So it is that time of the year. Many have gotten an admission to that prestigious university. For those, for whom, freedom was elusive due to strict secondary school rules or over-protective parents, the time has come for the young, wild and free life. For many parents, unknown to them, hostel life is one that brings a triad of the good, the bad and the ugly.
Take an example of Stella Nalunga, a first-year student at Makerere University with high expectations about hostel life. “Of course, I can’t wait to join and get that aura of independence and do whatever I want, when I choose and with whoever I want,” she speaks with excitement.
To the parents, two years down the road, they may be receiving grand-children from their children who explored the peaks of the freedom that campus life brings. Others may welcome back alcoholics who, years before had joined university as teetotalers.
Hostel life comes with responsibility which ideally comes with maturity. If there is one clear evolution path to adulthood, then hostel life provides it. Pearl Kenyange, a third year student at Ndejje University attests to this. “One really learns how to make personal decisions, manage one’s life and maintain a budget.” Her room-mate at Kanani Hostel, Sharon Tugumisirize, supplements her argument, “You get to interact with different people, get on the road to self-development and learn the art of being independent.”
Independent they are indeed, their room is like a home away from home. Ranging from the basic utilities like plates, gas cookers to television sets and home theatre system, they have it all. And for many, in the after-math of graduation, hostel life will have prepared them for life in their own spinster or bachelor pad.
For the mummies’ boys and the daddies’ girls, hostel life is challenging if not stressing. For those who traverse district after district, it is a whole new chapter in life being miles away from home. Hostel life comes with keeping up with the trends, putting up appearances and living in a boxed life of a larger-than life way of dwelling. “You can’t be expected to wear the same dress-top week in, week out, you just feel pressured to do all that it takes to keep re-stocking your wardrope,” Gloria Kiwumulo a student at Makerere University Business School comments. “And you also have to face up with different characters, as roommates come in all fashions,” she explains. To some, it is that unhygienic roommate, to others, it is that Holy Mary, super religious roommate who keeps reciting Bible verses to the nagging of her room-mates. “Then you have that annoying neighbour. That egocentric twerp who plays loud music or worse when his girlfriend is also around, there are always loud irritable sounds going through the corridor,” Edward Nimusiima from Makerere University says.
For Nimusiima, the annoying bit is the uncontrollable swan that these friends become, stomping the yard, drinking, throwing up in the sink as noise blares from their ‘cheap’ subwoofers.
And then the feeding sets in. As the semester begins, everyone prides in a ‘fat’ wallet and fast food joints are the order of the day. But a good stay in a hostel will also teach one, that cooking from the hostel is cheaper in the long-run. According to Moses Abeka of Kyambogo University, “food joints around universities offer weekly, monthly and semester ‘feeding packages’ based on the menu and the frequency of meals.” One restaurant near Erima Hostel in Banda offers a semester package of Shs300,000 which entitles one to a variety of meals through the four months.
Many parents would wish not to read this, but hostel can also be the devil’s den of all sorts. There is more that goes on behind hostel gates and curtains of hostel rooms, all events public secret among students yet hearsay to the rest of the world.
Abeka speaks of the phenomenon of the “weekend wives”. “Weekend wives” in campus speak refers to female students who take on marital duties over the weekend at their boyfriends residences. In real sense, students wind up the week in the company of their lovers taking care of each other’s “needs”. “I invite a girlfriend every weekend to do my laundry, cook and of course give me stuff (read sex). She comes on Friday morning and leaves on Sunday evening,” confesses Francis Owere, a third-year student at Kyambogo University.
This trend is popular among finalists who woo unsuspecting high school girls from neighbouring schools and the naïve first year students. “The mere sight of empty wine bottles, television set, woollen carpet and wardrobe makes them think I am a wealthy guy from an affluent background, unaware that it took me three years to accumulate this property,” Owere concludes.
Then, there is that co-habiting couple. These are students who take the courage to live like husband and wife. The couple rents a single room, well-furnished and complete with a double bed. The girl plays the role of typical housewife taking care of general house duties while the boy is expected to cater for the luxuries, make up and food. They pool resources from their parents to finance this lifestyle.
Majority of these relationships are carried on from high school while others graduate from the weekend-wife stage. Some couples are course mates. Because of the costs involved and need to keep up appearances as “happy-well-to –do couple”, “cohabiting couples” settle for the distasteful rental premises in slums or surrounding areas like Kireka and Banda for Kyambogo, Naguru and Nakawa for MUBS. Kikoni and Kikumi Kikumi are popular living areas for Makerere University student couples.
Then there are the call-girl type who have mastered the art of “detoothing” and siphoning money out of older men aka “sugar-daddies.” These are picked up on Friday evenings and only return on Mondays with hang-overs. Some of these girls’ boyfriends are the men who park those expensive fuel guzzlers. Behind the closed doors of the hostels, are students engaged in drugs and smoking cigarettes. “At the balcony, they will stand, jabbering about something mushy like soccer, glasses of gin nestled in their hands, and cigarettes sticking between their lips. Then the whole alley will reek, on the smoke,” explains Nimusiima.
Is there a way out?
Of course some hostels have tried to implement rules to the core. But one of the managers at Akamwesi hostels who preferred anonymity says, “When you become strict, students begin avoiding your hostel, it’s not good for business.”
For most of the hostels I visited, visitors are required to sign in a visitors’ book and leave their identity card at the security office as they head to the rooms of their hosts. However, that is all to the security precautions, whatever happens in the rooms is under the control of the host and the visitor.
At Kanani Hostel, a girls only hostel in Mengo, the rules stipulate that males are not allowed to enter the premises, but the caretaker notes that they have failed to implement this rule. “We keep telling the boys to keep away, but they are stubborn and the girls insist on having them inside,” the caretaker notes.
The way forward
Since no one joins a hostel before they make 18 years of age, it could be said, that trying to control these students is trying to infringe on the rights of these young adults. To the students, hostel life will always mean life away from the roving eyes of their parents, unlimited late nights, campus nights in clubs and the never-ending parties. But hostel life is also that zone, out of which lasting friendships are made, business start-ups take-off and real growth happens. At the end of the day, it is not what a student gets out of hostel life, it is what the hostel life gets out of them. Depending on student to student, it may get out the good, the bad or even the ugly.
Are university halls any better?
Some strict parents in a bid to cut costs and instill some level of caution are choosing the option of university halls for their children. Other Universities like Uganda Christian University in Mukono require all first years to be in-house residents at the campus hall.
For the parents, who are looking at the option of university halls for their students, the situation may not be that different from the hostels. For one to be a resident at a Kyambogo Hall, one is supposed to pay Shs450,000 per semester which comes with water, electricity and feeding privileges. Other crafty students on government sponsorship have rented out most of their beds in these university halls and opted for a life outside the halls unknown to their parents and the university authorities.
Unlike in hostels where security is ensured to a certain level, for many halls that I visited, there was no barrier to one’s entrance. Like in Makerere University halls, at Nanziri, Mandela and Pearl halls of Kyambogo University, any stranger can get in and out without any restriction let alone any security check-up. Theft cases are the order of the day, and when strikes fall, then a fair dosage of tear-gas is up for inhalation. To those who think hall life is purely about academics, this may be a super myth because even in halls, abortions take place, virginity is lost and the only time when calm returns to the halls is during the examinations’ period, but for now, it’s about bazaar, the ultimate all-in one fun-collection. “When a room-mate’s girlfriend is sleeping over, then in hostel life, the other room-mates get exiled, ‘back-passed’ or are forced to ‘climb-the-tree’ or in simple terms, look for somewhere else to sleep-over. It’s all hostel and hall life. Whatever happens in hostels is actually a mirroring of the life in halls,” says Moses Abeka, a student.