Sakeji - Sweet Memories

The rain is pounding on the aluminum roof of the dorm where there is no ceiling. Drips on my neck wake me up and I join the crowd that's moving beds to find a spot with no drip. It means I can move close to my friend and whisper and laugh without fear of being caught. Anyone without a drip feels cheated.

We are on the plains above the school, collecting dung for fertilizing the garden. But we throw the dry cakes at each other in a special kind of tag. Small anthills are the safe havens. Lots of laughter.

We are tested each term for ankie (hookworm) and many of us have it. For treatment, we are woken early on a weekend morning, given medicine and sent to the plains to play while we wait for the medicine to work - to flush the ankie out of our systems. A change in routine - what fun!

Saturday nights we gather in Hess's living room and see films. One of our favourites is the Ankie Film, a cartoon to educate us about hookworm - how we get it, how to prevent it.

Are my memories more delicious than the real fruit? The rich pink seeds and flesh inside the soft, yellow guavas; mangoes dripping with sweet juice that runs down our chins, arms and clothes; red shindwas with their white flesh speckled with black seeds; and the violent-purple berry we call 'riotous living' that hangs in bunches out over the river. It's impossible to hide the fact we've eaten these berries - our fingers, lips and mouths are stained purple. Then there are mabulas, tigers, tree apples, mulberries and more.

Imagine a child with a strange shape. She looks normal and healthy until you see her protruding hips and strange gait. She thinks she can hide her wealth of guavas from the teachers who sit surveying the playground. But she is having trouble. The guavas are stashed in her panties and the weight is pulling them down. She tries to hold them up with her elbows as she dashes for the dorm some distance across the playground. Arriving safely, she puts them under her pillow for a midnight feast.

Shindwas are remembered for their gathering as much as their taste. To find shindwas we go, on a Sunday evening, in the open lorry, hanging on to the bars that form the grid for a cover, jostling each other and singing lustily the choruses and hymns we like best. We stop at the shindwa patch - child-high stems topped with broad leaves - and run, eagerly hunting for the little red tips sticking from the earth, digging them up and breaking the hard outer shell to eat the white flesh inside.

Every afternoon we have prayers. Even though it's called prayers, it's a singing and story time. I love prayers when it's held outside and we can sit on the grass. I spend the time digging for grass seeds - actually small tubers - and eating them, not caring how sandy they are.

The choruses we sing will stay with me all my life. Many years later, my sister and I will sing them in the car as we travel to visit our parents. We will be surprised by how readily the words and tunes return to our minds and how much we still enjoy singing them.

I love to climb the rafters of the shelter by the river. It's a thatched structure supported by ten or so pillars with a low wall running all around that doubles as a bench. Girls are not allowed to wear slacks so I tear the skirts off many dresses as I climb and swing on the rafters.

Mr. Hess, the head master, teaches the older classes a few subjects. I remember learning math and taking science and current affairs from him. I use a chart to count the number of times he says, "How many see?", "How many understand?", "How many are foggy?" or "How many are completely in the dark?" The winner is always "How many see?"

In addition to fearing him, I love Mr. Hess when he plays with us, teases us, jokes with us. I go for extra math help in the evenings just because he's fun.

My feet are tough from running barefoot. I like to walk, snickering, behind kids fresh from overseas who tread so gingerly and place their toes so selectively on the gravel road. I was like them, once.

These, then, are sweet memories of my Sakeji days.

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Copyright© 2002 Martha Greenhow
Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada