Sunday, March 3, 2013

Night time study and surfing electromagnetic waves

Night time study usually began at 8 p.m., after dinner and lasted until 10 p.m. The school regulator (usually a form three or four student) would ring the bell to signify the start of prep time. Any junior student found wandering about after that risked being punished. I had great difficulty sitting down in the classroom and concentrating on my studies for the prescribed two hours, unless I was reading a novel. There was also the likelihood that prefects and other senior students would be going round the classrooms to pick out offenders with outstanding punishments for further punishment, and I was often one of those. So as people headed to the classrooms for study at night, Isidore, Barry and I would gravitate to the tennis court, with Barry's pocket radio in hand. There we would sit around the umpire's stand listening to music and news from far and near radio stations. These included the local Anambra Broadcasting Service, if they played music, Radio Nigeria Kaduna on short wave, then BBC, Radio Moscow (which often played a Russian version of jazz). Then there was Radio Santa Isabella, from Fernando Po (which we called Veranda Po in those days) Equatorial Guinea, which played a lot of salsa and Congolese rumba by the likes of Franco and TP OK Jazz band and African Fiesta. It was like surfing around the world on electromagnetic waves. We would take turns tuning. My basic technique was to push the knob around until I came across a stromg signal. Then I would stop and retrace my steps slowly, halting once the signal was clear, and then inching slowly forward and backward on the knob until I got the best possible signals. But Isidore's skills on that knob were unmatched. He would find the faintest signals and tune, manipulating the antaena in turn, pointing in different directions for improved signals until they came alive.

Those were the days we tuned blindly. Over time we came to understand what radio stations meant when they said they were on a certain meter band kilo hertz or mega hertz in the medium or short wave band. Then we could tune with even more precision guided by those numbers. We would sit there listening to music or news while watchful for prefects or teachers going round on inspection to make sure all students were in the class and studying. We would melt away further into the darkness if we found anyone of them approaching. The bell would ring at 10 p.m. for night prayers and afterward the lights out bell would go off at 11 p.m. We carried on mostly in this fashion until we became senior students by late form four (when form five students became engrossed in their school certificate exams and ceded power), and we now became free to do as we liked, save for when we avoided the censure of teachers.

My first published article was titled: The Functions of a Sanitation Prefect. It was published in the school magazine, a stenciled collection of 16 pages of articles and cartoons by students and speeches by teachers circulated within the school community. It was prompted by the unhygenic state of the school kitchen that became apparent after a student found a cockroach's wing in his soup one day and another found the snuff box of the chief cook in his another day. It had been the tradition in the school that the Sanitation Prefect would oversee the picking of liter, the washing of the bathrooms and the toilets without bothering about the state of affairs in the kitchen. I was arguing in this article that the job should extend to ensuring that the food the students ate was prepared hygenically. While many who read it thought I made a valid point, some others were asking me why I was criticizing the Sanitation Prefect, Stephen Okpalugo. I was taken aback because I wasn't thinking specifically of the person occupying the post but strictly about expanding the job description. Fortunately, Okpalugo, though a year my senior, was also my friend and didn't see anything wrong with my piece.

In form four we chose the subjects we would offer in the school certificate exams, a maximum of nine and a minimum of six. I was inclined to the arts and social sciences but had to contend for a while  without a teacher in literature in English. Fortunately, by our second term we got a youth corper named Jacob Lanre Dada, who had majored in linguistics at the University of Ibadan.

Dada was young, had a charming diction and a booming, sonorous voice and inspired the 10 or so of us who offered literature. He also became the patron of our debating society, taking us to competitions at female schools where the occasions ended with dancing, dancing, dancing and the exchange of names and addresses with the girls.