I didn’t have the fortune of going to one of those boarding schools where they serve students sausages and bacon for breakfast. No, mine was a no frills school.
Breakfast was a cup of translucent tea – I say translucent because the tea was mostly water, with a dot of milk to give it some character.
We only ate bread on Saturdays, and if you made the mistake of reaching the dining hall five seconds after the breakfast bell rang, you would find your chunk of bread gone.
WEEVILS IN THE SOUP
And when we took the 30-minute break at 10 am., we were served black coffee – not coffee, coffee, but a brand called Kahawa No. 1, whose residues would settle heavily at the bottom of the cup. The only saving grace is that the cooks were generous with the sugar.
Lunch was always githeri – Monday to Sunday. I must admit that I loved it, because in spite of the weevils that often swam in the soup, it was the tastiest dish we were served. Supper was ugali and cabbages, the highlight of the week being Monday and Wednesday, when they included a piece of complementary meat. For supper on Sunday’s, we would be served a “special” of ugali-like rice and runny cabbage. I hated it.
As a rule, supper was served at 6 pm on the hour, and thereafter, we would go for preps, which ended at that ungodly hour of 10.30 pm. My brain usually switched off at 8 pm, and so I spent the extra one-and-a-half hours blissfully napping on my desk, instead of revising, as was expected.
But we were talking about food. I’m told that when I was young, I detested it – I had to be forced, threatened, and cajoled to take a few spoonfuls. Photographs of a skeletal younger me are proof of this aversion to food. But this quickly changed once I checked into high school and discovered scarcity.
The food we were given was never enough, and every meal time, I gobbled up every morsel in my plate, stopping short of licking my plate, acutely aware that my next meal would be several long hours away, and will not be anywhere near filling.
As you can imagine, we all looked forward to visiting days, when our families were allowed to bring us home-made meals and whatever else they thought would make us happy. That day, I would stuff myself to near-bursting, and then have a stomachache cum running stomach that had me gritting my teeth for an entire week. But for a taste of home, all that discomfort was worth it – at least that is what I convinced myself.
Interestingly, even after all that monotony of eating githeri and ugali, daily, for four years, these two dishes are my favourites. In fact, if I had my way, the only thing we would eat at home is these two dishes. It is strange, because most of the friends I went to high school with cannot stand githeri – they tell me the four years they had to put up with it were enough.
Nutritionists say that if you want to improve your digestion (or is it metabolism?), you should take your time to chew, and eat as slowly as you can. I tried this once but gave up almost immediately. At a no-nonsense boarding school like the one I went to, you’re taught to do everything at breakneck speed, including eating.
Our dining hall was not big enough to accommodate us all at the same time, so we ate in shifts – that meant that you only had 30 minutes to eat, wash your plate, and clear the tables for the next shift. That is why I have a tendency to clean my plate within five minutes of serving, a factor that made my dating phase, many years ago, a painful process, because I had to keep reminding myself to eat slowly.
To all the students joining secondary school this month, I wish you a memorable experience that will bring you a smile 20 years from now.
[email protected]; Twitter: @cnjerius. The writer is the editor, MyNetwork, in the Daily Nation