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. You can read all the stories in the series here.
Strange things are happening, good things are happening.
A flurry of movement wakes me. Today is the swearing in. I tap O., but he does not stir. I go alone to fetch my bath water. When I return, I go to bed again, but it’s hard to sleep. I drift in and out until I finally stand up some minutes before 5 am.
And then it begins.
A voice in the room says he has something to tell us. He says we should hear him out. Everyone is busy with preparation, but ears are cocked. And the voice gives his message: we should pray. Muslims in the room should please not take offence.
He is from NCCF, he says, and I think, “Wait, are NCCF people now in our room?”
NCCF is Nigerian Christian Corpers Fellow by the way.
He begins with a song of worship. We sing, cold mouths opening up heavily, slowly. He persists. Tells us to shout Halleluyah. Prayer is important, do we know? Giving thanks to God. We have not had any case of theft, shouldn’t we give thanks?
In the middle of this, I head to the bathroom so I can get a spot before it becomes crowded. I am wrong. In the end, I take my bath in a doorless bathroom, so much for keeping myself.
Parade begins about this time. This is after morning devotion where brethren from fellowship bodies remind us of our duties to God, after the morning mediation titled Obedience. Parade today is a little humorous, never mind that today is the swearing in, that monumental event that will transition us from prospective corps members to bonafide corps members. Humorous, in that the new intakes keep messing up the commands, being unused to the actions accompanying them.
“Stand attention!” and some people still have their hands by their sides rather than the back.
We are warned: this event will have dignitaries in attendance, we better not misbehave. Our conduct will determine the overall tone of the camp experience, either good or bad.
We are told how to dress: in our khakis, jungle boots, crested vest, everything, sans the jacket. No water bottles, no sunglasses, no waist pouches. Come the way you are.
We go over the commands again, march of the flag parade, signing of the oath form, salute of the officials.
Hours later, we are dismissed for breakfast, and told to go prepare ahead for the swearing in.
We are back on the parade ground for the official swearing in. We are all clad in khakis. My khaki smells like engine oil, but I am afraid to speak out. Finally I do, and B. confirms it. It’s the printing ink.
Let’s be honest, some people deserve tiri gbosas. The sun is hot enough, but some ladies are in full make-up and faux eyelashes. I’m pretty sure that by the end of the parade, such an affair will end in tears. All that makeup, all that sun. One thing must give way for another.
The parade is as you might expect: hot sun cooking us all, dignitaries ably represented by someone else. But there is more: people are fainting. It is expected, but it quickly goes beyond the expected and soon, Red Cross officials begin to dart across the camp to pick up people. It is a believable fainting, yet also so highly staged. At least that one I am sure of. A guy in the queue next to mine is tapping his knee and laughing, laughing, laughing. Two minutes later, Bros is on the ground yelling muscle pull.
One of the members of the flag party faints on her way to sign the oath form with the Chief Judge. Entertainment is suspended because of the extreme weather. We become rowdy, mimic the Chief Judge’s pronunciations as we recite the oath after him. We are carefree, and there is hardly anything the soldiers can do to us but look on in horror.
I return to bed to get some sleep. I am extremely exhausted. Since I got here, I sometimes catch my dozing on the parade grond. I fall into bed with relief and it welcomes me home.
I slowly return to my default settings after sleep loosens me up. For a few minutes, I stare at people like I’m not sure what I am doing amongst these people. F. keeps asking if I’m alright.
Lunch is Jollof rice and boiled beef. The Jollof tastes like premature Jollof: concoction. And I think it still needs a tiny pinch of salt, but it tastes nice. And I devour it with gratitude.
This may or may not be the beginning of good things, but I don’t know it yet.
We return to the parade ground where we are told that we are to abide strictly to the rules, now that we are bonafide corps members. The camp commandant addresses us. “A lady was caught wearing bum shorts to Mammy Market yesterday night, where do you think you are?! If we get hold of you, you will be dealt with severely. Discipline is needed!”
In other words, we must always be dressed in whites. Rubber slippers will be confiscated. Phones must be silenced or switched off on the parade ground or it will be seized and returned when the camp ends. Do not smoke elsewhere but the smoking corner at Mammy market. Ladies, do not carry hairstyles that will be too much for you to handle. Do not wear shades unless they are recommended, and you must provide a paper to this end.
Me attempting not to zone out:
B. is a fellow platoon member, but so far, we have a connection. I know what you are thinking, but I have not found love yet. B. has a positive energy, one I really like. Since we line up according to platoons, I often find myself before or behind her. And we often talk about random things. But this evening, we roll different. I tell her about the
“Is Ashimolowo a bad bitch?”tweet I found once on Twitter, and that provokes a bout of laughter. Soon, everyone is a bad bitch. The soldier with his new fancy hat. Me when I decide to talk in defiance of orders. A fellow corps member in sunshades. Bad bitches everywhere.
But the most interesting part comes when a fellow platoon member is being bullied and called Bob (meaning Bobrisky) in a condescending manner. I know how this feels, and this manner of toxicity irks us to no end. We decide to fight for him/talk to him at the end of everything.
His name is G., and contrary to what we think, he is actually tough and able to defend himself. From him, I learn (again) that not obviously reacting to whatever people do to you will show them that you’re not bothered. It is different from taking offence which will show them that they are definitely hitting home with you.
And believe me, G. is full of life, full of light. He is the life of the party. And I like this kind of energy instantly. The field empties and we’re all still talking, happy, getting to know eachother. B, the girl I may or may not have a crush on wants me to meet her friend O. who is also my friend and bunk person. O. introduces us to R., and we introduce him to G. The atmosphere is full of all round love and we’re all kumbaya-ing when I realise that someone, we’re all connected and NYSC is the thing that brings that connection to life.
I remember that B. finished from Babcock. G., from Kwara State University. Me, from University of Ilorin. And I realise how true it is that NYSC is a place to meet different people from different schools and different worlds.