & boiled egg & beverage, beans & garri, beans & pap, eko & efo, yam pottage…
For the most part of my time in Idoani, the food master was Mr. Kolawole. Unforgettable. With his big eyes, big stature, big voice and cane-in-the-hand, he was the statue of discipline for students in the dining hall.
There were also the cooks. The names I can remember include Old Soldier, Iya Arogundade,… The kitchen was outdoor and had two parts. The first part was where the men worked mostly, turning the massive eba (or yam pottage as the case may be) in big pots, sweating in the heat, and calling out to themselves for one thing or the other in the midst of the activities. The walls of this first part was darkened with smoke from the cooking furnaces…and its fences were half-height. The second part was where the women worked mostly, from young to middle-aged to elderly women, making the stew/soups, washing the utensils, washing the meat and fish, and even dishing out the stew/soup into small pots from which the students would serve themselves.
Usually too, one would see one cow per time, tied somewhere around the kitchen with vultures flying above the area in readiness for the feast. The cow was meant to supple the meat for our meals.
Our mealtimes were usually roughly 7am, 2am and 6:30pm per day, except on weekends when the breakfast times may be later than 7am.
At mealtimes, the ‘gong’ would be beaten by a junior who had been sent to do the job, and the entire school would reverberate with the ‘gbaun…gbaun!!’ tones from the gong. It was a very effective means of communication and rallying.
Students would start trooping to the hall. From wherever you are…hostel, inside the bush, borehole, class, gate, school farm, staff quarters…from anywhere…especially when you already had what you needed in your bag. Plate and spoon. A spoon may not even be necessary.
Mr. Kolawole would be at the entrance of the dining hall, with his cane, meaning ‘run down to the hall..and don’t waste my time’. In the hall, we are all expected to sit in a specified number per table, sometimes 7, 8, 9, 10 or even 12…depending on how many people is envisaged would be coming for the meal.
On each table, there would be the pot(s) of food and the serving spoon, and there is a bench on either side of the table with students sitting face to face. As you file to sit at a table, the person who succeeds in grabbing the serving spoon is the automatic leader of the table; that person determined your fate for that meal. That’s the time you will discover that wickedness is real.
There is something we called ‘dazzling’. It means serving the food to favour yourself and your cronies while cheating others so clearly. And there were different grades of dazzling and dazzlers. You go fear!
As we filed into the hall, you’ll find yourself praying not to fall on the table where the server is a dazzler, a bully or someone you had dazzled before.
So much malice came from that dazzling thing. Some would even settle the scores outside the hall, or as a matter of strategic revenge with the serving spoon.
Towards the end of the term, when students would have a lot of soaps yet unused (and other toiletries)…that’s when you would see some of us carrying out sharp deals with the male cooks especially..which entailed exchanging these soaps and toiletries for food directly from the kitchen. We called these ‘runs’.
There was a culture we had…we called it ‘massacre’. On the last day of the term when we would go on vacation, the day was usually Thursday..and the breakfast was usually loaves of bread and boiled eggs. That morning was the traditional massacre morning…and massacre meant that as soon as the prayer was said, everyone would take a rush at the loaves and the eggs. There would be no fair distribution. Just grab what you can grab. Some would grab nothing. Some only bread. Others only eggs. A few both. Then there would be exchanges after.
Apart from food in the dining hall during mealtimes, there was something else that used to take place from time to time.
We usually had labour times. When we would be given portions of grass to cut. It was a school activity and every student was expected to participate. But some of us still managed to ‘stab’ (be absent). List of names would be written for those who were present for the labour. These prefects knew the avenue and timing to catch and deal with those who didn’t come for labour.
It was usually the mealtimes. Especially a mealtime that most students can’t afford to miss. Like Wednesday evening’s rice and beans or Sunday afternoon rice.
As we would still be eating, the prefects will already shouting ‘All of you should wait behind!!’. Then..the threats would begin.
“If you know you didn’t come for labour, step out now before we use the list.”
People like me used to be afraid o. That’s why I would most likely have gone for the labour. I was very fearful of being flogged.
When the list was used…those who were absent would be separated and flogged with belt.
What used to piss me off then was how excited the prefects usually were to flog. I guess they even tried to outshine themselves in the art of flogging.
When we were in SS3, writing our O’level exams, our mealtimes were different from the general mealtimes. We would line up to collect our foods. In order to be able to collect food several times, my friends and I would disguise. We would go to the hall with a bucket where we could be emptying the several plates of food, usually rice, while somebody stands with the bucket. It was fun. Afterwards, we would take the bucket of food to the hostel and devour it amongst ourselves.
There is so much to remember. So many stories to tell…that even the teller would be overwhelmed with telling them…as I am feeling right now.