WHY THE VICE PRINCIPAL SLAPPED ME (updated)
By Tikum Mbah Azonga
Throughout my five years at (Sacred Heart College, Mankon-Bamenda) Saheco, our Vice Principal was the Rev. Brother Norbert, just like the Principal was the Rev. Brother John Phillips.
A MODEL OF A MAN
Brother Norbert was in many ways, a man in a class of his own. He was hard working, indefatigable and always present. He was a totally committed sports master. He himself loved sports and played football well. However, sometimes he served as referee. I used to feel sorry for him because he was bald and whenever he headed the ball, I feared he might get hurt. Even so, he never showed any signs of pain.
THE SCALES OF JUSTICE
Brother Norbert had a strong sense of justice. Once the First Eleven of St. Bede`s College were playing against our school on our own football pitch. The referee was the very sarcastic Brother Joseph whom we students named “Whiteman Njoh”. I do not know why. During the march, Brother Joseph was openly biased against the visiting team to the extent that unable to hold it any longer, Brother Norbert cried out “Referee!” On another occasion, we were sitting in a classroom with Brother Norbert when Brother Joseph sent a student to come and collect a chair. Brother Norbert replied that all the chairs were being used. Despite that response, Brother Joseph sent the boy back to collect the chair. Brother Norbert got angry and shouted: “Tell Joseph, Norbert says, No!”
THEFT IN THE DORMITORY
Brother Norbert was a man full of sympathy. When we were in Form Two and I moved up to my main House dormitory, St John`s, a theft occurred in the dormitory one night while we were in class for private studies. As it turned out, the thieves robbed a number of dormitories and deemed it necessary to use my suitcase which was in the dormitory, to pack away their booty. The matter was reported to the police at Bamenda up-station and the principal and Brother Douglas (whom Lourdes students had nicknamed `Brother Handsome` because he was really handsome) drove us the victims in one of the two Beetle Volkswagens the school owned, to and from the Police Station. It turned out that the ring leader was a drop-out student from our very school. After that tragedy, Brother Norbert in his kindness told my family that he would buy me a new suitcase. In the end he did not and my family did not. Instead of pressing him, the family decided to get me at their own expense. We did not take it out on Brother Norbert because we all knew he was a good man.
CONFRONTATION WITH A STUDENT
Brother Norbert was very forgiving. He once had a problem with a senior student called Charles Ntah. Charles was in Form 4 when we entered Form One. I do not remember exactly what happened but there was some confrontation between the two and in his anger, Charles reportedly grabbed Brother Norbert and lifted him off the ground, apparently with the intention of throwing him down. Brother Norbert is said to have screamed, “Charles Ntah, put me down! Charles Ntah, put me down!” From what I remember, after that incident, Brother Norbert quickly forgave Charles and forgot what happened.
Brother Norbert used to walk very fast, with arched hands. Perhaps that was why the senior students nicknamed him, “Stocks”. One person who used that name often when referring to Brother Norbert was Ben Natang Jua who was in Form 5 when we were in Form 1.
FILMS THAT KEPT ME GOING
One Saturday night the whole school was in the auditorium being entertained to a film. I believe it was either Les Tanks Arrivent or Les Titans. These were the two films that were screened more times than any other during our five-year stay at Sacred Heart College. Brother Norbert was the staff member in charge of student entertainment. When it came to film shows, his all-time able assistant was Emmanuel Moma Kisob who was a year ahead of us. One day trouble broke out between Kisob and Brother Norbert. When we were treated to a film show in the school auditorium, the film was screened from a projector placed in the middle of the hall and facing the front where there was a giant white screen that had been put in place for the purpose. The film of that day came in two reels. Unfortunately, Kisob screened the second reel before realizing that it was the second and not the first. When Brother Norbert realized that, he screamed at Kisob to the effect that he had shown us the film “inside out and upside down!”The poor boy! How I felt sorry for him! Even so, Saturdays on which we were treated to film shows were the most entertaining for me at the school. I loved them and always looked forward to them.
THE DAY BROTHER NORBERT TURNED AGAINST ME
It was another Saturday night and another film show was announced in the refectory for the whole school by the Senior Prefect, Joseph Tamankag (of blessed memory today). We were then in Form five, at a time when our school did not have a High School (the Lower and Upper 6th). The announcement was made while we had supper. That meant that as soon as the meal was over, students had to rush to their dormitories, leave their cutlery there and take their classroom chairs to the auditorium for the film show.
As usual, the Form Fives were the ones who sat furthest to the back of the auditorium, up in the balcony. I was sitting with classmates Paul Njofang, Charles Bongjoh, Michael Tandiba, Emmanuel Ngwa and Donatus Boma. Brother Norbert came into the hall, torch in hand. After surveying the hall and apparently satisfied that all was well, he sat on the floor slab. Although we were all taken aback, we were not surprised seeing this coming from none other that Brother Norbert. He was that kind of man who could improvise at any time and sit anywhere, as long as it was convenient to him.
Even so, we agreed that it was not fair for our Vice Principal to sit on the bare floor while we sat comfortably on chairs. We decided unanimously that we should offer him a seat. The question now was who of us was going to do it. Who was going to offer his seat to the Vice Principal, and then watch the film standing? Yet, no one was willing to be the sacrificial lamb.
All of a sudden, I rose, grabbed my chair and after calling my classmates “cowards”, I walked forward from the back to where Brother Norbert was sitting. When he saw me coming, he motioned with the light of his torch the way the forces of order do in Cameroon at night when they want to stop a commercial driver in order to extort money from him. Not understanding what the Vice Principal meant, I continued towards him like the Good Samaritan, eager to give him my seat. There upon, he walked quickly towards me and slapped me on the right cheek and barked: “Carry that chair back to where it was!” Astounded and at a loss, I obeyed. When I rejoined my classmates, they all burst out laughing at me.
I said nothing. Nonetheless, after the film show, I boldly walked up to Brother Norbert and told him in no uncertain terms: “Please, Brother, I was bringing the chair to you since you were sitting on the floor. I don`t know why you slapped me”.
“I`m sorry, Robert”, he said apologetically. I didn`t know that. I thought you were leaving the hall.”
“No, Brother. I wasn`t”
“Okay. I apologize. Is that okay?”
When the Vice Principal left the hall, my classmates rushed to me with a thousand and one questions:”What was he saying to you? What did he say?”
Still hurt at how they had “betrayed” and humiliated me, I said categorically: “I`m not telling you!” Thereupon I left the auditorium and willfully abandoned them there. I “dumped” them the way we used to dump Our Lady of Lourdes girl friends with whom we had fallen out.
LOURDES GIRLS AND US
Our Lady of Lourdes College (OLLC) was the girls` equivalent of our school which Catholic missionaries opened in the same town of Mankon, but in a different part. Because of that shared tradition, the two schools and their students had a lot of affinities with each other. It was very fashionable for a boy at Sacred Heart College to have a “girl friend” at Our Lady of Lourdes College and vice versa. I put it that way because looking back now; I realize that such relationships were more or less platonic in nature. We did not necessarily go to the extent of having sexual intercourse with each other. What mattered most was relating to each other, writing to each other and hanging out with each other when we had outings.
The main carriers of such letters between the two institutions were our college principal, the Rev. Brother John Phillips and the baker and supplier of bread for breakfast in the two schools whose bakery was located in the Ntarinkon quarter of the town, along the road that led to our school. The name of the bakery was “Boulangerie (which is the French word for bakery) R. Meriau”. We had bread for breakfast, but not on all days of the week. Sometimes we had pancakes and at other times we had some rounded and twisted pastries which we commonly referred to as “gateaux” (the French for cakes), although strictly speaking, they were not cakes. One of the two (I can`t remember which) was delivered by Mami Labule, whose son, Joe Labule was in Form 5 when I entered Form 1. Many years later when the Lake Nyos in Menchum Division (Cameroon) exploded and I was the Francophone (including Cameroon) editor at the London-based WEST AFRICA magazine which was distributed worldwide, Mishe (a title we Sacred Heart College Ex-students use to call each other) Labule called me from the USA where he was based, very concerned to have details about the incident. He was a native of Menchum Division. Mishe Labule`s classmates had a nickname for him. It was a deformed French version of his name “Labule” which they now called “La Bulle”. However, I am sure that deformation came from the principal who was also the school`s senior French teacher because he was the one who prepared final year students (Form 5 since at the time the institution did not have a High School section, unlike today) for the GCE exam. “La Bulle” is a small quantity of air, gas or vapour which assumes a spherical form in liquid or in matter that is in fusion such as glass or metal or is solidified. That was the new meaning Bro. John Phillips gave to Mishe Labule`s name.
Our principal went out of his way to facilitate our reception of letters from Lourdes. He once told us during school assembly in front of the main building that whenever he drove to Lourdes to see the Rev. Sisters who ran the school and parked his car in the yard, by the time he returned to it to drive back to our school, it was full of letters Lourdes girls had dropped in it for him to deliver to us back at school. He did not have to do it. But he did it. I have reason to believe that he liked doing it for us because he knew that it kept us happy. He was a principal who understood us very well. Once when he was ill and was admitted at the Catholic Mission Hospital in Shisong-Nso and the Vice Principal, The Rev. Brother Norbert was in charge of running the school, we missed him so much that we were walking about like orphaned ghosts. I remember that one day when a group of classmates in Form 5 including me were discussing the extraordinary skills of Brother John Phillips as a principal, one of my classmates, Dr. (medical) Charles Awasom described him as “a born administrator” and we all agreed with him.
When we were in Form 2, the principal arranged for Form 5 girls at Lourdes to visit the Form 5 boys of our school. This was one of the rare moments when we who were in an all-boys school could see a large number of girls at the same time on our campus. I remember that the Senior Prefect who headed the delegation from Lourdes was Sister (whereas we say Mishe, they say Sister) Florence Ndikum who is today Dr. Mrs Florence Tumasang. I remember her very well because we both grew up at the Agric Farm (today IRAD) in Bambui where our two dads worked. Our own Senior Prefect was Mishe Frederick Ngang who later became a police officer (unless I am mistaken). He used to play the right full back position in the school football team and was nicknamed “Man Mountain” because where he stood guard, he formed a wall that was virtually impenetrable to the attackers from the opposing team. The Assistant Senior Prefect was Mishe George Angwafo who is today Prof (of medicine) Fru Angwafo III. He is an urologist who once served as Secretary General in the Ministry of Public Health and was later appointed General Manager of the Gyneco-obstetric Hospital in Yaounde. When we were in Form 4, the principal again invited the then Form 5 students of Lourdes to visit their classmates in our school. At this time our Senior Prefect was Mishe Joseph Atowo Asafor and the Assistant Senior Prefect was Mishe Joseph Aziah. Just like it happened during the first visit, the two groups of students posed for a group photograph on the stairs in front of the main building. But this second visit had an advantage over the first in that it was crowned by a “gala dance” in the auditorium which the rest of us only watched from outside through the windows, if we could. When we got to Form 5, the girls were not made to visit us, neither were we made to visit them. Sadly.
From the above, you can imagine what it felt like to receive a letter from Lourdes. Whether they were brought by the principal or the baker, they were handed to one of the prefects (in Form 5) to read out in the refectory during one of the day`s meals for distribution. It is very interesting that occasionally, a letter arrived in an envelope smelling of sweet perfume because the sender had doused it with the aroma in order to show love to her boy. Similarly, sometimes the letters themselves were written on writing paper that had been specifically designed with beautiful flowers next to which the girl then wrote her messages. There was also sometimes a special, affectionate way of folding such letters from the other end. Again some envelopes had the inscription “SWAK” inscribed on them by the writer, which meant “Sealed with A Kiss”. Once when we were in Form 2, a Form 5 student at my table in the refectory, Mishe Richard Chin, opened his own letter from Lourdes and out of it dropped a sweet. Yes, a sweet; just a sweet still folded by the manufacturers in its colourful plastic cover. You can imagine how we felt at such moments. Even so, we were not lucky all the time because once in a while when a girl was angry with her boyfriend, she would collect all the letters she had received from him, burn them, put the ashes in an envelope and address the envelope to him. So, loving a Lourdes` girl also came with its own embarrassing moments, although on the whole, it was by far an experience to write home about.