I am sitting deep inside the heavily fortified territory of a major girl’s school in Colombo. Barbed wire tops the high walls and spikes crown the massive gates. Much to the envy of all those young wolves who have ever circled its wall during big match days.
I’m there because of Mrs Cerno’s (and family’s) heavy involvement in the Old Girls’ Association (O.G.A). Its a connection that goes back generations and includes her mother, aunts, assorted relatives, and family friends. Fact is we might as well have a girl since it would be easier to get her into this school in the zero sum game of Sri Lankan education. Many dinner table stories have already familiarised me with the blood curdling politics of the organisation. Which makes our parliamentary politics seem bland by comparison. It survives due to the fanatical determination of a few clear headed, loyal members and their families.
It is inevitably the male members of the family who get roped in to do the grunt work. We are jokingly referred to as “honorary old girls”. My father-in-law has been enslaved for years doing their “computer work” – which covers anything involving switching on a computer. YOU try entering thousands of names and address in illegible handwriting into a Microsoft access database.
My involvement started innocently enough – sticking stamps on some sort of notice/flyer that had to be mailed out to the OGs (Old Girls) in a hurry (everything has to be mailed out in a hurry). Then it meandered on into advising about web-site domain names and finally to sitting in a balloon and ribbon festooned stall at this OGA event. Thankfully spousal unit is with me to reassuring hold my paw under the table.
Looking around me I can see older versions of honorary old girls (no I won’t use the unfortunate acronym) going about their toil. Sweat drenched executives of major companies being ordered around like coolies by their wives in outrageous hats and LARGE sunglasses. A fate I am sure Mrs C will spare me in my greying days.
I suppose many of those big match wolves of my generation (disclaimer: I was never part of that crowd) will also be wondering the pathways of girls’ schools all over the city. Carrying brightly coloured school bags and drink bottles for their little daughters. Going to PTA meetings and clutching cameras for that critical shot of their offspring in the end of year play.
Roaming in packs are current students of the school. Each pack is grouped by age. The primary grades in innocent frocks. The teenagers in various degrees of more modern attire. Boldly testing their understanding of risqué fashion and the rules designed to restrict it. All under the stern gaze of matronly security ladies.
Mainly because at least one pack of BOYS have infiltrated the gates – legally with tickets – severely complicating security arrangements. They are bags of youthful insecurity papered over with bravado trying to elicit giggles from the desired sources. Walking around and around nibbling on tiny expensive short-eats as slowly as possible. Seems terribly complicated and time consuming.
Around me another turn of the wheel has already started. The next generation of old girls (of both genders) is starting to gel. Though we hope it will be many years and university degrees later that the weddings will start.
Recalling the fragments of school day recollections of my parent’s generation, it is obvious the fundamental dynamics haven’t changed. It is tempting to wonder what is going on in the minds of the old girls (honorary or otherwise) as they see younger versions of themselves circling carefully through those old buildings. Do they know?
Speculation is not a good thing.