I was 14 years when I heard my parents discussing whether they should send me for the National Cadet Camp in Rantambe.
I was studying at Holy Family Balika Kurunegala having moved from my home town Galle. My father was a judicial officer in Kurunegala. Other than for band, drama and choir practices my sister and I were never allowed to stay after school for activities. My mother, who was a housewife was trying in her very gentle but persuasive manner to get my father’s permission for me to camp in Rantambe. In the end she succeeded!
I was filled with exhilaration even though there were nervous butterflies in my tummy. I was new to the school and had joined the band because my sister did. For the first time my sister who was two years senior to me was not accompanying me as she was sitting for her O/L’s. For the first time in my life I was lodging out of home without a member of my family.
We left for Rantambe NCC camp for six days. We were packed like sardines at the back of a lorry. A bit of a bump and our dear heads were in danger of banging on the top. My bottom was soar after sitting on the hard wood seats. my cheeks burned with embarrasement ‘what would my father think of this?’ at the same time I was filled with sense of pride.
At the camp we lived in Billets. We were about 20 of us with our teacher. I have heard many stories of glory days and records set against a popular girls’ school from Kandy. The girls looked very smart indeed and their instruments looked in good shape.
We would wake up in the morning for the ‘morning call’. Two cadets were sent with a plastic pail to bring morning tea, another would run ahead for flag duty. All the participants’ school flags were hoisted, the national flag flying the highest. After brushing our teeth and getting dressed we stood in formation in our platoon and marched to the courtyard ‘Left, Left, left right left….’ For the morning parade.
After morning assembly and breakfast, there was, jogging, drill practice, various lessons and tests for cadets, and extra labour such as cleaning, painting of administration buildings. Lunch was always a disappointment …there was no meat and mostly gravy. I was very hungry so I ate. I appreciated my mother’s cooking much more after this.
In the evening before dinner we had to have a communal bath. Almost all the girls took a bath at the same time…. this was a first for me and my goal was to finish really quick so I could get back to the billet to change! There was much chatter and laughter at this time.
The lesson I learnt most from being a cadet was that in the camp and even amongst the band members, I was no longer a privileged daughter of a judge. I was treated the same or even a bit more severely. This made me want to prove myself even more. I didn’t want to fuss about anything. Later as a university student, I experienced this reality by getting to know students from all parts of the island.
The day I got back home from camp; I was running a fever …. My parents welcomed me with open arms, I also saw them staring at me as if I were a stranger whilst my sister made fun of my very dry, peeling sunburnt skin. I was a couple of shades darker too!! But more than the exterior, I had changed and would never be the same sheltered younger girl my family knew.I was armed with the knowledge that actions speak more than words. Who you are is determined by what you do and that many things can be achieved by working together as a team.
A year later I made it to the next band camp …this time when I got home, it was my home that had changed, my father had taken ill and a few months later, we lost him. Having moved back to our home town and old school in Galle. I learnt from my friends in Kurunegala that ‘our’ cadet band had won the ‘Herman Loose’ 1st place trophy. I could almost taste the victory!
Becoming a cadet made a bigger impact to my life than I could have ever imagined….
Even now when I mention to friends and acquaintances that I was a cadet in a school band, I see a look of surprise and disbelief! To challenge this doubt, I will post a photograph taken in the year 1995.
I’m so thankful to my mother for making this happen.
Lakshini de Silva