Melsisi is a boarding school for about half the students. The other half walk to school each day and walk home each evening. At first, I felt like the boarding students got the short end of the stick. Now, I’m not quite so sure, at least not for the girls.
Life in the village isn’t easy for a girl. I swear this country runs on the labor of pre-adolescent girls. They are expected to fetch and carry things on command, they run errands and pass messages, they wash their own and their family’s clothes, the cook, the wash dishes, the work in the gardens and still are expected to do their school work and pass their classes. I’m not saying that the women are slacking mind you, they also do all those things, but there is more work to take care of a family than one mama can provide.
All of that is not counting the intense social and familial pressure the girls get. They are expected to behave in certain ways, not be bad at anything while also not showing up their sisters, cousins and neighbors. They are expected to perform important public roles while being ashamed to be seen in a public role. They are continually changing their roles in the community as they get older, as older sisters get married and move away or younger sisters start school.
By going away to boarding school, they leave the family pressure behind. That doesn’t mean it is all light and roses in boarding school. They are under constant peer pressure from the girls in their dorms and they are scheduled in class or doing school-related work from 5:30 am to 9:30 pm. But the thing that made me consider this differently happen last weekend.
I was at an International Youth Day celebration. People had been uniformly invited to prepare a skit, drama, dance or song to perform as part of the festivities. The boarding girls did several dances that they had clearly rehearsed and worked hard on. Some girls were in more than one group and performed well in all of them and I think every boarding girl, or close to, participated. The girls from the village had one dance and one song that they did with the local Youth Group. (The Youth Group includes a year 8 and her mother, a woman who’s hair went white years ago and a few men who have children in primary school “Youth” Group is a loose term.) While waiting for the next group to come on, the MC played music and some of the boarding girls got up and danced with each other.
I don’t think the lack of participation on the part of the village girls was due to lack of interest. I think it is more that the boarders get a degree of freedom by leaving home. They aren’t being stared at by the same people who raised them and the people who they will live the rest of their lives with. It may also be that they have already pushed their boundaries once by going to boarding school which makes each consecutive push a little easier.
I’m just hypothesizing and philosophizing but it was an insight to me to think that the boarding girls may actually have a “better” life than the village girls. I don’t know.