I had heard stories about the NYSC Orientation Camp; stories of fun, adventure, frustration laden with bizarre experiences and even pain. Altogether, I was excited for it all. I had to have my own stories. I made up my mind even before it was time to leave for the camp that I’d get my own pound of exciting memories. As usual, my whole family would drop me off at the NYSC camp. I doubt that I’ll ever out grow out of that. I’m in early twenties and this stuff about growing up sucking keeps getting more real. The least anyone can do is not judge me for having my folks fuss over me like a 10 year old. That’s the only childish experience I can currently relate to and no, I’m not willing to lose that popsicle.
A few days earlier, my friend Moy had told me that in some camps, the soldiers coerce people to carry their boxes on their head while doing the frog jump simultaneously. Of course I laughed at the pictures she showed me. The voice of reason deliberately chose not to remind me that the same fate could befall me. That day, all plans made in preparation for my departure to camp just didn’t fall into place. My luggage hadn’t arrived from Ibadan, a host of essential items had not been bought, my parents did not feel the need to hurry, the Reverend Sister who came all the way from Owerri to help process my redeployment was already worked up and everything else just felt wrong. Everybody tried to proffer a solution and everybody rejected everybody’s opinion. Talk about being stuck! Eventually, we came up with a plan; I’d go with the Reverend Sister to camp without my luggage and then my parents will come later on bearing the things I’ll need for my 3-week stay there. It sounded fair to me and frankly, the day was far spent and so we had no alternative. The driver and orderly were to drop the Sister and me off at the motor park. However, we had a few errands to run first. I’ll just cut to the chase and spare you the details of how I got to print my call-up letter, take passport photographs and get money from the ATM. To say the least, if you need to get things done, in a hurry, get yourself a Reverend Sister. I had no idea that people in these parts have so much regards for the clergy people; all she had to do was say “Bless you” and crowds parted like the Red Sea.
The journey to Yikpata, Kwara state (where the NYSC camp is situated) was the most uncomfortable I’d embarked on in a while. The Sister and I had to sit in front together. Hey, I must add that she is ‘not’ a slim woman. After about 2 hours and 15 minutes, we arrived at camp. Oh, I felt the rush. Ripples of adrenaline crept up my spine. At this point, I couldn’t figure out if it was a good or bad feeling. Photographers stood around, calling out to me in the bid to make some money off me. Soldiers were everywhere wearing scowls and frowns as though scary faces were some kind of welcome sign here in camp. Just ahead of me, people were in a straight line, squatting with their boxes on their heads. I smiled to myself; I guess I was lucky not to have carried any luggage. I quickly joined the line and easily lifted my handbag to my head as I squatted. As expected, a soldier picked me out. “Hey, you there! You think you are smart abi? Wey your box?” My voice suddenly became thin. “It’s on its way sir”. “See this girl oo! Are you okay? What do you mean by that?” Silent prayers escaped my head to God’s, I hoped. “I had to hurry down here. The car with the box is not here yet. I’ll come get it as soon as it arrives…” Before I could even complete the statement, the soldier standing at the beginning of the line started yelling. “Oya Corpers, una dey hear me? As soon as I say move, all of una go start to dey frog jump until una reach that mama there”, he said in a hoarse voice pointing at a slim female soldier just a stone throw away. I began to sense that this wasn’t going to be so funny after all. As usual, the Reverend Sister had worked her magic and disappeared into the crowd ahead of us. The soldier gave his command and we all began to frog-jump towards the female soldier who was dancing to a song some corps members before her were singing. After about five jumps, I felt my sandal snap. I gasped as an “ah” escaped my lips. This was going to be some story.
By the time we got to where the female soldiers were, we were separated into two groups. Apart from the female soldiers who looked like normal girls I’d walk by in the market, there was a man clad in a brown uniform I later discovered was the man-o-war uniform. He was slightly handsome and fair, with a beautiful smile. However, he wore his pants so high and his manhood was bulging through his pants in a fashion that implied it was suffocating. I couldn’t understand why anyone would wear such thick clothing and still have so much revealed. Of course I could not afford to snicker; I had no plans of compounding my issues. They asked the group before us to sing and sway to a song with the lyrics “Oh Oh Oh… We are the monkey. We are the Chimpanzee.” I cannot explain the measure of bliss their faces exuded as these corps members sang those words grudgingly. It was funny up until the soldiers asked the group to squat with their boxes on their head because they were not satisfied with their performance. I think my group took a cue from that because when it got to our turn, it sounded like a choir. I contributed with my rich alto as we sang with feigned enthusiasm. We even clapped and danced, all in a bid to avoid more severe punishment. We were then asked to bark, bleat, meow, moo, squak, bray and the list goes on. I don’t know why we struck them as animal material. Eventually, we were asked to carry those boxes on our heads while squatting. You know that look you have when you’re thinking ‘why did I just waste all that effort?’ Well that’s what we all had. I was already doing back flips in my head when one soldier noticed that all I had on my head was a handbag that weighed not more than a box of cereal. “Kai Mama! You think say you get sense abi? Wey your box?” I gave him the same explanation I had given the soldier at the last check point but apparently, this dude cared more about me. “Oya carry that other mama box. You give am your other box” he said directing the latter order at a girl ahead of me who had two boxes. I went to the girl to carry the box only for the girl to hand me the bigger, heavier box. The look I gave her could literally paralyze her on that spot. “Sister, abeg mind yourself. Na wa oo” I hissed as I snatched the lighter box from her. Of course, since I couldn’t yell at the soldiers, I redirected it to the poor girl who was trying to maximize the opportunity to give herself a breather. Well, I choose not to be her means of relief. Did she think I was some kinda Dwayne Johnson that came to camp to lift burdens off tired heads? Mtchew. Anyways, after the soldiers had tortured us to their fill, they released us. Since, I didn’t have a box, I explained myself to a police officer who was supposed to search my luggage for any contraband. He let me in and I was given a pass. I dragged myself along in sandal-induced limp until I got to a place with queues that reminded me of the children of Israel as they passed through the Red Sea. I took the one on my right since it was closer to me. People on the queue either wore a smile or a frown. The ones who were smiling were probably the ones who found their earlier experience funny and most likely were discussing it with the person next to them. The ones frowning had to be the ones who like me, had spoilt shoes, chest pain or something ugly to think about as a result of the earlier event. I joined the latter group. Where was the Reverend Sister anyway? I began to turn to every direction in search for her. I recognized a few people from my school on the queue and unconsciously began to look out for any of my friends. Call me lucky, cuz I found one; Dolly. The smile I put away returned to my lips as I called out to her. She had just arrived and was the last person on the other line. I limped over to her and exchanged hugs and pleasantries. We soon started to talk and laugh over our earlier encounter with the soldiers. She gave me a pair of slippers and put me out of my misery. I told her I had to find the Reverend Sister. I soon found her in a building I later learnt was the OBS building. She had introduced herself to the man in charge and was making inquiries about how she could speed up my registration process and commence my redeployment process. I told her about Dolly so that she could include her in whatever process would speed up our registration process. I returned to the line where Dolly constantly asked me to shut up because I found myself singing or humming the “we are the monkey” song I dreaded just minutes ago. We talked about so much as the line steadily got shorter. It got to our turn and we had ourselves put in the same room. Sister called me out and introduced me to two men who were supposed to help me make my stay easier. Something told me that I would not have any need for them and in the long run, I didn’t.
We got to our room and met about six other girls, three of which were from our university. That automatically set us at ease; better than staying with total strangers. The three girls weren’t exactly my friends back at school but we’d certainly get around that during our stay there. The other girl in our corner wore a straight face and after failed attempts to come up with an impression about her, I forgot about her. She turned out to be Tayo, a very pleasant, funny girl who would never give up her sleep even though the soldiers were breathing fire down her back. Someone was already sweeping out the room so we just chose bunks and decided to proceed to find foams. Before we could even walk out of the cubicle, a soldier came in to the hostel yelling stuff I couldn’t understand. I however heard her counting numbers and knew it was code for “Get the hell outta here or get punished”. Of course, we ran like there were lions behind us. Since we couldn’t return to the hostel immediately, Dolly and I decided to go and continue our registration process. We followed other people who we assumed were going to the same area as us. We found out that we had to be at different places because we had used different medium for the initial NYSC deployment registration. Thankfully, I was a step ahead because I did mine online so while Dolly stayed on the first line we got to, I proceeded to the other one. I quickly saw my schoolmates: Lolade, Sade and O. Lolade and O. are my old friends who I had planned to come with before my plans went sour. It was really surprising that they were still on the line at about past 4pm. Of course they let me join them on the queue. No one really had the conscience to take the last position on such a queue when you had the option of literally moving yourself up by a day. Yes, because some people on that line finally had to wait till the next day to complete the registration. After about 40mins of standing on a spot, we decided to go get lunch. We were sure that we’d return to the line almost unchanged. Along the way, my roommate in 400 level decided to go get foams. I got two, one for myself and the other for Dolly. I will not inflict your imagination with the pain of describing the state of the foams we got. At this point, I was making silent prayers for my skin who cannot speak for itself. On our way out, we bumped into the Reverend Sister. You have to applaud the way the lady disappears and reappears without a sign. You’d think she’s worked there for three decades and knew all the nooks and crannies. She suggested that we return to the line so I followed her back to where I was coming from. As usual, she usual, she worked her magic and in 10 minutes, I was done with my registration. I received my state code and platoon. I was in platoon 6 so I proceeded to the platoon stand to claim my uniforms. The uniforms I received had to have been made for Sumo wrestlers; Nothing else explains the unreasonably large size of the wears. I gave them to a seamstress who introduced herself as Mummy Simbiat. She said she’d amend a pair of trousers and jacket for
N1000. Talk about the
Zimbabwe inflation. The shoes I got had to have been for Jack’s giant. Why in
the name of snow white did they ask us for our measurements during the online
registration of they knew that it was literally useless? I figured everyone was
meeting other people trying to find someone with a size they wanted and who
wanted what they had as well. Apparently, trade by barter survived right into
the 21st century. Quite frankly, I couldn’t care less so Sister and
I decided to go get some food. I had some rice I hoped would not be what I had
to eat every day. By the time we were done eating food worth roughly #400 in
regular canteens, we got a bill of #760. Haha… At this point, I knew I was in
My parents called to say they were at the entrance of the camp. Like I said before, I don’t know if the sister has some canine traits that aid her with trails but she took me through a winding path in the bush till we got to the entrance of the camp. I was truly glad to see my folks; like some part of me was seeing saviors. I got to them with ease, showing my pass to men in uniform, some of who remembered me as the girl without any luggage. I was glad they did; it meant I was not going to be asked to lift the box to my head. On my way out, I saw my friend Tolu carrying his box on his head. I just had to laugh. Camp really humbled people, I thought as he wore a grin at the sight of me. I had to mouth to him to stop grinning before he became the scapegoat for the soldiers who would do anything to make a show of anyone. I retrieved my box fro my parents after narrating to them how everything had been so far. They laughed and encouraged me to be brave and try to enjoy myself despite how things were. The box they brought me was big and heavy. It’s a flaw I have; I just don’t know how to pack light. “Adanne, how will you be able to carry these things on your head? Aren’t they too much?” my dad asked with concern. I quickly told him I had carried someone else’s box earlier on and showed him the pass I’d show any soldier who tried to make me go through all of that again. After a few minutes, I turned to leave with my very heavy box and pillow. I could barely drag it along. Who could, with all the glassware, water bottles and tons of white T-shirts and shorts? Its funny cuz I couldn’t think of any stuff to jettison. Anyways, I kept dragging my burden along the serrated dry ground. The policemen let me pass as soon as I showed them my pass. Just as soon as I got comfortable, a soldier called out to me. “Corper carry that box on your head, now!” I was just about to explain myself when a female soldier who was closer to me faced me. “Are you deaf? C’mon carry that thing on your head! Oya Oya” I tried to explain to her that besides the fact that the box was really heavy, I had already carried a box on my head earlier on. “Ehen? And so? No be you pack am. C’mon carry am. When you go dey pack load like say na your husband house you dey go, you no sabi abi?” She yelled. I looked back at my parents staring at us in horror. My aunt had her hand to her chest as she watched the female soldier try to lift the box to my head. Of course she had a hard time doing that, who wouldn’t? By this time, the policemen at the previous checkpoint had come forward to plead on my behalf. Trust soldiers to be bullheaded; the soldier insisted that I carry the box on my head. I was already close to tears as I struggled between taking slow steps and swallowing the lump that had formed in my throat. After about five labored steps, the pillow sitting on top of the box fell. I stood looking at the soldier before me with a plea in my eyes. She bent to pick the pillow up for me. “Please sir. Help me beg the men; you know its really heavy” I begged as she replaced the pillow. I was beginning to see Jesus’ journey to Calvary in a new light. The only reason I think she released me is that she knew how heavy the box was having had several failed attempts at carrying it to my head. “As soon as I bring it down, just start running. Do you hear me?” She admonished. “Yes ma” I exhaled heavily in relief. As soon as the box hit the ground, I took off. I had no time to look back at my family and register the relief that must have crept into their faces.
The most adventurous part of the day had passed by. I hung around with friends, got dinner and bought a few essentials at the mammy market. You’d think I had everything I needed and more with how big and full my box was. It was a good night, finding old friend and sticking together while exploring the environment together. I called Akin, who by the way is becoming my personal human diary. He’s the perfect optimist so he went on about how I should relax and make the best out of whatever would be thrown at me. Amidst the complaints that filled conversations, I was grateful to be there. It was an achievement of some sort; another milestone had been reached.
Hi guys!! I hope y'all are good. I know I still owe y"all the 5th part of THAWED. It's coming right up but I thought we could all make use of a good story that actually happened while we wait for THAWED 5.
Anyway, this is a true life story of my first day at NYSC Camp. I wrote it as soon as I left camp; the memories were still fresh. I hope it made a great read. Those Happy Golden Years!!!!
Of course we'd all love to hear your tales from camp or frankly, any adventurous tales at all.