“Hey you junior student, come here!” I turned, tapped myself on the chest and muttered, “me?”. “Yes you”, she reiterated, come over here and I walked timidly over to her.
“Have you worked today?” No! I said. “Which house are you in?”… “I don’t have a house yet, I-I-I-I am a new student in J.S.1.” I stuttered in response. “I know”, she bellowed before the words finished tumbling out of my mouth. “You are no more in primary school, when you are answering your seniors, say yes! Senior, have you heard? Oya”, she continued without waiting for my response. “Stand over there with the other girls.”
I dragged myself to where two other girls were already waiting with their school bags held in front of them. The senior caught five other girls then handed us over to another senior who walked us to a very high refuse dump behind the dormitory. ‘Push this pit,’ she ordered and walked away. We exchanged bewildered looks and picked up rakes to join other girls who were already ‘pushing the pit’.
We eventually got to know that pushing the pit meant gathering stray waste and sweeping the refuse dump as far back as possible. This was a form of morning duty which students had to do every morning in their respective houses. After pushing that pit, I ran to my class, J.S.S. 1E where I met other students. They were mostly boarders. We introduced ourselves and chattered away; getting to know each other before the bell went off for morning assembly.
That was the welcome I got on my very first day of resumption at Edgerley Memorial Girls’ Secondary School, Calabar, Cross River State, Nigeria. It was a very cold, Monday morning in January 1991.
I had woken unusually early, prepared for school with great excitement. I couldn’t even gulp down my hot breakfast before I joined my elder sister (who had been in the school for a year already) to the bus station to await the bus. On arrival at school, my sister being an existing student, in MacDonald House had stopped over at their duty post to carry out her morning responsibilities.
My dear sister had urged me to go on to my class and not look around to avoid being ‘caught’ for multiple morning duties. Unfortunately, on entering through the second gate, I couldn’t help but look around in admiration at the breathtakingly beautiful and serene school environment which had made the senior quickly identify me as a newbie.
Edgerley Memorial Girls’ Secondary School, an all girls, day and boarding school is located in Calabar South Local Government Area of Cross River State. It was established in 1898 by Presbyterian Church missionaries, Reverend and Mrs. Edgerley and was originally known as the Orange Groove. It was founded as an offshoot of the prestigious Hope Waddell Training Institute, to separate the girls from the boys in order to train them in domestic sciences. The name of the school was changed to Edgerley Memorial Girls’ Secondary school on October 24th, 1931 and moved from Leopard Hill to its present site.
The school during my time was surrounded by a see-through fence (although lined with flowering plants and trees making it almost impossible to see through) painted maroon and white, the official colors of the school.
It had two gates; the first opened into the administrative part of the school, Home Economics and Fine Arts departments, and the Chapel. The second gate led into the main school compound.
The compound was lined with beautiful trees and sweet smelling flowers. The school chapel stood to the left on entering through the first gate, with the Home Economics department and compound mistress’ residence behind it while the administrative building stood in the middle. Further right was the Fine Arts department, later renamed Bakassi. It was hidden amongst flowered bushes, from public intrusion. It was the perfect place for artistic minds. Believe me, great works of arts were produced there.
The administrative building was a one-storied, wooden, red and white beauty, a symbol of colonial architecture. It housed the office of the Principal, Vice Principals Academics, Administration and Special Duties, School Secretary, Finance, and Counselor.
The second gate ran through the Admin building such that the front was in the first premises while the back, (sickbay, school fees room, and stairs) was in the school compound proper. The second gate separated the main school premises from the administrative part.
The main school compound was breathtaking and very serene. At the center of the compound was a well-kept field/lawn, where we had our morning assembly. It also served as our annual inter-house sports arena. It was lined with beautiful red and white stones, tall nim trees, whistling pines and several flowers.
It was a punishable offense to cross that field. Right beside the field to the right from the gate was a one-story building which served as J.S.3 and S.S.1 classrooms. The balcony upstairs served as our assembly podium. Another block of classrooms stood by the left of the gate, serving S.S.2 and 3. Behind these buildings were the A and B Side dormitories and kitchen. A walkway led from the gate to a beautiful, ancient block of classrooms, the oldest of them all. This ancient classroom block served J.S.S 1 and 2 and also housed the Biology laboratory.
Our principal was the quintessential Mrs. Cecilia Ekpenyong (R.I.P. Ma, it is difficult adding late to your name). She was a strict disciplinarian, a mother of mothers. She would always walk down to the assembly ground with both hands held together behind her, dangling a cane. Woe betide you to move or that she gets you chatting instead of paying attention.
I hardly saw her laugh during school hours. She would always chide and admonish us on the mornings she appeared at the assembly ground. I remember some of her popular slogans that have guided me most of my life: ‘Pass through Edgerley and let Edgerley pass through you’; ‘Never a dull moment until excellence is achieved’, ‘Not for school, but for life’.
Mma Ceecee as she was fondly called would at times stand in front of the counselor’s office by the second gate and view the whole school. Expulsion was a very severe punishment which she generously served out to rule breakers. Getting to know her was an experience that still lives with me. The vice principal was an elderly black beauty, Mrs. Ukeje. She would always say with a funny accent; ‘Will you keep silent’!
Students were shared into five ‘houses’. These houses were kind of like clubs or groups who amongst other things competed with each other during inter-house sports competitions, in keeping the school tidy and orderly and also producing the best students in every area. Each house was headed by a house captain who had an assistant.
In my days in Edgerley, we had five houses: Orange Groove with Orange as the official color, MacDonald House which was represented by purple color, Edgerley the red house, Chalmers House represented by colour blue, and Nya Inyang House with green as their official color. Every student belonged to one of these. I was assigned to Orange Groove house.
During assembly, we stood in rows according to our houses. Assembly was fun. It was also a solemn gathering where we worshipped, committed our day to the Almighty God, were admonished, punished and applauded. One of the worst humiliations then was to be paraded on the assembly for misconduct and maybe flogged before every student, old and new.
I remember with teary eyes the choruses we sang. Songs like ‘Taste and See the Lord is Good’, ‘That Great Day is Coming’, ‘Sweet Jesus, how wonderful you are’. We also sang ancient, timeless hymns from the Revised Church Hymnary. One hymn stands out in my mind and it is – ‘Whither, Pilgrims, Are You Going, Going Each with Staff in Hand’.
I also remember our school Anthem, her tune taken from RCH 12. ‘Edgerley Our Great School, We Love you always’. After assembly, we all marched to our respective classes to resume lectures.
My class was fun and very competitive as we had the best brains therein. I remember my J.S.1 classmates. They were a bunch of curious, fun, intelligent, mostly ten to eleven-year-olds. I vividly remember Ukeme Oliver Ekanem, Juliana Ayim, Winifred Mbakara Eyoita, Obugo Omari Ogar, Utibe Etim, Joyce James, Asa Bassey Edem, Dorcas (Northern Nigeria Exchange Program Student). A whole lot I cannot remember. These ones stand out because they were the front benchers and intelligent bunch. They are all wives and mothers now. Some like Sylvia Amponsah who eventually became one of my best buddies, I miss so much.
I clearly remember some of my teachers while memories of others have faded over time. I remember the stylish Miss Irene Takon, Mr. Nta, who taught us Business Studies through songs, stories and rhymes, beautiful Miss. Nkechi our Igbo Language teacher with the funny Igbo accent. Surprisingly, I remember my lessons more than the teachers that taught them.
I also remember with nostalgia, my textbooks. Effective English for Junior Secondary Schools Book 1, New General Mathematics Book 1, The Adventures of Souza, Collected Poems for Secondary Schools Book 1, Sing Through the Ages . . .
I just have to wipe my eyes now, the tears sting. I can hardly see my keys and screen anymore through my tears. Those times feel so distant yet so near, if only I could turn back the hands of time…. nostalgia!
Ekei Ita-Nya Okafor, a freelance writer and alumnae of Edgerley, wrote this piece in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of Edgerley Memorial Girls Secondary School, Calabar this November, 2018.
© 2018, Admin. All rights reserved.