Wednesday 1 June 2016

A guest blog - Splinter in my foot

By an Anonymous Friend

Today I got a splinter in my foot.  I kept gardening, ignored the little jolt of annoyance and altered how I walked instead. Having  put the kid's clothes away and made dinner, I then went out to carry on gardening.  Splinters and I have a very special relationship whenever I get one, it seems too small to be bothered by.

I tried to ignore it, wipe it off, but this splinter won. I stopped and dug it out. It irritated me the ‘instant’ relief that I felt. How could something so small affect the entire body. Splinters remind me I have processing to do. For me ignoring and storing tensions in my body because of painful memories is a very practical problem. It affects not only how I think, but how I physically  move my body and am able to cope with life.

 If you haven't noticed already, I'm waffling.  As I write now I'm not sure I can process this next set of memories.I want to put them into words. Words to the experience seem a cheap option. As a veteran memory blogger I know that this probably means that it is important to try.

So here goes: Boarding school (school life).

This is my third attempt to write about the subject. I find it incredible that it can still make such an impact (splinters, splinters, and more splinters).  My brain  and body moves rapidly  between different ages. I try to clasp at some point of reference to write about.   

What was robbed from not just me, but those around me in the three years that I and they were there seems beyond meaning. I suppose, if I was to put it in a nut shell, boarding school for me was the place my behaviors and I were broken. 

I once heard of an experiment were they put a rat in a wire box cage. They  gave it electric shocks though the cage. At first the rat is able to do something to stop the shocks by pressing a lever in the cage. Then they take the lever away. The rat is periodically shocked with out rhythm or predictability over a long period of time. At first the rat fights back and runs around trying to escape or find a physical position which would stop the pain of the shocks but in the end the rat gives up. It can't find anywhere to escape.  The door to its cage can then be left open.  The rat won't even move to escape and hope has gone, any thought of rescuing itself  have gone and the rat endures and lay motionless.

At our African boarding school they used stress positions to achieve this same effect with us. The school could brag that they did not beat their pupils. I can't, and probably never will, decide what was more painful. Being put in a stress position for an unspecified amount of time and enduring the burning fire that would rage through your muscles; or being made to watch someone else go through the same experience, mirroring their pain but being unable to save or help them, being unable to predict how long it would go on for.

I'd heard a story of modern terrorism. In order to put fear into a village, militants would take a few people and torture them in a horrific visual way.  Then they would kill them and dump their bodies in the middle of the village.  All the village could see what had happened to those who had been taken. When the soldiers arrived to ‘take’ the village  it would just give itself over without a fight because of the fear that had been induced. What the village saw created such fear the minds of the village were broken before the militants arrived, that is brokenness.

We had every minute of every day ruled by fear.  Our food, our sleep and our bodies, nothing was off limits. After a few months of stress positioning I broke and 'they' felt they had achieved 'their' goal. On top of performing the stress positions I became compliant and would run until they let us stop. I would stand in line until they said move, sit with my back straight and stand with my eyes facing straight ahead. I, like the others, would move to complete what ever task we were given with the efficiency of a well drilled soldier.

Totally hopeless and broken, no one was going to help and I could not help myself, we even broke the thought of being able to help each other. Life became a personal mission of survival.  My parents kept taking me back every Monday morning at 6am and pick me up every Friday at 1:30pm. Being a weekly boarder I had to try and keep switching  between two opposing worlds; two totally different sets of rules. In the end I withdrew and detached myself from either world. This personal isolation and lack of trust or help from anyone only added to the hopeless,and confusion.

I also didn't understand because other families' children on our farm went to a local school. I Couldn't get my head around the fact that my mum would travel to my school on a Monday (to drop us off) and a Wednesday (my mum would come to my school and teach RE). Friday (to pick us up) and  Saturday the we would watch sport in my older sisters boarding school down the road (and pick her up). Sunday we travelled back to my school had church in the school hall. Why couldn't my mum let me be a day scholar it would only mean making two extra trips on Tuesday and Thursday?

Wednesday's were particularly were challenging for me. I could hear my mum's voice down the corridor as she teaches RE, and could see our car in the car park and yet was totally unable to make any contact. It made me very angry.

So what really happened?

Apparently to everyone else I was making wonderful progress and the 'new' way of controlling my behaviors was working well. For me it was like living in a slow painful descent into death.

In the end I did not say when:

- I fell over the banisters down a two story stairwell. I only got found out when I fainted later in the day.

-  I did not tell any one when in sick bay I had ants attack my soiled pants, I just got up washed them out, put them back on and got back in bed with the ants.

- I did not say when the matrons made me stand in the kitchen freezer room and threaten to lock my in by playing with the door.

-  I did not say when I had not had enough to eat because the prefects did not like me and the head of table handed out small portions to me. There were periods over those three years where I would walk around the day scholars begging them to share their sandwiches and crisps. Sometimes at night I would eat my toothpaste.

-  It didn't even cross my mind to complain about anything or tell anyone if I was ill.

- I once had a very bad case of conjunctivitis. Every morning I would make my bed perfectly with my eyes crusted together. Later in the  bathroom I ripped the gunk out of my eye lashes not worried about my eyes but worried about it putting me behind schedule.

Any part of my world that allowed for any expression of individualism gradually became deeply deeply hidden. I secretly hid biscuits from home and sneaked them in,  stole matches and lit rolled up pieces of newspaper behind the out door school toilets. I used to keep a handkerchief  hidden in my sheets and I would suck my thumb at night whilst stroking my nose with it (tracing a specific pattern over and over again). Sometimes I would get my hands on a bit of chewing gum, I would guard it preciously by sticking it in the top of my mouth for most of the week.

I soon realised that the part of the school I inhabited was seen and treated very differently to the majority of the school. (I'm sorry I have not explained earlier the school run on two systems. Red stream: those pupils considered academic and green stream: those who were considered unteachable). Those of us in green streamwere by all accounts the lowest of the stupid and the most unruly of the unruly (and we knew it). Everyone else had the power to make our lives miserable, be it through condescending attitude or power like the matron's teacher prefects.

There are other things I would like to mention as I'm not sure I will ever blog about this part of life ever again are these;

- The hospital that sat adjacent to the school on a Thursday evening would burn all its human contaminated waste, the smell was sickly and deathly (hated it). At that time (in African news stories) it was in vogue to put tyres round people's head full of petrol and set them alight. It would be reported and I always got scared of those images mixing with that smell.

Then there were the stories our dorm prefect would tell us to scare us at night.

- Stories of ghosts and babies being flushed down toilets to die and getting stuck in the pipes.

- Of prisoners who had their faces slashed and then were hung upside down with bags of rats tied over their heads.

-      Poor unfortunates who were wrapped in barbed wire and then force fed water through a hose pipe being pushed into they stomachs until they drowned. 

Zimbabwe as a country was fairly young into its independence and I'm sure some of these stories were made up but at the time I believed them all to be true because of the general evidence around me.

Then as I mentioned before there was the horrendous experience of watching other people being ‘broken’ through punishment.

- Winnie who had an incredible fear of heights but was made climb on top of the dormitory cupboard and sing nursery rhymes. 

- Gwen who would wet her bed every night and always smelt of stale urine having to endure matrons calling her dirty and filthy on a daily basis. Tears would silently run down her face even as she heard their footsteps outside.

-     Irene whose two front teeth were literally rotting in her face and who be ridiculed for her bad breath and ugly face.

-    Those who were forced to sit in cupboards with the doors shut.

-    Others would be tied to their beds at night by the prefects (sometimes by their hair so that in the morning they would be watched struggling to part hair from string and laughed at).

- Of the fear of anyone finding out it was your birthday which meant you could be carried and  held in a bath of cold water and your bed ‘Apple pied’.

- Of those that were made to stand on ant's nest and not be allowed to move to flick the creatures off until there was enough for the prefects to laugh at there dancing.

- Of all the times pupils were humiliated by being made to eat alone at piggie's table in the centre of the dinning hall for just dropping some sauce on the table cloth.

- Of all the times we were made to kneel in front of the prefects beds balancing bibles on our up turned hands until your whole bodies would scream with stiffness.

- Of all of those who survived all the above without showing anything or  saying anything but who apparently had done 'very well’.

Wherever you are, I want you to know you were seen! I saw you and it was not right! You are not stupid or born bad!

I wish I could have stopped it!

I wish I could have stuck up for you and made difference!

 All these years I have carried you in my stomach. Every time I see anyone dis empowered, or bullied, I remember you all. I have not forgotten. I will never forget that humans can actually enjoy humiliating other humans with no compassion or empathy, and even enjoy the power it gives them. I hope that someway you have managed to break free from the label we were all given. That you have had the the chance to get free of 'boarding school'. Peace be on us all.

So there I did it! I survived boarding school from 9-11.5yrs.  At 11.5I got sent back to England to live with my grandma, after completing an intensive training course in 'morphagraphs' so I would reach England able to read and write.

Thank you for reading and for letting my young me be heard.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing! You are incredibly brave to do that and I can only hope and pray this will bring you some healing!