Everyday by 12pm for the next 21 days, I’ll be telling you what life is like at NYSC Camp. I was posted to Borno State, but the camp holds in Katsina state due to Boko Haram insurgency in Borno.
Someone taps me awake. It is A. When I open my eyes, the room is a flurry of activities: young men in various stages of undress rushing to fetch water to bathe, young men already dressing up. I already fetched my water yesterday so I am spared the stress of queuing at the water tank. The cold is heavy, as usual. I pull out my bucket from under my bunk. I wake O. who sleeps in the bunk next to mine.
NYSC is the place where shame comes to die, so I am not surprised when I walk into naked young men bathing in the open and in the other bathroom without doors. Yesterday afternoon, in broad daylight, I saw a young man bathing in that doorless bathroom, naked, not even bothering that people would look. I swear, I’m not a prude, but it was a shock to me. Me that I’m keeping my body for my future love so that my in-laws will pay the full cost of my husband price. Last night, a guy bathed in front of our hostel. Right at the entrance o. In his defence sha, it was dark. But still.
After taking my bath, I dress up in new whites and wait.
In other camps, the bugle sounds to indicate that Nigeria is awake, but I hear that things are not normal in this camp. Here, the bugle sounds, but I don’t even know. I expected something different—loud, jarring—but this bugle sounds like a bush baby, an egbere in training.
Soldiers come. We double up to the parade ground in darkness.
I find people from NCCF, singing and clapping. Muslims head to the mosque. The NCCF brother tells us to give thanks to God. God who helped us to be here. Many of our mates are dead, do we know? Many have extra year, are we aware? Even he, he had an extra year, but look at him today.
After this, he invites us to attend the NCCF. Have time for God. Don’t come to camp and forget the Lord. There are three religious bodies: the association for Muslims, the one for Catholics, and the one for all other church denominations.
We sing the national anthem, the NYSC anthem; we recite the pledge, and then listen to the morning mediation. More rules follow: Don’t shit in the open; don’t smoke in camp. If you are a smoker, there are places in the market you can smoke. Don’t drink alcohol (makes sense why alcohol is confiscated). Don’t steal. If you cannot do without stealing, you better control yourself (these are his exact words, believe me).
The drilling/marching session begins again. We re-learn how to remove head dress (face cap), how to give three hearty cheers to the ezeketive govanor of Borno state. We are prepared for the swearing in ceremony tomorrow. I get called onye ara because I am quick in putting on my cap. People are called witches and small witches and we’re told to stop thinking of our boyfriends and girlfriends. Nobody faints—a wonder, but one girl is taken out of camp because a soldier notices her eyes “turning”.
We are on the parade ground for hours that feel like years. I am about to die. 8:11 am, and the commandant finally asks us to go find Ngozi.
We disperse in search of her. My prayer is that Ngozi will never be found.
I am back on the parade ground, forced to give up my breakfast of bread and tea and double up to the camp. What’s bread and tea, anyway? The bread is a small size, and the tea is like a small flood. But it’s hot. And Lipton. And sweet.
On the parade ground, the sun is already up, hot and bright. It almost feels like it’s afternoon. Drilling begins afresh. Instructions are yelled at us from all sides, and again I feel as though I want to die. The reason for this endless drill is this: tomorrow is our swearing in ceremony, the governor of Borno state and other dignitaries will be in attendance, so we must get all commands right.
We learn (again) how to stand at ease, how to bang our feet and stand still when we hear “attention!”A group of girls are handpicked and taken away. Later, I learn that they are being trained to welcome the dignitaries. All through the parade, I see them clapping and prancing. There are a few guys among them too.
We offend the soldier. He asks us all to sit on the ground. The sun’s intensity increases. The breakfast makes me sleepy, and while standing on the parade ground, I sometimes catch myself dozing, jerking awake when I am about to fall. We begin to grumble, but the soldiers are not having it. Bang your feet!, they yell. Stop saying ‘catch’, just hold your cap!
At about 12:00PM, we are allowed to go sit under the shade. A relief, one which is cut short when the parade resumes again and goes on and on and on until a soldier dismisses us at 1:15PM to go in search of a certain Salamotu. I’m so relieved I want to weep.
I take my lunch at the kitchen. It’s rice and stew and a bit of meat. Tasty, although some people think otherwise. But it’s free food, so…
F. has devised a way to evade parade, and it is a technique that works. He changed into mufti and went to Mammy Market. This way, he’ll blend in with the hordes of new arrivals who haven’t completed their registration. Smart idea, but there won’t be new arrivals for long.
A. too has evaded parade. But his excuse is genuine: he is a pharmacist and this is a service needed in camp. O., my new friend is nowhere to be found. These people have betrayed me.
The parade is finally over. For today, at least. Tomorrow is the swearing-in day, so by now everyone is rushing around to amend their kits to look nice for tomorrow. To amend your khaki costs N1,500 at Mammy Market. At the College Tailoring Unit, it costs N1,000. Ironing costs N200.
Mammy Market is not a place to be, if I am going to be honest. Yes, they have all you need, but then it costs too much. It is as though by charging you more, they are teaching you not to be careless in packing necessary items. A bucket costs N500. A cup costs N200. A small cooler costs N650. A metal spoon costs N50. A plastic take away plate costs N100. Every bottled drink is N150. POS withdrawal costs N70 per thousand naira. It looks small, yes, but a pinch here, a bite there, and there’s nothing left. Tell me, if five naira was withdrawn from your one million naira, would you still be called a millionaire?