It all started on a Wednesday morning, 20th May, 1998. At Kalaring Primary School. The preparation for Children’s Day Celebrations! It was a custom in that school, that one week to 27th May, was declared as “half-day.” Meaning classes end immediately it’s break time. Which was around 9:30 am. I recall I was in primary 3 then.
It was a new school for me and my younger sister, Maama. We had been in that school for only about two weeks before Children’s Day. ( Nigeria celebrates Children’s Day on 27th May ) Having our brand new uniforms, rubber sandals and white socks. Looking very clean and neat. Made a lot of friends in no time. And we were “the talk of the school”. (Wink).
On this fateful day, the kids were all out on the field, they were about 4 groups of pupils playing all around the school environment. Almost every child was involved in one sporting activity or the other. In preparation for the upcoming Children’s Day event.
The games rehearsed included but were not limited to Parade, Egg race, Sack race, 100 meters dash, thug of war, and Soccer.
Being new in the school, Maama and I were not participating in any of those fun activities. We only went around, cheering and supporting them as they practiced.
I got interested in watching them marched. I followed them everywhere as they paraded. Singing and clapping.
All of a sudden I heard the teacher in charge of the parade (Mr. Bala, popularly known as Mallam Bala), stopped and pointed in my direction. He said, “Hey you, come here”! I was startled and afraid. I wanted to hide but he called my name and asked me to come at once. I was deathly afraid. I was trembling.
Mallam Bala was the games and Discipline Master of the school assisted by Mrs. Binta. Also known as Malama Binta. They both were feared in the school. Students could get away with almost all offenses but not when Mallam Bala is in the light.
When I got closer, he said, “can you march?” I said, “no sir”. Other kids on the cue said, ” it’s a lie, she can march, her dad is a soldier!”. I was standing quietly. (Trying to harmonize the fact that my dad was in the military does not guarantee my ability to match. Or do one inherit such abilities?) Mallam Bala did not ask any further questions. He ordered me to stand behind and watch for a moment and then got in line.
This all happened so fast, I guess within 10 to 15 minutes, I was already in the parade.
I was scared at first. What if I don’t get it right? What will Mallam Bala do to me? I know he has no business embarrassing anyone anywhere. What if he shouts at me. Hmm, God please help me.
I marched all day long, singing happy songs with the cheering of my new friends. I was in no time made the ” Flower/Wreath bearer” (also known as I’yar gaba in the Hausa Language). I was to do the salutation and to present neck wreaths to the Honorable Chair Lady of Kaltungo Local Government of Gombe state, Nigeria. In-person of Hajiya Bibiye.
As we drew near to the D-day, training became intensely tiring. I was already overwhelmed by the entire process. We now had to practice twice a day, morning and evening. “We must be perfect.” Mallam Bala will not tolerate anything less than the first position!
The D-day was finally here, I had my uniform nicely washed and ironed. My Mum had invited her friends and colleagues, cooked Jelof Rice and Zobo drinks. They headed for the event which took place at the then TC (Teachers College) football field.
We were all set. Perfectly arranged in line ready to go display our skills. A bus was hired that conveyed us to the venue.
On getting there, we saw a whole lot of schools represented. We began to feel inferior compared to other kids. They were neatly dressed, colorfully decorated uniforms, they all seemed to have new socks, uniforms, Barrett, same hairstyles, and hair cuts, looks really cool and smarter than we did.
“And we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.”
Nonetheless, there were other schools too that were like a stepping stone to us. We knew we could knock out those in no time. That’s kind of encouraging.
The March past and other games ran concurrently. I was in the front. Marching to the Honorable Chair Lady who was unavoidably absent and was represented by the E.S. ( Education Secretary). I marched straight to him, salute him say a few lines I had memorized. Handed him a big ball of Kanje/giginya (Borassus fruit) Malama Binta had wrapped, threw the wreath around his neck, salute one more time, took a turn, and then back to the line.
That was awesome! I saw people clapping and whistling ( guuda) as well. I heard my mother’s voice too. Cheering and clapping alongside her friends. That was so relieving. I was happy I did my best. At least, I didn’t let my team down. And I hoped I had impressed Mallam Bala.
When the parade was over, the Head Teachers and games Masters were gathered and the results were announced. My school came Second! I was so happy! I invited my friends to sit on the mat Mum brought, we ate and drank. We all had more than we could have.
Mallam Bala was happy, though not very pleased. We could tell a little disappointment on his countenance.
Well, that doesn’t matter now, we sang and danced our way home.
Happy Children’s Day!!!