Is it not interesting that of all the educational institutions I attended in Cameroon, France and Britain, my Alma mater the secondary school I attended, is the one establishment I keep dreaming about when I go to bed? It is Sacred Heart College, Mankon-Bamenda.
I cannot count the number of times I have dreamed about the school since I passed through it. Yet, looking back today, I find that it is exactly forty (!) years since I left the institution. I have dreamed about the day I went for interview at Catholic Mission School, Big Mankon, and was interviewed by a “White man with hairy hands” (that was how I found him) who turned out to be the Rev. Brother John Phillips and Principal of Sacred Heart College. I have dreamed of the day my father took me to the school and paid the deposit for my school fees. After finishing the business, he and I were walking back to Bamenda town when the principal who was also going to town in his green Beetle Volkswagen, stopped and gave us a lift. I have dreamed of how as we drove to town, the principal meet one of his students walking to school and stopped him.
“Where are you going, Nchotu?”.
“I am going to school to see if I have any mails, brother”, came his reply.
“You mean, `mail`, Nchotu. The plural of `mail` doesn`t take an `s`”
“Sorry, Brother. I meant mail.”
That student was Christopher Nchotu who was in Form 2 when I came into Form 1 in September of that year. I remember that his classmates nicknamed him “Ghah”. I don`t know why.
I have dreamed about my first day at the college and how I rejoiced greatly at the thought of having to spend many months in the year sleeping for the first time in a house that had electricity. It was a far cry from the childhood days during which I grew up in a compound that used the bush lamp for lighting. The only instances when I slept in an electrified house before were the times I was admitted either at the Bamenda General Hospital or the Presbyterian Hospital at Achu Tugi. There were, of course, other periods when I spent some days in the house of Mr. Joseph Mbandi, an official at the Agric Farm in Bambui where my father worked and adopted him as a son.
In short, I have dreamed of the good times at Sacred Heart College, but also the bad ones like when while in Form 2, Mr. Ralph Awa (one of our English Language teachers in Form 1, the other one being the School Chaplain the Rev. Fr. Mac Mahon) gave me the beating of my life. What happened was that on certain Saturday morning when we students were supposed to go to the school auditorium for singing practice, the Choir Prefect realized that attendance was poor and reported the matter to Mr. Awa. The teacher rounded up those sluggish students he could find and thrashed them thoroughly. Unfortunately I was among those who fell in the dragnet. The beating left wheals all over my back and I cried for hours. I actually regretted going to that college and began to think of how I could return home. Even so, that was not possible because even if I did, my father would refuse to listen to my story.
Recently, memories of Sacred Heart College again flooded my mind, but in an unusual way. Last week, I learned that one of the banks that I frequent in the town here where I live, now had a new manager, the former one having been transferred to Head Office. I decided to pay her a courtesy call and congratulate her. In the course of my chat with her, I learned she was called “Nkwadi”.
Upon hearing that name, I was startled. Noticing it, she asked me if there was anything wrong. I told her, yes, there wasn`t just one thing wrong but two. Firstly she was only the second person I had ever met bearing the name “Nkwadi”. The second reason was that the name belonged to a “big” of mine who was in Form 5 when I entered Form 1 at Sacred Heart College. She asked me if that “Nwadi” was called “Peter”, to which I said he was. She then said, “that`s my uncle. That`s my father`s brother!”. In order to be sure, asked her whether as far as she knew, the said uncle ever passed through Sacred Heart College. She replied that she was sure and certain. At that point, I was convinced we were talking about the same person. For so many years since I left college, I had met many other Sacred Heart College Ex-Students (SHESANS) who had been there in my days. However, Mishe Nkwadi was not one of them. But even so, I remembered him now very well. The term, Mishe is a fond name we ex-students of the school use to refer to each other.
One thing that struck me when I entered Sacred Heart College was that the school was run on a day-to-day basis by senior students from Form 5, called Prefects. Prefects were singled out from the rest of their class mates and given posts of responsibility. But then, there was solid solidarity among all Form 5 students, regardless of whether they were Prefects or not. I do not know whether that is still the case at the college today.
Having been tickled by this trigger, I started jolting my memory to see which of Mishe Nkwadi`s classmates I could remember for whatever reasons. That is to say, those who were in Form 5, when I was in Form 1. My thoughts first went to Mishe Sango Joseph, the Senior Prefect, who used to sit in wait in a tree between the Main Building and the refectory below. The Assistant Senior Prefect, Mishe Foma Benedict took up position at the opposite angle of the Main Building, between the Staff Room and the Biology Lab below. The reason why they were positioned there was because once the principal dismissed the rest of the school after school assembly, those were the other two conduits students had to take to go to class, apart from the main entrance into the Main Building. So the Senior Prefect and his Assistant had to be there to keep an eye on the students as they filed past.
The Senior Prefect was fond of disciplining students by hitting them with his right palm at the back of the legs. One day, a Form 5 student forcefully took my refectory bowl from me and refused to return it. When I realized that not only was he not prepared to return the bowl to me but he had started using it as if it was his own, I plucked up courage, went to the Senior Prefect and reported the matter to him. I don`t know what the Senior Prefect said to him but the following day, the senior called me and gave back the bowl to me. Interestingly, he did not hold it against me because he did not punish me. He did not even ever mention it again.
I remember Mishe Ojong Vincent who was one of the Form 5 students in St. Andrews`s Dormitory which was were I spent my year in Form 1. The other Form 1 Dormitory was St. Augustine`s. I remember Mishe Ojong because he was always fond of telling us: “Form One boys, Mishe says you should give him garri and you don`t want to give it, eh? When Mishe will have gone to CCAST where will you see him to give him garri?” CCAST (Cameroon College of Arts, Science and Technology) was at the time the lone Anglo-saxon Sixth Form college in the country. One day, before we went for Saturday general school manual labour, I steeped my clothes in my bucket with the intention of washing them on my way back. Unfortunately when I returned, someone had dumped my clothes by the side of the tap and steeped his own clothes in the bucket. I also dumped the intruding clothes and put mine back in the bucket. Later that afternoon, Mishe Ojong very angrily entered the dormitory, called the attention of all Form One students and as he held up my bucket, he asked whose clothes were in it. When I owned up, he stuttered (he used to stammer), dragged me out by the hand and thrashed me. He then asked me to dump my clothes, pick his up and put them back in the bucket, and then wash and dry them. I did.
I remember the House Captains who headed the four Houses at college at the time. They were Mishe Simon Acho the House Captain of St. Peters, who many years later became the mayor of Bamenda 1 Council; Mishe Ignatius Langmi who was House Captain of St. Thomas. If I am not mistaken, the House Captain of St. Francis was Mishe Peter Fogham, whom I believe was from Bali Nyongha. I was a member of St. John`s House which started the year with Mishe Joseph Akumawah as House Captain but who was replaced before the year ended by Mishe James Tafon, for reasons I do not know. It was the principal`s decision.
There were some relatives of mine who were classmates to Mishe Nkwadi and these other Mishes I have named. I start with two paternal uncles: Patrick Tayong and Joe Ngu. Whereas Mishe Patrick was very formal if not nonchalant about his relationship with me, Mishe Joe showed a lot of commitment and attachment to me. He was in St. James Dormitory and since he was a footballer, playing the outside ring wing in the school team, he made me the one who washed his sports equipment every Saturday after. That was my Saturday duty from him which I fulfilled all the time. But I also used him as a shield. Sometimes I would insult bigger boys and when they chased me in order to beat me, I would run to St. James`s Dormitory and seek refuge in Mishe Joe`s “space”. Once I was there, no assailant could pursue me. So I was very safe.
Concerning Mishe Patrick, I once watched an incident involving him that made me grow sad but at the same time helpless. He quarreled over a bowl with a Form Four student called Sebastian Tangwe. The dispute was over ownership of the bowl with each of the protagonists saying it was his. In the end, they grappled with it as they fought and the bowl got distorted and disfigured. I believe they threw it away with none of them being able to use it.
My memories equally go back to two distinguished blood brothers who were not only in that same Form 5 but were an epitome of unity. They were often together and actually wore the same clothes which they interchanged. They were Francis Nchotu and Sylvester Nchotu, incidentally brothers to Christopher Nchotu whom I mentioned at the beginning of this story. I have never met Mishe Francis since we left Sacred Heart College. However, I hear that he went abroad, and returned to Cameroon and opened a leading private college in Old Town, Bamenda. However, I have met Mishe Sylvester at least thrice: the first time in Bamenda, the second time in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, when my family and I were in that country once for vacation. Being a brother to the then Cameroonian ambassador in Malabo, John Akum Nchotu, he was there with him. The third time I met him was back in Bamenda.
You can imagine how elated I feel, when I recall those days.