“It was always like some kind of ritual. Every two or three days before a ‘funkie’ slang for school outings and trips and on weekends, I would always faintly taste kerosene in my githeri. Its distinct smell was unmistakable,” says Mildred, who went to a public school in Kisumu.
“For some reason, paraffin was a major ingredient in food in the middle of the term, especially in second term when it is cold, and the month leading to the half term. Hardly would you notice it at the beginning or end of the term,” says Joshua who spent four years in a seminary in Rift Valley. ‘
As for Mercy, paraffin formed part of the top layer of their githeri, which was the school’s staple food.
“We had no option but to eat it, especially since we neither had a school canteen, nor were we allowed to carry any edibles to school,” she recalls with a shrug.
Not that having a school canteen changed matters.
“We had a school canteen, alright, but the snacks they sold were not sufficient to keep one full for long, hence the need to rely on school food. And, of course, there were some meals we would never miss like Sunday supper. It was rice and meat- heavenly. But the meat was always sparingly garnished with paraffin,” says Moses, fanning his nostrils unconsciously.
“I had just joined Form One when I smelt paraffin in food for the first time. The matron had summoned me to the kitchen and in my naiveté, I assumed the paraffin was used to cook our food. I don’t know why I never connected it with the taste in my food at supper time.
“A week later, I noticed that I was not getting erections in the mornings as usual. That was enough reason for alarm. So I brought the subject up during break with my friends. It was funny the way all of us were worried about the whole thing until a senior student laughingly told us that it was as a result of the paraffin we consumed in our food,” explains Joe.
In Joe’s opinion the paraffin works.
“It is about a man’s ego and self-esteem. There is no way you are going to approach a girl when you know you cannot get it up!” jokes Joe.
But Joshua scoffs at the idea that paraffin was any good: “Paraffin did not make us desire sex any less. It was the fact that I was in an all boys’ school that made it difficult for us to meet and hit on girls that often. But we dreamt about girls all the time. In fact, for those of us who were lucky to ‘score’ during the holidays, all the paraffin that we had imbibed in school was no deterrence!
Mildred says she only came to learn that the paraffin was meant to reduce pregnancy rates in school from her schoolmates. But she says its efficacy can’t be quantified, at least in her case, because she’d never had sex before and, therefore, couldn’t miss something she had never tasted.
Liz, a graphic designer, remembers tasting paraffin when she was in a primary boarding school for girls, and all the way to high school.
“There could be something to it because in high school, four of my classmates came back to school after the December holiday pregnant. Maybe that was because they were not getting paraffin in their meals at home and their hormones went haywire!” she quips, adding that girls whose families were well off, smuggled sex toys into the school anyway.
Mildred disagrees: “My school was run by strict Catholic nuns and barely had a history of teen pregnancy. You can only desire something you know. Looking back, one might think the paraffin must have had its effects, but truth, in my view, it is our inexperience and lack of opportunity that made us lie low.”
In one boarding school, writing letters home was banned as the parents had started getting concerned over complaints from their children that their food was being laced with paraffin. Incoming letters to the school were, therefore, read by the administration and those found to have hinted to their parents about paraffin, would be shredded and the recipient punished. The school was also very strategic in the manner it administered paraffin doses.
When parents visited school during Annual General Meetings or thanksgiving ceremonies, the food served to students would be ‘clean’ in case they demanded to see or taste it. If some parents popped by on a day when the food had been paraffin ‘injected’, they would be served teachers’ food. If they insisted on getting into the kitchen, they would be firmly advised that it was out of bounds to unauthorised personnel, parents not being an exception.
At one secondary school in Nairobi, boys nearly went on the rampage a couple of years back year when the cook ‘overdosed’ their lunch with paraffin. They threatened to burn down the dining hall unless fresh food, minus paraffin, was prepared for them. The administration obliged.
A deputy principal of a senior boys’ high school who spoke to Crazy Monday on condition of anonymity said they still doll out paraffin to ‘tame the animal’.
But does it work? Is it based on a silent order from the Ministry of Education or a tradition that has been passed on from cook to cook since the days of Carrey Francis, the legendary missionary and teacher?
In an online discussion on the smell of paraffin in food among women who went to one school, one Victoria claims, “It slowed down the hormonal action in your body so that you ‘don’t go on heat’. At least that’s what I heard, but I’ve never been able to confirm this. Would someone mind googling so we can know for sure?”
She is quickly told off by one of her mates: “If it did work, then what about the lesbians, or should we say their case had nothing to do with libido?”
Trawling through the Internet, one only finds questions, but not a single study on the link between paraffin and libido, which would not be the case if its use was backed by science.
Our universities of ‘science and technology’ should shed some light on this matter.