There are two categories of frustrating people: the disobedient ones who will hear but will never take heed, and the ones who do not understand. For the hundredth time, my mother shouted from the kitchen, asking if I had packed everything I would need, and I replied in the affirmative. I remember her saying that it would be better to put my stationery in my handbag, as I would need it immediately. I grunted because my handbag was supposed to contain my makeup. One of the most important reasons why I was going to camp was to slay; I mean, I had to be hot. Who knew if I would meet my future billionaire husband there? I pretended to oblige because I wasn’t interested in my mother’s nagging.
The long-awaited fateful day came after so many months. Actually, it was unexpected. All my friends and foes had gone for the NYSC orientation camp in April, leaving me feeling betrayed like Jesus while I awaited my fate. I had almost given up on Batch A Stream Two until that Saturday. It gladdened me to know that I was posted to the famous ‘Iṣe Yaa’ state that was contiguous with Lagos, where I lived. I was particularly happy because there would be no language barrier and all the accompanying drama. I just wanted NYSC to come and go. I hate going to new places and adjusting, and that is one of the components of NYSC.
Finally, the dreaded Thursday came. I packed my box heading for Sagamu where the state camp was located. As I approached the gate, fear seized me, but I had no choice. The civil defence officer at the gate searched my box and made a comment about parents bestowing a lot of love to their last-born children when she noticed plenty of junk food in my box. She spoke entirely in Yoruba. Surprisingly, she then asked if I was Yoruba. I said no. She had a satisfied look on her face while I left; to her, I was some Amaka from Imo State.
Immediately I left the woman, about five girls latched onto my box trying to help me. I thought that the camp was not bad after all. As the most aggressive and powerful girl got my box, she smiled and said, ‘Aunty, make we go.’ While going, she kept on soliloquising in Yoruba about how much she should charge me. I tried to stifle my laughter; if only she knew. When she dropped my bag in front of the girls’ hostel, she asked for ₦200. I gave it to her without bargaining. For making me enjoy my first five minutes in camp, she deserved that much.
The drama started when the hostel mistress asked how old I was. This was not shocking; as a matter of fact, I had expected it. Who would not be shocked to see a petite, 4’9” baby-faced figure ready to serve her fatherland? She went further to amuse herself with my ‘shocking’ bosom, as I am a D cup. At this stage, I was getting bored with the silly jokes; all I wanted were a shower and sleep. She finally decided it was time for us to be allotted our bed space. I was delighted that I got the lower bunk. It would have been too much trouble to have to climb every time, considering my height.
Now, I need emphasise that I belong to the disobedient group; I mean those who will hear but never take heed. When I got to the point where I would start with my registration, I realised I had left my stationery in my box. My mum’s favourite Yoruba adage flashed through my mind, ‘Ẹni ti a wí fún, Ọba jé ó gbọ́’ (She who is advised, may God help her to listen). All I had in my handbag was my makeup kit. Do not judge me; I had a motive for coming to camp with them. Amid my regret, I heard some ladies making jest of a girl who was dolled up. The slay queen apparently forgot all her documents at home. Alas, her house was in Enugu State. At that point, I thanked God for giving me a mother that nagged me to pick all the necessary things.
Camp started earnestly, and I did not fail to do my makeup every day even if it meant waking up early or missing my breakfast. My embarrassing moment came sooner than I thought. Since camp started in the middle of July, it was inevitable that rain would fall, if not heavily. I had learnt my lesson from the stationery incident, so I took all the necessary things, especially my shower cap and khaki top. I did not want my hair to go from gorgeous to dishevelled. The hot afternoon suddenly metamorphosed into a cloudy atmosphere, and rain started falling. Some indolent ones like me decided to stay in the hostel instead of going to the auditorium. The soldiers realised this and came to chase us out. We all had to go into the rain. A few steps in and I was soaked; in fact, dripping cannot express my state. As I arrived at the auditorium late, I was prepared to stand since it was already filled up. I was surprised to see several male corps members gesturing, whistling and offering me seats. I thought my makeup finally had an effect. I also thought this was not the perfect time for Mr Knight in Shining Armour to show up, as I was not in the best state physically. I got a seat at the back while the lecture went on. If only I knew the rain made half of my bosom visible to the whole Ogun State corps members and officials! Not only was it bare, but my pink-flowered bra was also visible, thanks to the thin white top that I wore. I left the auditorium in shame after borrowing a jacket to cover the remainder of my dignity.
Man cannot be an island. I made a few friends, and before I knew it, Mammy market became our friendship base. I made a friend during the social night hosted by Platoon 3. He invited me to lunch one afternoon. I was eager because he was one of the few people I usually had thought-provoking conversations with. I headed to Mammy market with him while talking about domestic violence. We ordered for jollof rice and chicken. I was happy and ate eagerly. While eating, I noticed he seemed a little uncomfortable, but I ignored it. After he had finished eating, he paid for his own food and left. I was shocked. I was sitting there without my pouch or money. I had been so excited to have lunch with him that I forgot to bring cash. Thankfully, I had my phone. I called my new best friend in camp who appeared in minutes with my pouch. It was an eye-opener. I was almost disgraced in the one and only NYSC camp that I will ever go to in my life.
But one of the luckiest things that happened to me in camp was having an aunt who lived close by. I got unbeatable homemade amala every Sunday, as that was our visiting day. It felt like secondary school visiting day and picnics all over again.
The final day in the camp became the most apprehensive day, as different fates were being shared in the form of the posting letter. The letters contained arrows that would pierce the bonds and relationships formed during the three weeks of camp. Unwrapping the letter usually came with nervousness. As I stood in line with my platoon members, I felt like a head waiting for the Creator to hand over the destiny it would fulfil (according to a Yoruba account of how a man gets his destiny). I had mixed feelings when I saw Ewekoro Local Government in my letter. While most of my friends got Abeokuta, the state capital, I got a place that did not sound inviting. Ewekoro is a Yoruba word meaning ‘the leaf is bitter’. I did not want bitterness to be attached to my NYSC experience. However, I was considered lucky, as some people were posted to rural areas. I accepted my fate since I had no power to change it.
My aunty got a car that would convey us to my primary place of assignment. I was lucky to get there before it closed. However, I was told to come back the next day. Since I did not come with the Nigeria Christian Corpers Fellowship (NCCF) group and I did not know anybody, I lodged in a hotel while my aunt went back. The following morning, I went back as early as possible. I was finally attended to after five hours of waiting. The officer in charge collected my letter while smiling. While he was signing my paper, I checked out the environment and had a satisfied smile. I thought I had been hired, and my little queen inside was already dancing shaku-shaku. He signed and stamped the letter and told me to go to my Local Government Inspector (LGI). I thanked him many times before leaving. When I got outside the office, I opened the letter to check what was written. Alas, I had been rejected. I became depressed. I already had plans for the money I would receive from them. I opened out a floodgate of tears. My dream of serving in a company was crushed.
I finally settled for a private school which was supposed to pay me ₦7,000 monthly. My first day at work was unsettling as most of the kids had poor hygiene. The first week went uneventfully. At the beginning of the second week, I addressed the pupils and urged them to observe their personal hygiene.
A few months passed and my birthday arrived. I did not want a party, but I ended up having a little get-together because it was my 21st birthday. But the day after my birthday party came with dreadful news. Our landlord wanted all of us to move out in one week. It was devastating because our house was situated in a very comfortable area and it was neat. We disagreed with him; however, we failed because he had not issued us a receipt. I began house hunting after the landlord threatened us with the police and charms. Luckily, I got another self-contained room in a remote area called Afowowa Sogade. It was a village, but it had a polytechnic. The house where I got a room was built for students of that school.
It was amazing that both the students and the villagers respected and helped me. Exciting days came during classes when I would ask the students some questions. I once asked them what clothes we wear to bed. I was shocked when they chorused ‘school uniform’. I had a hard time explaining what nightgowns and pyjamas are. The pupils were also amazed that there is something called cartoons. It was more fun when they asked curious questions. A boy once asked me how a gay and lesbian couple will have a baby. I answered as honestly as I could. Whenever a disobedient pupil annoyed me, I would have a frank conversation with them, because I realised stern talk worked better than the cane most times.
Patience has never been my thing. However, that virtue is one that I learnt during my one-year programme. I learnt to deal with little kids who have little or no idea how their actions can affect them. Telling, retelling and re-teaching were required to make them understand what communication means. It was challenging at first because I could not teach the kids the things they wanted in a simple language. However, when I tried using familiar things to explain unfamiliar things, it became easier.
Thursdays were the days I looked forward to. That was the only day I met people with whom I could rub minds. I belonged to the Gender and Charity Vanguard. On Thursdays, we would go on a sensitisation outreach to our host community. I enjoyed every one of them. It was interesting to hear and write the stories of everyday people regarding their identity and gender issues. Particularly, I loved to refer to myself as a mini feminist who loved to interfere in topics such as female child education, domestic violence and abuse against women.
Although the host community spoke Yoruba, their own dialect of Yoruba was different from the Oyo Yoruba. I was always amused when the women called me Amaka or Chioma, since they thought I looked Igbo. Hearing their marital stories and advice made me identify with their pain and happiness. The beauty in humans became glaring, irrespective of our languages or culture, because we worked towards a common goal: making our fatherland better through our primary place of assignment and community development service.
NYSC came to an end when the fun was at its fullest. It is comprised of different dramas, happenings and events. However, it helped in bonding and making life-long friendships which surpassed all the barriers. The passing out parade came with mixed feelings: sadness at leaving the loved ones that had become family for one year, and the abrupt end of the ₦19,800 monthly allowance, happiness at unlimited opportunities to explore the world, growing up and achieving everything that is in your heart.
^This is an extract from Fortunate Traveller publication, Government Pikin: An Anthology of NYSC Travels Vol I edited by SA Sanusi and Sami Tunji. The first extract from the anthology was published online last week and you can find it here. Meanwhile, the submissions call for the second volume is currently open through June 2023. You may submit by completing this form.
Adeoye Deborah Adenike is a graduate of the Department of English, University of Lagos. She is a lover of colours and a Yoruba tradition enthusiast. Sleeping and reading stories keep her busy. She enjoys writing short stories.
Cover photo credit: Amnett Online