18 Nov 2012

The Married Women’s Training Institute for the Intending.

There is something about putting a bunch of women in one room; it creates a level of community. A majority of the staff at the school I teach are women. The number of corps member also skews towards a female majority. One thing that has become quite clear, after a few months, is that the teachers consider it part of their responsibilities to instill in the female corps members ‘proper’ etiquettes.


One particular source of contention between the teachers and the corps members is dressing. During my early days in the school, I was a victim of the dress code. I arrived at the school in a lovely button-down shirt and a pair of trousers. I thought I looked professional; they saw me flouting the rules. I was unaware at that point that it was considered inappropriate for women to wear trousers. It was the last time I was to enjoy that luxury. I am now in a uniform of skirts and dresses. They got off easy with me though; other female corps members are not so quick to live by the rules. A lot of the other female corps members prefer to wear their skirts tight and short, showing off the shapes of their body to maximum effect. The female teachers have taken to logging their complaints vocally. On the days they feel the corps members are far too inappropriate, they institute a kind of detention that prevents the offender from leaving the staff room. Despite all the talk and action, so far, there has been no change in the sizing of the skirts.

Marriage is the primary focus of their training exercise though. “When you get to your husband’s house” has become a popular refrain when they are scolding female corps members. “When you get to your husband is this how you are going to be greeting them?” the vice principal screamed one day at a corps member she felt had not greeted properly. “When you get to your husband’s house are you going to be buying food from a canteen?” is the line used to admonish corps members who choose to buy their lunch instead of bringing it from home. “When you get to your husband’s house, is this how you will keep your mother-in-law waiting?” is another line used when a corps member is late. For the married corps members, the lessons include sessions on parenting. “Let that child breastfeed in comfort, joor!” is what a teacher screamed as she ripped the modesty cover off a corps member who was breastfeeding her daughter. The teachers take their time to justify each moral lesson of the day.

The conversations can be quite hilarious when they are giving intimate details of their lives. There is a particular teacher who has taken to regaling us with stories about her experience living with tumultuous neighbors. She talks about stone fights and screaming matches that have to be subdued by policemen. She is quite an entertainer because she is often matching her words with physical demonstrations in the middle of the staff room. It is easy to believe her stories because even now, at advanced age, she still shows streaks of stubbornness and mischievousness.

There are days that the stories are heartbreaking. One particular teacher often speaks of the struggles she initially experienced as a young bride that moved into her in-laws’ house. She did not have much of a choice than to live with her aunt-in-law because her husband was a student and unable to financially support her. Hers was a marriage that was entered into because she was pregnant. Her aunt-in-law would declare during her introduction ceremony, ‘if not that the girl is pregnant already, I would not consent to be in-laws with Egba people.’ That comment would set the tone for years of antagonism early on in her marriage. She survived those years and would often use it as a teaching example for the young females.

Outside of talking about the challenges one faces in marriage, they are also eager to marry off the female corps members. One ex-corps member who served at the school was match-made with her head-of-department’s (HOD) son. The HOD was quite serious about instigating a romance between her son and the corps member. She had taken to performing the mother-in-law duties. When given freebies, she would give it to the corps member. When everyone was paying for aso-ebi, the HOD paid the corps member’s share. Alas, the female corps member did not find her son appealing and the romance would die even before the ink on her final clearance dried.

The male teachers are not immune to putting the marriage pressure on the female corps member. I have now been accosted a few times by male teachers who believe it is their duties to remind me that I am getting overly ripe for marriage. The first time it happened, I felt like I was watching a movie featuring two mad men, a couple of sane men, an innocent bystander and myself.

The ‘intervention’ happened over the summer while I was in the school supervising the state’s promotional examination for the penultimate year students. I got stuck in one of the offices because of heavy rainfall. As I sat there, two of the Yoruba male teachers started lecturing me that culturally women are supposed to be married young. They told me not to buy into any western ideals that suggested it was okay to wait to get married. I was in shock and just kept laughing. The other male teachers rebuffed their advice by talking about the importance of waiting for the right person. And another teacher just sat there watching the whole scene unfolding silently. I was ever so glad when the rain ceased to fall.

As I have spent more time in this training institution, I have learnt that it is better to maintain the peace. Often times, I find their approach to certain issues quaint and irritating but I have learnt to let it go. The truth of the matter is that I value my monthly clearance too much to jeopardize it by having an argument. I simply just adapt and let them think they are winning. 



by Sinmi
2012 9JEducation.org work-study

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