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Spyglass: The Comboni Wild Bunch! 

By Azore Opio

We weren’t Butch Cassidy or Kid Curry, better known as the Sundance Kid. We didn’t have horses to ride. We didn’t have banks and trains to rob, nor innocent people to kill or innocent bystanders to slaughter. None of us was Billy the Kid, the 19th century American frontier outlaw and gunman, whom legend claims killed 21 men, one for each year of his life.

We were not the most dangerous gang in the American Wild West with bounty hunters hot on our heels. We were not aging, scroungy outlaws at the end of the line pursued by the Pinkerton detectives from Wyoming to the frontiers of Bolivia, where the history of the Wild Bunch ended, but young "guns" bound by a private code of honour, camaraderie and friendship, just at the beginning of the line. But we had Comboni College, an all-male affair. We had Comboni adjacent to Fatima Teachers’ College for Big Babies. Ours was a more colourful, youthful and bloodless adventure than what the legends of the Wild West inspired.

One of us though was akin, character-wise, to the tall, blue-eyed, smooth-complexioned, notorious Billy the Kid; friendly and personable at times, because he was killed by a contemporary counter-part of Sheriff Pat Garrett. These qualities, along with his cunning and celebrated skill with petty business contributed to his paradoxical image, as both a notorious school outlaw and beloved enterprising student.

I am telling you this story because it has never been told before. Only those who lived it; who are still alive and feared to tell it; knew it, and perhaps you remember some of your wacky school days. And I am telling you because I recently met one of the last of the Comboni Wild Bunch, Bob Awongo Odyek; ex-soldier, the others: Ojok Ongoda (Afrik) ex-soldier, Ogwal Afrik, Opobo alias Opib Opabs…all dead now.

There was Omara Shaban and I; "Billy, the Kid" and "Butch Cassidy", respectively, for comparative purposes. Shaban was the only Moslem in Comboni in a long time and he enjoyed special meals. Friday was his free day to worship, which day he used to buy merchandise – cigarettes and puff-puff (mandazi) to retail. It would later be discovered that he was an infidel.

Let me now tell you when our escapades started. It was 1974. We went on a general strike in the first week of the first term of school. The ring leaders were in what we call Senior IV (Form IV). We wanted the Headmaster to answer some burning questions. Let me tell you, if he had appeared by any bad chance, he would have been dead meat. Luckily for him, the then Board Chair of the school, His Lordship Archbishop Asili (RIP) tried to hold brief for him. Being a man of God, we politely escorted him and his policemen out the gate. That was the baptism of fire we needed. Afterwards, it was Blackbeard’s pirate ship on roller coaster wheels all the way.
Kitchen Raids!

We loved kitchen raids on "meat" days – Wednesdays and Sundays. The cooks knew us, the Wild Bunch – so they were careful to cache bucketfuls of harambee: hip bones padded with thick cartilage and lards of fat and oddments of flesh along with some tasty leftover, veggies from lunch. Hmm.

On Sundays under the cool arches of the chapel, Father Pons, a short, stocky Italian who loved to puff on a foul smelling cigar, would preach to the proper khaki-clothed students about the sinfulness of drink, quoting liberally from Leviticus 10:9, and Proverbs 23:31-32: "Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou nor thy sons with thee least ye shall die.

Look not thou upon the wine when it is red and when it bringeth his colour in the cup when it moveth itself aright. At the last, it biteth like a serpent and stingeth like an adder…" Now you know that is from the Good Book. But in this hilly, tree-infested Ngetta village, waragi (afofo, odontol, ‘kill me quick!’ or akpweteshi) was a mere 50 cents a glass. Fifty cents a glass! Did Pons really think that waragi bit more than his stinking cigar?

The Battle With The Big Babies!

The battle with the Big Babies began the day the match was announced. For a week, tempers simmered until the last whistle was blown. We escorted the Big Babies with boos and jeers and hurled a few stones as a parting gift. The frontline, a gravel road dividing the Big Babies’ home and our infants’ sanctuary was "mined" before supper. Immediately we deposed of our eating utensils, we collapsed a brick poultry house. Wheelbarrows popped up from nowhere to transport the bricks we had transformed into missiles. Ocan was in the thick of it. The battle ended in the wee hours of the morning. I’ll spare you the casualties, but no deaths were recorded.

What catapulted us into legend in the later years were several feats that included regular breaking of bounds, sneaking smokes, chasing village belles, cutting corners and occasionally clashing with unpopular teachers over pots of marua (shaa). This was crowned by a punitive expedition that nearly culminated in the torching of a village. God saved the village. Our elevated portrayal of incipient violence and savagely-implicit carnages both on and off campus earned us reverent praise, and we were hailed for our truly realistic and interpreted vision of the radical 20th century subverter.

I remember with a lump in my throat and warm tears of joy in my ageing eyes; our favourite teachers; Bua, (RIP) our club-footed Chemistry guru with a slanted swagger to his gait and a deep slur to his speech. We used to sneak a smoke or two together and tipple an occasional tot of akpweteshi; there was Ogwang Arip (living) the Physics brain box; Olipa (RIP) the Mathematics wiz kid, loaded with the entire logarithm, sine and cosine tables.

Then there was Amuko (living) our Biology virtuoso. And there was Olung; the History baobab. He is dead. And oh! Oluk Obadi; Geography ace teacher. He, too, is dead. Hey! Ocan Agric! The neatest of them! He, too, is dead.Some of the moderate Wild Bunch members have made it big. But that is another story altogether. As for me, I have been zapping through careers. Now I shine shit for peanuts.

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