Friday

Peka High School, Box 17, Peka, Lesotho


Peka High School is to the north west of Lesotho, between the towns of Teyateyaneng and Maputsoe. It's a small, dusty place that is technically a town but is barely bigger than a big village. I went to high school at Peka and loved it. The establishment was self-sufficient, for all practical purposes. We produced our own electricity from an engine that was cranked up in the morning at about six and turned off at 10 p.m. At ten to ten at night there was what we called a warning, whereby the engine operator would just dim the lights two or three times to let us know that it was time to scurry off to bed.We had a kitchen with a dining hall, a library, two science laboratories, more than enough classrooms (some were even unused), a football field, a softball field, tennis courts and our very own water reservoir. One of the few shortcomings of the whole set-up, I'd say, was the fact that the loo was away and at some distance from the dormitories. It wasn't always easy to "hold it" till morning.

The first high school weeks are never easy, for that's when newcomers are given the treatment, or ill-treatment, depending on which side of the fear you are. All Lesotho high-schools dish out the same treatment/ill-treament, so there was no getting around it. Besides, my brother was already going to Peka, and Peka was run by the Lesotho Evangelical Church--my church. Going to a Catholic-run school was out of the question and bordered on blasphemy. It wasn't an option. In any case, Catholics initiated newcomers, too.

I don't really remember preparations for my first year of high school. Apprehension and fear of the unknown made sure that I would forever not remember those moments. In general, every student who goes to boarding school, which Peka was, takes along a pad-locked metallic trunk in which to put clothes, linen and any other personal belongings. The latter could be vinyl records and cassettes, novels, weapons--knives were popular--cigarettes, mofao (provisions) for those first days, a photo album, and so on. We always had to have mofao, and chicken was the overwhelming favourite. One could also take biscuits, soft-drinks, pastries, and any "goodies" worth sharing with friends. On the first day of my second year I lost the keys to my padlock.
__Has anyone seen my keys?

__Your keys! What do they look like?

__It's a bunch of keys on a bright-blue, glass keyholder.

   __Nah.

   __No, man.

   __Haven't seen 'em.

__Gosh, I need them to get my pyjamas out and brush my teeth!

__Well, maybe we can pick the lock, huh?

   __No time, it's almost twenty to ten, already.

   __C'mon, let's try. I think we should break the padlock, though. We don't have a choice.

I was watching them struggle with the padlock of my trunk and yank it this way, that way, hit it with a piece of metal to break it, when the lights suddenly dimmed, came back on, dimmed again, and came back on. The trunk just wouldn't get open. Some of my dorm-mates started moving off toward their beds, most of which were bunk-beds installed to gain space. I would have to sleep in my...huh?...wait a minute...hey, it's op-- And the lights dimmed for the last time, and told us we were being plunged into darkness. I caught a glimpse of the lid of my trunk being lifted open. But the last image before complete shutout, the one that usually gets printed on your retina on top of everything else and hence the one that stays with you longest, that last picture was of a chicken leg leaving my trunk, followed by another chicken leg, and by more hands diving in. Then nothing. After what seemed like a long moment, I used my hands to pat my way into my dishevelled trunk, found my greasy pair of pyjamas, managed to pull them on and slip into bed.

I wasn't sure I knew exactly what had happened, although I had a pretty good idea: mum's spicy chicken was gone. "What about the biscuits?" I wondered, almost aloud. I let out a tired sigh that had the effect of setting the whole dormitory ablaze with laughter. We laughed so hard I thought I had split something in my side. And the next day there was enough spicy chicken in the other trunks to go around for two or three days.

Peka was more than that, though. At Peka I learned how to sing mangae, those traditional Basotho songs that are being sung less and less because everyone is singing Madonna and New Kids On The Block, channel anger and frustration into words, disregard political affiliations to get at the truth beneath, face and talk to girls without necessarily getting sweaty hands, recognise and appreciate friends, be independent and live far away from home (which would come in handy during my refugee years). Peka is where I grew up and became me. Well, almost me, because I was soon going to experience things that would painfully hammer and chisel me into who I am today. But that's the subject of another post, perhaps.