Warning: Very Long Post Ahead. Picture heavy too.
I still remember the trepidation with which I approached Jimbaz building in UNN when it was time to collect my call up letter. I had prayed and prayed, but at some point my prayer went from “Lord please I want to serve in Lagos or Enugu or Akwa Ibom or Rivers” to “Whatever thy will oh Lord”. Even as I knew I’d committed it all to Him, I was still afraid of the unknown. Up until then I’d thought I was adventurous but I could now see I wasn’t so much.
I wasn’t even able to go in and get it myself; I bullied a male friend into going in to get my call up letter for me. When he arrived, he wasn’t smiling. I opened the letter. BN, I saw. Even as a tear slipped out of my eye, I felt a moment of extreme alarm when I wasn’t so sure BN meant Benue or Borno. I calmed down when I saw that it was indeed Benue, the lesser evil. Resigned to fate, I repacked my bags in readiness for the journey to Wannune camp, Tarka LGA, Benue state. At 6am on the 5th of August 2014, I began my journey into the unknown.
As we moved out of the familiar terrain of Obollo afor which bounded Enugu to Kogi and Benue, I couldn’t help feeling excited even though I had been pessimistic initially. I had subconsciously made up my mind not to enjoy camp, but I was ready to do what I did best: observe. After unending hours of travel from Obollo afor to Gboko and from Gboko to Wannune, we finally arrived camp. You’d think that the fact that Enugu is a neighbor to Benue would make the journey short but no, we spent a solid 5 and a half hours on the road. I made my first mental note: Benue is large.
I cannot begin to describe the blur that was my first day in camp. From having to carry a mattress all the way from the store to the dorm, to the uncountable back and forths for buying buckets, getting kits, registration and the rest of them. I was glad for the research I did before coming though. I was better equipped than a lot of people. Many people had their bags seized too, for bringing in contraband items. I saw some bags so big I wondered if they were coming to spend the rest of their lives in camp. I have never been as tired as I was that first night. I slept like a log of wood. My alarm woke me at 4am and after almost 30 minutes of debating in my head on whether to wake up or stay put, I got out and hurriedly got prepared for the parade ground. Just when I was about to lace up my sneakers, the bugle sounded. The fracas that ensued left me a bit confused. Well, I was already in my whites so I simply sprinted to the grounds while my room(my entire dorm in fact) was a jumble of half sleeping, half dressed girls bumping against one another trying to get out before the soldiers made it into the rooms. It was really dark on the grounds and I could scarcely make out the figures of my fellow corps members, if not for the white attire. Hearing the soldiers barking at the girls inside, I muttered a “Thank you Jesus” under my breath and made my second note: always be ready.
We had the usual welcome talk which I’m sure must have been interesting. Even as I wish I remembered what was said, I don’t. The one thing I can never forget about that morning was the cold. Chisos. 😱I shook like a leaf in the wind that morning. Wannune camp is situated along an expressway which is flanked by vast open lands. My knowledge of geography didn’t expose me to the fact that windy weather was expected in the middle belt at August, but, my people, I was frozen solid that morning. Everyone pressed together to avoid the cold, but my jacket did nothing to prevent it. My teeth chattered noisily and I trembled all over. In my entire life, even in the days as a kid, when I would do “odieshi” and take my bath outside in the cold harmattan breeze in the village, never had I experienced such jaw locking, bone rattling, intensely cold wind. At that moment I remember chattering silently to myself “Chibugo, you gotta survive this. Please don’t fall sick. Please. Please. Please”. Let’s just say I made it through that day without mishap.
Even though I had made up my mind not to enjoy it, camp turned out quite interesting. I wasn’t happy though, that I missed the audition for OBS. I had decided that was where I would like to work in camp but I missed the info on when the auditions took place. E pain me sha. Things were determined to be fun for me though. Standing in line for food in the first instance. Ha! What an experience! See, I didn’t go to a boarding school, so having to wait for food like that, wasn’t my style. Father had told me on leaving home, “Eat whatever everyone is served, do whatever others are doing. Don’t think you’re anything special. Don’t go there and form ajebutter because you’re not. Learn what you can and be aware of your surroundings. Keep your eyes open”.
I decided I would eat whatever was served, even if it was fried horseshit. I made a lot of friends while standing in line for food. I dunno, but my stomach had a knack for knowing when the bugle would soon sound and me and my camp bestie, Goodness aka “Goodie” would climb up the hill just in time for food. Don’t blame us. We were growing girls. We didn’t even give two hoots about the mammy market except maybe once a week. I came prepared too. I was well stocked with beverages so I never went hungry. My meal ticket was well worn by the time camp was over. Haha. A friend of mine who tried to keep up with the Joneses ran out of cash by the second week and found herself in line with us at the kitchen. “ Come on! Who beg you na? I thought you wuzz a bigz geh and the camp food is for only learners like us”?
Those who genuinely couldn’t eat camp food, I understood, but those who ate at the mammy market just to impress or feel important, I wondered at. Did they really think we who stood in line didn’t have money? Nah. That was why whenever I saw them following one bobo or the other just so he could buy them lunch at mammy, I made sure my laughter was loud. I think it was for people like these that Olamide sang in his “shakitibobo” song : “You dey live flashy lifestyle but your mama dey soak akamu” 😂. Anyway, that’s by the way.
Every picture I took in camp, I had to be coerced into, except for a few. I was glad for some things though, I can’t lie. The masses during the week, I couldn’t afford to miss. It happened to be during the worst of the ebola outbreak and we couldn’t share the kiss of peace and receive communion by mouth anymore but I was still very glad for it.
Speaking of ebola, I was snugly in bed one Saturday morning when my roommates were talking about the salt they had bought the day before for bathing. I knew I was missing something. I groggily asked why they bought it and they replied “because of ebola now”. My sleep befuddled brain slowly processed the fact that these ladies wanted to bathe with salt water before I laughed like a mad scientist and informed them that ebola was a virus and not a salt fearing bacteria. My sleepy self expected them to understand what I had just said as I promptly went back to sleep, as if everyone was a microbiologist. It still is funny to me that anyone would want to bathe with salt water. Chai. 😂.
Speaking of my room: it was a very interesting mix. We had eleven Igbo girls, two Hausa Muslim girls, and three Yoruba girls. It was chaotic at best. I understand a bit of Yoruba and I’m fluent in my language, Igbo, so the discussions of the automatic tribal cliques were my daily dose of comedy. They daily threw subtle and not-so-subtle shade at each other and I would usually be hidden under my mosquito net having a silent but very belly filling laugh. I remember one occasion when a girl from the Igbo clique asked for ‘leather”. By leather she meant a cellophane bag. The girl she asked was Yoruba from Lagos and she genuinely didn’t understand that “leather” was what cellophane bags were popularly called down East. When she finally understood however, she made sure she saved the story to retell her fellow clique members. And retell, she did! With a lot of flavor! She even did a good imitation of the “asker’s” Igbo accent. I couldn’t deal. As for me, I was a kind of “Buhari” in the room. For everybody and for nobody; if you get what I mean. The one thing that annoyed me to no end though, was the noise. I couldn’t even hear my thoughts. The painful part was that these girls woke up as early as 2 am to have their bath and begin preparing for the parade ground! For people like me who woke at 4:15, this was a major turn off. I found that complaining didn’t help, so I just slept through the noise anyway. Third note: learn to sleep through noise if you want to survive here.
I didn’t do anything special in camp, except write the morning meditation for our platoon. And hey, did you know, I was in platoon six and we were well known for taking the last position in almost every activity! We became a popular joke. I learnt to laugh at myself before getting laughed at.
I watched people fall in love and lust while in camp and I felt sad for them because, not to be a prophet of doom, I knew that very few of those relationships would survive after camp. I watched girls who came into camp with engagement rings and even wedding rings “move around” with officer after officer. I heard stories about serial affairs by married corpers that I tried hard not to believe. I had my own share of “camp boyfriends” though, if you could call them that. Usually we’d be great pals until they’d see that I was “bad market” in the casual fling department. Then they would take off in the search for more available “meat”, while I laughed myself silly in the background. Still, I made pretty great friends, male and female alike. Anyway, that’s by the by.
I thoroughly enjoyed the lectures while everyone got comfortable in the lecture hall and slept to their fill. Gosh. People even snored! Maybe I’m weird, but I couldn’t understand why people felt the lectures were boring. Okay, a few were boring, I admit. I took down notes, and maybe I was so judicious about it that someone decided to relieve me of my almost full book. It got stolen before the end of camp and I almost wept. When it was time to join one SAED group or the other, I went straight to the engineering area as I was curious about the inverters and solar energy panels, but after they threw around strange words like soldering, bla bla bla, I jejely tucked my tail between my legs and tiptoed to the ICT stand. It didn’t help that I had been the only female there. So I spent the next few days in a really boring class, learning a lot of what I already knew.
Fast track to the 26th. Twenty one days after our camp experience began, it was time to end it. The tension was palpable, a great contrast to few days ago, when there was an air of jubilation as the “allowee” bugle had finally sounded. I felt it couldn’t get worse since I was already in a backwater state in the first place. No offense to my Benue people. I knew that praying for Makurdi, Gboko or Otukpo was a wishful dream, so I just prayed I would be able to bear whatever they threw at me. I got my letter, by myself this time. It read:
Emmanuel Anglican Primary School, Ugba, Logo LGA.
Where the heck was that? I was suddenly very tired. Just then, Goodie came to break the news to me that she had been posted to Makurdi, along with some friends. Eish. What did I do wrong? As I turned to go, another camp friend, Toyosi, came weeping as she had been posted to Konshisha LGA. if you ask me, na who I go ask? I still remember sitting on the bus to Logo and looking at the brown streaks her foundation left on my crested vest with great sadness. I consoled her the best I could, and moved on before I would begin bawling myself. On the bus, I forced myself not to think but to be hopeful. I was keeping up with the whole positive pep talk until I heard someone yell from our bus in panic. Apparently we were going to cross a river called Buruku river. It was drizzling and I was cold, but this was not the reason I felt so dejected. I hadn’t been able to reach my parents all morning, and now I was about to cross a river on a crude wooden boat that was expected to carry the bus as well as the passengers, and in all my twenty something years I had never travelled on water. Someone took a picture of me while I crouched on the boat looking so worn out and dejected, but for the sake of my own integrity, I will not post that picture here. 😊
Well, we made it to the other side and moved on. It was at the other side of the river that I met Jane, who would later become my roommate. I had recovered enough from the river ride to become extremely annoyed that I would be teaching in a primary school, when she blurted “Ah, I was posted to the local government office oh. Thank God”. I glared at her. So? How did that change my plight? I disliked her from that moment until I got to know her better. We eventually arrived to meet a mini celebration in a caricature of a house called the “Mayor’s Lodge”. Every Logo corper can relate to this. This was our house for two days until we finished documentation and left to go home and get our personal effects. That was a very uncomfortable two days, I tell you. Sleeping on the floor is an exciting experience. Said no one ever. At this point, all I could describe about Ugba was: pigs and mud houses. Lots and lots of them. Not very encouraging.
On returning, I was very lucky to meet a random friend who turned out to be from my hometown. She housed me and I moved in completely when she passed out which was really close. Indeed, I was lucky. I had a gated house with running water, good electricity and a well for contingency measures. I didn’t know just how lucky I was until I saw where many other corps members had to live. One of us actually lived in a mud house! I had great well behaved neighbors and I had a playmate called Sammie. He was three years old and we played ball together a lot. Until his mother decided that these four “segzy” female corpers were planning to seduce her husband and banned poor Sammie from playing with me. Too bad. We were innocent. I missed my Sammie and it wasn’t unusual to see us making googoo eyes at each other from our imposed separation. Eventually Jane moved in with me and I had a swell time annoying her for the rest of our service year. 😈.
She was the perfect roommate for me and if it wasn’t her, I may not have been able to live with anyone else during that time. She lost her dear papa during this time and I’d never seen anyone more heart broken. She even shaved her hair for him. Eeek! We had a great year together. I kept calling my sisters Jane when I returned home. Lol. We had really interesting conversations in which I delighted in being my annoying self. Couldn’t pay her back enough. I get the feeling she loved it though.
Scenario 1: it’s 6:45am Monday morning.
Jane: (wakes up and stares sleepily at me) You’re already dressed?
Me: (Finishing up my makeup) Ghen ghen! Sleeping Beauty awakes! I’m about to leave sef
Jane: (looks at me suspiciously) Bubu, did you bathe this morning?
Me: Of course. Why?
Jane: Stop lying. I’ve been awake and praying in my mind. I felt the bed move when you woke up and I know I’ve not heard the sound of water in the bathroom.
Me: (Grinning from ear to ear, With one leg in the room and the other leg outside) The last time I checked, 1:15am was morning. That was when I had my bath. It’s not my fault that I’m a late sleeper. By the way, if I bathe now, what am I washing away? The color of my skin?
Jane: Dirty girl.
Me: (Grinning wider) Technically, you’re dirtier. I had my bath like five hours ago and you had your bath almost twelve hours ago. I think we both know who is smelling.
Jane: (hurls something at my head)
Me: (ducks smartly and runs out)
Scenario 2: It’s a hot Wednesday morning. 9:40am. We’re going for CDS dressed in our khakis. In my jungle boots, my strides are long compared to her dainty steps.
Jane: Chibugo slow down now
Me: I’m a UNN graduate.
Jane: (bewildered) How does that affect the fact that I’m almost running to keep up with you?
Me: You didn’t know? Our degrees are awarded in character, learning and trekking.
Jane: (laughs uproariously) Stupid girl
Me: (Blows her a kiss while striding on)
Jane: (out of breath) Hey! You’re still too fast!
Me: No. You’re just darn slow.
The very next month after we began our service proper, in the reign of King Ebola, we had Tuface come down to his state, tough not his tribe, to sensitize the people on hand washing and hygienic toileting.( He’s Idoma, Ugba is a Tiv town). I took a picture of him with my pupils as the school that came third in the quiz competition.
Remember Suleyol from this post? That’s her on Tubaba ‘s left. May she rest in peace.
With a little bit of courage, Collins and I were able to get him to take a photo with the “Ugba corpers”.
Every Saturday we had this compulsory sports CDS that I absolutely hated at first, but came to enjoy with time.
Did I mention that to get to the bank we practically had to travel to the next LGA, Ukum? Smh. Zaki biam town was where we had the nearest bank and that was one of my biggest issues with my service year. One could get robbed on the road. Remember this post? Hahaha. Just thought to refresh your memory.
We were just two months into service when I was made the vice president of my CDS group, NEMA. I was like “Dem never even grind beans, moimoi don dey smell”.
January 2015, I became president. Shit just got realer. I chose something more tame. We enlightened senior secondary students on what do do to prevent and ameliorate flooding. I cannot come and go and kill myself away on top of CDS work. I was vice president of NACC, the body of Catholic corpers, I was soon to become the Welfare officer for the LGA corps members, and I coordinated the NAP fm crew. There’s only so much one person can handle without neglecting the main thing. I had almost 50 children in class to teach. That was my priority.
Early 2015 was the hottest period I’d ever experienced. It was so hot, one would think the sun was on a punitive mission to the Benue people. I was always dreaming of ice cream. Gosh.! I remember bathing four times in one day. I mentioned this to someone and he said, “It’s because you even have abundant water to waste on bathing, that’s why you can still complain”. It was a time of acute water shortage. All wells had dried up. Benue is a state with abundant water bodies but without readily available potable water. Fourth note: Benue, surrounded by water, but her people lack good drinking water. Very sad. You need to see the cloudy water kids brought to school.
Eventually we sent the batch before us forth, with much ado at our various fellowships. That’s us collecting divine blessings from Fada at our Parish, as we sent batch A forth into the world.
I co-MCed the POP party along with Mike, and even did a short choreographed dance presentation for them with my very hip three-man dance crew✌. I bet you didn’t know I could dance, huh? (we’re cool like that). We promptly began preparing for our own send off.
The first rains came and suddenly our pupils disappeared from the classes. They had to tend to their farms as it was their main means of livelihood. Look at what my class looked like when the farm kids skipped school.
I talked and talked till my tongue almost fell out of my mouth but the kids had to eat. And to eat, you gotta work. So I let them be. I had to put in overtime after farming season just so they would understand all I had taught. Smh. I taught primary five all subjects, but I taught math to the primary six class as well.
2015 elections came and I got posted to a village deep within Logo LGA. Tser something or other, I’ve forgotten. I was the presiding officer at my polling unit, deep deep deep in the hinterlands of Logo. I was strangely excited, instead of being alarmed and close to hysterical as my parents down in Lagos were. It went fairly well, and even though one of our corps members was kidnapped but eventually released; the INEC office was razed, and there were some electoral and post electoral killings, all of us made it out alive. A lot of things went down that period, but maybe it’s better I don’t say them. Maybe it’s not my responsibility to expose what I’ve seen of the dirty underbelly of Nigerian politics.
On a lighter note though, I got me a cute elderly “toaster” who traveled down to his village for the elections. In his words, “I will take good care of you. You won’t have to worry about anything”. When I jokingly asked him, “but baba, what about your wife or wives?”, he said, “Forget them. If you agree, you won’t regret it”. Hehehe. I wonder how many girls he had pulled that line on successfully. I smiled graciously for the sake of my safety, but in my mind, I was like: Thanks hon. You’re cute, but I don’t play rough play. 👿. My worst memory of the election period was finishing up my share of the electoral work and braving the dark roads to come home to town on a stranger’s motorbike at 12:30am(brave or plain stupid?), only to find out that my roommate locked me out and was still at her location. I slept in the cold compound and I was as testy as a bear in the morning. I’ve still not forgiven her this one, as I dozed many times during palm Sunday mass which was the very next day.
Twice, we had to go to Wannune camp to bring in two streams of new corpers, myself and the CLO. It was a herculean task because of the logistics and resource management involved, but we somehow did it. I saw myself in them, some weeping loudly, others stoicly accepting their fate and trying hard not to cry. I busied myself wiping tears and answering questions, even really stupid ones. I had gotten so used to crossing Buruku river that I even took selfies on the boat. Pity I don’t have any now. This will have to do.
Who would have thought? The time had come for us to end it. I remember mother telling me over the phone:, it’s 89 days left till you come home. I missed Lagos terribly, as I hadn’t been home in little less than a year. Suddenly it was less than two weeks left. I had come to love my kids at school, and I already missed them even though I was still in Ugba. They brought me lots of edible stuff as parting gifts and I can say I didn’t lack food stuff during my last days in Ugba. Hahaha. Gotta love them kids. They cried, and I cried too, but I had to go.
What can I say? The experience taught me a lot of things, and it definitely was not a wasted year. More pictures below
Now, I did not dig through my archives and spend six hours of my working time to type up a five thousand word post, just to entertain you. I like to think that there are always lessons to learn from my posts. Great for you if you’re yet to go for NYSC, but still not a waste of reading time for you if you’re already above that level.
1. Do what you should, when you should. NYSC may be one year of service, but you determine your personal strength when you’re able to work for almost nothing and still put your best into it. I was paid three thousand naira monthly at my place of primary assignment. I had rent, power bills, personal expenses and many things to consider, which may have made me and others in the same shoes lose focus of why we were there in the first place. But that did not stop me from leaving home at or before 7am every morning to get to school. If this sh*t must be done, then do it so well that you’ll be remembered when you’re gone. If you have a plan for a community development project, don’t abandon it because no one seems to be in support. Press on. Even if you do not get widespread recognition, you’ll have a sense of fulfilment at having filled a need for society.
2. Don’t get into relationships to pass time or just for the heck of it. Relationships, like every other important decision in life, should be thought through, and not just done because “everyone else is doing it”. I remember one of my neighbors wondering aloud(to my hearing) at the way I managed to avoid romantic entanglements throughout the time. I was a bit startled. Pretty much all I did was avoid people, which is quite antisocial. When I responded with “If I went to bed with every man I’d personally had a crush on in this life, I’d probably have a body count of like 50 or more”, I watched their jaws drop in astonishment and I could only laugh. I could tell that they had put me on some kind of pedestal: an asexual, abstemious church girl. Well, not bad, since you can’t control what people think of you. You can only hope it’s mostly good stuff. I shook my head in amazement as people got into stupid, headless relationships, and got out of them as fast; I watched people become what they call “friends with benefits”, at least we were all aware of the realness of AIDS and STDs(we were in Benue after all). But the best thing was that I witnessed two successful relationships emerge. To the best of my knowledge, we have two married Ugba couples right now. 👏👏. Date with sense, my people.
3. Use your Internet well. While this might sound funny, there were people who as we passed out, had not even typed up their resume, let alone begun applying for jobs. I’d thought it was a no brainer. These guys had android devices oh. Use your Internet well. Ees beg I beg you.
4. Don’t forget your faith, or your commitments back home. If you were a Christian, keep your faith. Muslim, the same. If you were engaged or married, remain faithful. One year is not so long, when you think of it. Don’t be like the proverbial silly pigeon. At this point I have to mention my two uber – cool neighbors, Bomboy and Chukwudi, who ensured that I never lacked a ride to church. Their bikes were always ready for me and my roommate as we all attended the town’s Catholic Church, All Saints, together. (In Ugba, having a bike is almost equivalent to having a car in Lagos). God bless those guys.
It’s exactly one year since we all breathed a sigh of relief at being free from khakis and jungle boots. Maybe we had thought there would be jobs waiting on us, but harsh reality showed us how far this was from the truth, and no amount of NACC and NCCF fellowships can change that. It takes grueling effort, proactiveness and of course, an element of luck( as a Christian I call it grace) to be what you want to be. It’s a journey, really. You never really arrive at a destination until you die, you just make the best of the journey. Right? Keep the faith, my dear people. Your hustle must pay, bad economy or no.
At the time of my typing this, Logo and her surrounding LGAs Ukum and Buruku, are experiencing a very bloody tribal conflict with the Fulani herdsmen. Pray for peace in Logo, my friends. Such conflict among normally peaceful people is a great pity. And thank you for reading this extremely long post. If you have read to this point, you sure deserve a hug. When next you see me, or if we ever meet, simply ask for it. Haha. I sure hope you took something away from this post. Have anything to share about your NYSC experience? Don’t be shy, add it in the comments! You know I love hearing from you!