Post main image
Photo by


The Ugly Side Of Boarding School

The bad food, lack of water and theft.

BY Pauline Katethya

May 30, 2023, 08:57 AM

Photo by

When I think about boarding school, I remember when the cooks made us tea using water they had washed beans with. They were so dedicated that they went out of their way to make sure we had breakfast.

A few were on their first sip and for others, the smell caught them off guard. It was around 6:40 in the morning and we were almost dying from hunger. And guess what we find in the morning?

This is not the first time something like this happened. There are days we took porridge and once the cook realized the porridge wouldn’t be enough for all of us, he poured a 20-litre container of water into the sufuria and told us to enjoy our breakfast. 

I have met cold people in this world, but cooks in boarding schools are something else. They can boil mud and serve it to you, and they won't feel anything. They cut cabbage and Sukuma Wiki with pangas. It wasn’t unusual to find a leaf on your plate.

The soup was like boiled water with a sprinkle of salt. The ugali was either burnt or half-cooked. If I tell you about the number of people who broke their legs or fought because of mukoro, you will be shocked.

Someone lost their left eye when another poked them for stealing their mukoro. For those who went to academies, mukoro are the remains left in a sufuria after you’ve cooked ugali. 

Those guys just fed us enough to keep us alive. I don’t want to mention the paraffin they put in food. They said it helped keep the hormones in place. They didn’t want to have a situation where we fell in love with the other girls, kissed them, or did other things. I suspect that’s the reason I still belch paraffin to date. It was way too much. 

The Ups And Downs 

I went to boarding school when I was 9 years old. No child deserves to go to a boarding school at that age. I was used to a decent breakfast of bread, eggs and sausage but now I had to take tea made from water used to wash beans.

It felt as if my mum dumped me in the middle of nowhere. If you have been to Kajiado, you know how dry the place can get. There was nothing else in sight save for thorny shrubs with some black gum. 

We chewed this gum when we went for runs outside the school. And let me tell you, we ran for so many kilometres, it felt as if we were training for the army or something. Sometimes we spotted hyenas. 

I never enjoyed my time in primary school, especially in the first year. We had to wake up early. I didn’t know how to wash clothes and taking supper at 5 PM didn’t make any sense to me. What if I starved at night? I was shy, quiet, soft, and got bullied by the big girls. I’d cry most nights and wish I was home. I felt lonely.

The Price Of Water

Our school had only one water tank. It was opened once a week, mainly for the cooks to get water for cooking and cleaning the kitchen. When they did, they would only permit one class to fetch water. 

If it was class 8 this week, the next week would be class 7 and so forth. Can you imagine if you were in class 4 how long it would take you to get water?

We only washed the collars of our blouses and our armpits. We went to the bathroom with cups of water. Everyone seemed clean. Our school was even praised for having the tidiest of students. 

We slept with our feet or hands in buckets of water, don’t ask me how, but the water had to be protected at all costs. If you had to die protecting your water, you had to. The water goddess would later crown you. 

Some hid containers of water in their boxes but if someone found out, they’d steal it. Water was like a treasure. Gold. We stole it from the kitchen, our friends, or the teacher’s houses. It was that bad. 

A classmate lost her nipple after another girl bit it off when she found out she stole her basin of water. Why she went for the nipple, I don't know. Maybe this is the reason they put paraffin in food. When I went to high school and water was flowing from the taps, I stood there staring. It was a miracle. 

Among Thieves

Everyone who went to boarding school was a thief at some point. Your pen would fall and when you bend to pick it up, you would only find the floor and no pen. 

You would look around but everyone would be busy writing. No one saw it no one took it. We wonder how Kenya became a country of thieves when it all started in schools. 

If I washed my clothes I had to stand by the hanging lines and watch them dry. I couldn't even blink, because if I did, they'd grow legs. I remember once I hung my skirt by the classroom window and as the teacher taught, someone snatched it and ran as fast. There’s nothing I could do about it. Don't even ask why we hang clothes in classrooms. It was that kind of school.

Before I finished the first term, I had lost my sweater, blouse, P.E kits, a bag, socks, books… My aunt had to bring me shoes when we closed school
because someone stole my Bata toughies. It was chaotic.

The school mum who was responsible for taking care of me had used all my pocket money, took my snacks, essentials like Vaseline, kiwi, tissue and my blankets. It is by the grace of the Lord I am able to tell this story today.

Read: Is She Listening To Music? Leave Her Alone