School terrified me. Every afternoon after enduring the trauma of pre-school I would cast aside my favourite possession, a brown rectangular suitcase type of bag that I am sure was constructed from cardboard, and fling myself onto the ground of my grandparent’s driveway. My grandmother would soothe away the hysterics, never once eluding to fact that I was being rather dramatic, and I would clutch at her and beg to never be sent back between sobs. In the mind of a four-and-a-half-year-old, school was a form of punishment I could not understand.
First, the “skills” that my sister taught me (how to spell the words “yes” and “no”) failed to capture an attentive audience as she had promised, those words found no purchase with the bunch of savages I encountered on my first day. I thought I was as savage as they come; I’d bite my way through frustration and I didn’t hesitate to throw some punches to win an argument but I, at the very least, saved that kind of behaviour for my family because they were forced to love me anyway. These kids were running around making me feel like I spoke the queen’s English and that I only took my tea with an extended pinkie. Second, I had to put up with the chubby cheeked girl who sprouted a series of thick octopus like plaits that would have otherwise fascinated me had I not been appalled by her preoccupation with unearthing ungodly things from her nose. She’d always have this knowing smile on her face with her finger shoved deep into her nose, she’d look me dead in the eye, confident that she had discovered some mystery to life that I was not yet privy to. I should have found refuge in her offered friendship (with an unwanted, generous side of boggers), my other choices for friendship came in the form of a boy whose claim to fame included finding a snail in the sandpit and stuffing chalk into a toy gun that never quite lived up to it’s potential to maim. But I guess, the worst punishment of all came in the form of my teacher. She was my mother’s close friend, a woman that I had grown to love before the thought of school troubled my young mind. She was a warm, loving woman who would greet me with generous hugs and wrap my birthday presents in paper so pretty I’d save them long after I had destroyed the gift it contained. Trouble was, when I saw her at school, all of this seemed to change. She now had to divide her attention, she no longer offered hugs in greeting and in the most unforgivable way, she liked the octopus-plait-blogger-avenging girl. My loyalty was irrevocably severed when she failed to notice my new dress (with matching handbag) that I had donned especially in search of her praise.
It would take me six months to adjust, during which time I would unsuccessfully devise ways to try and contract measles, the flu or any other sort of illness that seemed to be fashionable amongst the “lucky” children who would be allowed time off their sentence. It would take me six months before I started to like school or to forgive my teacher, my grandparents, my mother and my sister for inflicting such torture on me. It would take less than that time for Bongi, my absolute best friend in the world who also was my granny’s domestic worker, to share with me the illicit delights of making a quick pit stop to the aunty who sold mango pickle in clear plastic packets that I would buy and consume on our walks home from school. Somehow, during that magical crossover of the six-month mark, I started to have fun at school and truth be told, I think I carried that with me until I left school twelve years later with a head filled equally with arrogance and curiosity.
I think about that now, about the journey of those twelve years of schooling and I can’t help but remember all the things I’d learn and unlearn in school. I’d learn that I had a voice, one that I was proud of, but one that would require a degree of tact I would only acquire later in life. I’d learned that I loved to write but I also unlearned to follow my passion for it because it wouldn’t pay the bills. I learned that even the deepest, most meaningful friendships aren’t always forever. I’d learn to love books that opened doors to my imagination and shaped my thinking. I’d learn and unlearn how to love boys who were not kind and who were no good for me. I wouldn’t learn who I was, I’m probably still learning that. School was a happy, safe place for me and even though I didn’t know it then, I was really lucky to have that. I was lucky that I was able to excel academically, because such a great emphasis was placed on this, even though some of the smartest minds I knew weren’t even acknowledged in the same way. I was lucky to have incredible teachers who motivated me, who shaped my desire for learning and who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. I cannot do them justice here and in writing this I realise that perhaps they need a blog dedicated to them alone. I was lucky to have the opportunity to learn and to be rewarded for that learning, it is perhaps what has turned me into an eternal student and what has allowed me to catapult myself the unknown time and time again, telling myself that if I don’t succeed, at least I learn something. I was lucky to learn that learning never ends, that school is just “the end of the beginning”.