The Yellow Bucket


A few hours after I said goodbye to my parents and started what generations in our family believed to be education of unequaled quality, I lay in my bunk bed trying to define myself in my new space.

Like many boarding schools, the lights went out at a specific time resulting in a chorus of very hushed whispers as a new nervous group of pre-teens and teenagers  tried to have conversations without being caught by the ‘sleep police’. Yes, the administration took sleep very seriously and allotted an entire ministry to it.  I didn’t whisper that night even though I knew a handful of girls from my previous school and had already anticipated the budding of friendships with some new faces. Instead I lay quietly thinking too much, already embracing the pensive tendencies that would follow me into adulthood. I fell asleep questioning my worthiness, thinking about all the wonderful girls my age that hadn’t had the opportunity to come to this school or to any school for that matter.  Educating women has not always been a priority in my culture and while my family held nothing back when telling me how smart and special I was, I already knew that families are supposed to say that. Still, I wondered if there was a little girl out there who would have been more hardworking than me, who would have studied longer and tried harder had she had the chance.  In that large dormitory, in my tiny bunk bad I tried to figure out how to be worthy until I fell asleep.

I am not sure what I expected, but morning came with the loudness and chaos of a civil war. I didn’t hear the wake up bell because all at once about 100 girls raced to the showers, running with plastic buckets and basins, towels draped over their heads to shield them from the rain. I sat up and realized that there were maybe two other girls left in a dorm room that had a 25-30 bed capacity. We were the slackers, the sleepy heads, the least enthusiastic about taking a cold shower at 5:45 in the morning.  By 6:30am the lines in what we referred to as the ‘shower compound’ were still long and I felt disinclined to stand in the rain waiting for my turn. By the time I took a shower, it was breakfast time and I found myself on day one, already behind the Namagunga culture-a culture that mandated that one always stayed ahead of and on top of everything.

Six years later as I loaded up my faded yellow bucket and rolled up mattress I felt what I think is the normal amount of nostalgia one should feel about boarding school. What I hadn’t anticipated was the gratitude I would carry with me forever as we eased out of the gates that I thought had held me captive for years.  Gratitude, above all else, for the lifelong friendships that were formed within the confines of our dorm rooms and through our shared experiences.

Now that I am safely on the other side, I would like to debunk the theory that your school years are your best years. Everyone’s path through life is unique so I only speak for myself when I say this. Each season of our lives is for a reason and comes with lessons and wisdom to prepare us for the rest of our journey and should be appreciated for what it is but not glorified. I have found that being an adult, even with responsibilities and expectations that come with the territory is all together quite wonderful. While standing in line in the rain with yellow bucket many years ago was certainly not my finest hour, it, along with my many high school experiences contributed to the massive tangle of complexities that I am today.  I look back with respect for that quite durable yellow bucket as well as everything it stands for and skip happily into a future of hopefully only warm showers.

By Rita Nagawa

Rita Nagawa grew up to be a doctor