Africa Speaks: Education 3

Boy in wheelchair with friends, Niamey, Niger 1992

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A Dreadful Place

Mahamadou Warou 4/6/92

The school of our village was built during colonial times. It was set on a hill, and was composed of six classrooms made of stone with thatch roofs.

The playground was vast and a lot of trees had been planted in rows, which made the school look like a forest. The school garden was behind the classrooms and it was well-kept by the pupils. All the teachers lived in round huts located far away from the classrooms. The whole school was surrounded with wire netting.

I was fascinated by that place when I was young. When the school boys came back home they spoke a strange language we didn't understand. For me, going to school to learn a new language was the most important thing in life. Before I went to school, this place was a mystery for me. I wanted to know what was happening there, because only the teachers and the pupils were allowed to step through the gate.

But three weeks after I was taken to school I found that place was a burden. I was frustrated because everything, every movement, was governed by rules. Nothing could be done without permission.

The "hill" as we called the school was a terrible place. We shouldn't come late to school or go into the classroom at random. It was forbidden to eat in the classroom, to fight at school, to play games or throw rubbish on the playground. Above all we were not permitted to speak our mother tongue; only French was spoken inside the school.

The teachers' eyes and ears were everywhere. The pupils who broke the school rules were punished severely. Our teacher was very harsh. What's why we nicknamed him "Scorpion." He beat lazy students savagely and one day he nearly killed a girl with his whip because she spoke Hausa in class. When the bell rang our hearts beat hard because we know the classroom was a kind of hell on earth.

One Monday evening I went out without asking permission from the teacher. When I came back he kicked me and I fell down on the floor. He told me that the classroom was not my mother's hut where I could do whatever I wanted. I was shocked and I decided to revenge myself when I became a grownup.

From that day the hill became a place of horror for me. I felt ashamed and something inside me urged me to flee from the cursed place.

After class work, we had to weed the garden, and bring stable litter and water the plants. No one could escape from that burden every afternoon. Undisciplined pupils were put in detention on Sundays. It was the highest punishment because the students in detention had to work all day without eating anything. As teenagers we were haunted by one question: why did our parents send us to that jail?

Our only moment of relaxation was when we climbed down the hill to go to the village. Home and school were two different worlds for us, and from my childhood up to now, the image of that hill has remained in my mind. That hill was a sad place in the memories of my youth.

Copyright 1998 Mahamadou Warou


Children at garden project, Filingue road, Baleyara, Niger, 1992


Marou Ibrahim 5/11/92

Her name is Aissa Moussa. She was born in 1968 and raised by her parents in a village named Tounonga. Her father, Moussa, was a Marabout. At the age of seven she was sent to school, at the demand of the local authorities.

Aissa was a brilliant girl, and was always at the top of her class during her stay at the primary school. She was given a lot of presents by the head of the school and she was famous. Throughout the village, she was known for shining at school. In 1981, she obtained her primary certificate and went to the junior secondary school of Gaya.

In Tounonga, marriage is considered very important, and even compulsory. Thus, Aissa, while in her second year at the CEG of Gaya, was asked to leave school to be married. She was then fifteen years old, the traditional age for marriage.

Then problems arose between her and her father, for she didn't even know the man she was going to get married to. The man's name was Abdou, and he was known for his knowledge of the Koran, thus the marriage would be what we commonly call "Saragay"--a gift. The husband had to pay none of the expenses of the marriage.

Even at the secondary school, Aissa was still brilliant, and when the news spread, everybody felt sorry for her. But Aissa, because she was a very kind, obedient human being, accepted her father's request.

However, the headmaster was not in favor of such situations. Aissa's father was apprehended by the local authorities and questioned. His explanation was that he had decided to give a daughter of his as "alms" and that Aissa was the only daughter he had, and he was old, so he should do it.

The Chief of the local government, seeing that the old man stuck to his position, asked the headmaster to cover up the matter and let the girl go.

Aissa was married at the age of 15, and now has two children, a girl and a boy. Thanks to her knowledge, she is the one who reads letters to the villagers if need be.

Copyright 1998 Marou Ibrahim

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