Who knows what this is? It is my only property that survived my six years in boarding school (FGC Ogbomosho, Nigeria) and I have taken great care of it till this day. One look at it takes me back to an era of mixed emotions and great uncertainty. An era of desperate survival and hope.

If you don’t know what this is, well, it is a sponge case of original quality made in the early 80s in Nigeria — back when Nigeria still manufactured quality household goods and imported less. It has seen many bars of soap and quite some sponges in its years. This green sponge case was an awesome companion after those trying days in boarding school (my trusty key-holder was another companion but it fell in the battle of survival).

I remember my first day at FGC Ogbomosho like it was yesterday. My family was still relatively new to Nigeria from Buffalo, New York when my well-intentioned parents thought it would be a fantastic idea to enroll me in a faraway boarding school in order to learn discipline and the Yoruba language. It was April 1988 and we drove many hours from Warri, Bendel State to Ogbomosho, Oyo State in our Peugeot 504 car. I was not happy with the idea…it felt like I was being sent away to prison. There was the growing lump in my throat as we got closer to the small town. The fear of the unknown was so strong in my heart (please see my article about this here).

We pulled into the compound and drove to the main building to check-in. Grace Abosede Oladejo was the very first student I saw at FEGO. A new student too. She sat alone on her metal suitcase in the parking lot of the administrative building looking quite sad. I felt even sadder. We were directed to my hostel – Niger House Junior Boys. We drove past students in various colored checkered uniforms along the main road nicknamed “love lane.” The lump in my throat got heavier.

We met the house master, Mr. Skido, who warmly greeted us. There were other boys around and seemed quite cool. The bigger ones assessed me from a distance and seemed cool too — I later learned about the harsh realities of seniority…those guys weren’t trying to be cool…they were circling sharks! They were the lords of the survival jungle.

My parents said their good byes and left. The lump in my throat was huge at this point. I didn’t want to talk much for fear of breaking down. I was trying to be strong and hung in there tightly. My bunk mate was a senior two classes ahead of me. This guy later took over my provisions, my life and made me pretty much his slave. His classmate was my next slave master after the former left the abruptly school. I was his personal slave, butler, runner, messenger, laundryman, feeder, waterman, notes writer, love-letter deliveryman…everything. It was brutal…but common in those days. When he does show up in the dining hall, for weeks, he would take my cutlery from me right in front of girls and my class mates. I would wait until one of my friends finished eating so I could borrow theirs. How pathetic I was back then! I later learned he was selfishly keeping his cutlery set nice and clean in his locker. A survival master!

Dinner at the dining hall on my first night was yam and vegetable soup served by a nice food prefect named, Paul. I lost my plate and cutlery. I panicked…trying not to cry…I thought I would starve to death for the rest of the semester. Obiora Obianyor and Aminu Suleiman (same level as I) found them for me where I had left them on different dining table. These boys were my first survival comrades.

The next morning, along with my first friends/roommates/classmates, Ayoola Adekile and Tunde Adegbohungbe (aka Scientist), I took my green sponge case and pail of very cold water, got directions to the outdoor bathroom. When we walked in, we were shocked to see rows of naked students taking their baths as if everything was great in the world. Ayoola and I waited to see if they would go away but more boys came. We bathed in our underwear that morning!

I still had the lump in my throat for several days. Homesickness is not a joke! I stayed strong until one day I saw another classmate, Gbenga Ademola, crying alone in a classroom. I knew exactly what he was feeling and I let out the waterworks fully. It was quite healing too. Made some more friends in class — my desk mates, Adetoun Adelagun and Demola Kolawole, other classmates at my level, Lanre Ilori, Tunde Ogun, Toyin Okebukola, Ismaila Abubakar, Adeniran Adeleye, Femi Osho, Muniat Abdulkareem, Joy Iliya, Aanu Adepoju, Sule Etsu, to name a few.

While making friends, I also avoided the terrorists and demons that sought opportunities to persecute, punish or abuse me. It was a fine line I had to walk for 5 years and I got pretty good at it. Some punishments were justifiable, maybe I didn’t complete my morning chores or whatever. But some seemed like curses from another world. A particular senior, a year my senior, enjoyed inflicting pain and anguish upon me at the mere sight of seeing me. Such a monster! Was he sent to torment me?! Also, another (two years my senior) and his brother (four years my senior) have never been nice to me. The pain they inflicted caused me to question if I wanted to stay in this world. I can’t forget how the latter gave me over a hundred slaps while making me jump repeatedly to reach his hand. Inexplicable! Maybe we were enemies in a previous lifetime? Perhaps they had deeper family issues? I have no idea. I learned an unusual form of cruelty from all those afflictions and I still feel really bad about the juniors I had punished in my final year. It was a cycle of unending abuse.

Nevertheless, my greatest achievement from FGC Ogbomosho, Nigeria is that I was given the opportunity to face my biggest fear — the fear of being alone (see my mentor and coach, Bob Proctor’s article on this here). I was so alone, so far away from home. I didn’t know anyone, no relatives or former classmates. I had to take care of myself — no one else would. I depended on myself and learned the fine art of survival. It made me the strong and successful man that I am today, and I made some very great friendships along the ride — strong brotherly/sisterly bonds that would last many lifetimes. Now, I am very happy I went to FEGO.

I would like to hear from you. What was your first day in boarding school like? Please share your survival story. Long live my green sponge case!