It was a rainy day. I had woken up early 'cause I had heard of the usual Lagos traffic jam, but I couldn't get out because the sky wept bitterly. I waited till it began to drizzle, at about 6 am, and I boarded a taxi from Yaba to the NYSC camp at Iyana Ipaja. I slept through out the journey and was awoken by the yelling of the street vendors persuading new corps members to buy buckets or take passport photos. I was glad I had seen the blog on requirements for NYSC camp and had come prepared. I didn't bring a bucket from home, because I knew they were going to sell such at the Mami market. So I ignored them all. At the gate, soldiers searched us and seized a lot of iPads, laptops, extension wires, forks, e.t.c. I didn't come with any of those because I was pre-informed on what to expect.
Registration was tiresome and annoying. I just didn't get why we needed to shuttle between venues to fill forms that could have been handed to us in one venue. At one of those venues, I approached to see a queue as long as that seen in US embassy—young men in search of greener pastures. I knew I couldn't stand on that queue. Thank God we were allowed to drop our boxes in the hostels before starting the registration process. It could have been hell if we had to drag our boxes along all those venues and queues as I was told to expect in the blog I read.
One of my friends said I could go in and tell the officials I was a doctor and then they would attend to me. I went in through a side door. I couldn't even approach the officials to say I was a doctor because I had hateful pairs of eyes stalking me. I saw a shorter queue by the side of the main queue and garnered courage to join it. Nobody said a word. I was lucky. But the eyes still peered at me. It was not long before I found out that the shorter queue was for nursing mothers and pregnant women. It then made sense why nobody said a thing. I was afraid to be found out because the women before me had their babies with them. The one that didn't have her baby with her was asked where her baby was and she pointed to it. I fidgeted till it was my turn but most graciously, I wasn't asked any implicating question. They attended to me and I went free. I was so happy. I couldn't believe it. I just kept on imagining what it would have been like to have been on that queue.
That evening we were introduced by the sound of the bugle to what was going to be our most dreaded moment for the next three weeks—the parade. I was chosen to be one of the flag bearers for the swearing-in ceremony that was to come in two days; that might have been a terrible mistake. We had longer drills and as flag bearers, my colleague and I had to face the parade ground standing directly opposite the sun all through our rehearsals and the D-day. We were not allowed to move freely. Even our 'at ease' posture was not to be compromised. We usually stole brief seconds during the parade to sit on the floor of the saluting desk where we were stationed side by side. On the oath-taking day there was no such grace. Thank God we were allowed to put on sun shades. They were like a drop of water in hell. My jungle boots were my biggest foe. They were tight and the black hard part that covered the toes were like metal sheets placed beside a fire. I've never been more uncomfortable. I thought I was going to pass out.
The next day we had a welcome party sponsored by Golden Penny. It was fun and dance gallore. Our deejays were good and we had some free pasta and noodles to go home with. We had to get used to waking up at 4am, sometimes 2 and 3am (because of bathroom queues). Once we heard the sound of the bugle at 4:30 am, we'd appear on the parade ground in our Otondo uniforms (white T-shirt, white short, white socks and white canvas plus the customized cap). If not, we'd have the soldiers deafening us with their whistles and chanting the popular 'if you are still in the hostel, you're wrong'. Once we were gathered, the national prayer, which I found to be the second stanza of the national anthem, would be led and a topic for meditation read by the representatives of the platoon on duty. I was in platoon 7—The platoon that seemed to always come last at all competitions until God saved our face by giving us double for our trouble. We won both Miss NYSC and Mr. Macho competitions. Boy, you need to have seen how happy we were that day. We screamed, we shouted, I cried (lol). Even other platoons that were uncomfortable with the Mr. macho result were happy that at last, we broke our loser record.
We had physical training exercises after the meditation. They were fun especially with the background music and the Man-O-War match that followed with songs like 'all these soldiers gbo gbo yin na monkey'. We had martial arts practice after this. It was always very amusing especially the funny language and gestures as our instructors called 'Yoi', 'Yesume' 'Rei'. The uninterested ones would just sit at the back and watch. Much to my surprise, a lot of people participated. I started out interested but got tired along the line.
Then came the ever boring lectures. After breakfast, we would resume for more lectures. Those were siesta sessions for we that sat in front and chat up time for them that sat behind. It was always hot and horrible and a time to spend money buying bottled water. The only interesting lectures I remember were the Pension Pal group 'cause the lady facilitator was hot- well spoken, beautiful and dressed nice and there were goodies to share too (biros, markers and key holders), the fire safety group 'cause they taught with projected pictures and videos and gave a quiz with a prize to be won. Also never to be forgotten was the anti-HIV/AIDS group 'cause nobody slept when they began to teach how to put on a condom.
More than that, we had the Skills Acquisition And Entrepreneurship Development, SAED lectures and practical classes. Those were the only encouragement we had to get under those canopies in the hot sweltering air after breakfast. I always looked forward to my practical classes with Dollywood Academy, Stesi Events, and school for the dumb. We were supposed to be in just one but I found a way to shuttle between the three and I learnt to write a script for a documentary, ice a cake and sign short sentences like ' I love God', 'I hate war', 'you make me happy'. My room mate joined a bead making class and before we were through with camp, she came out with a master piece that was displayed on the last day. Others learnt make-up, how to tie gele, calligraphy, cocktails and Forex trade, among many others.
The games arcade was my second room. I was always to be found there playing Scrabble. I met a lot of gurus and I made some good impression too. There were other games there like Chess, Ludo, Joker, Draught, Monopoly, Sudoku, e.t.c. Mami market was the main events centre most nights. The Guinness and Fayrouz joints were most lively, filled with what you expect of a gathering of youths—lots of alcohol, loud music and cigarettes. There were smoke-free places I loved to hang out though —noodles joints, Smoothie joint and the Wii games place.
I was most grateful for Nigerian Corpers Christian Felowship, NCCF. Camp life was so fast that I found it difficult to make out time to pray or study the Bible. I thought it was just me, but one day my friend said he was experiencing the same thing. With NCCF having fellowship daily, I got to be around believers and heard the Word more often. I couldn't make it daily though, even though I was in the choir 'cause some days I was just tired or I was representing my platoon in a competition or just didn't want to miss out on a social activity. But I thank God they were there.
From the second week of camp there were social activities to look forward to every night. If it was not a drama competition between platoons, it was a cultural dance competition, or the Camp Idol, Camp Blast, Big, bold and Beautiful or Miss NYSC and Mr. Macho competitions. In the afternoons we had cooking competitions, sports including football, volleyball, athletics and Chess competitions. I participated in the drama competition for my platoon. I didn't act but I assisted the director. As usual, we didn't qualify for the 2nd stage. I did cultural dance for my platoon. I even got injured on both knees but the same was the case. I participated in the Man-O-War competition but we were kicked out after the first stage when it was found that we weren't up to 10 representing our platoon. I also represented my platoon for the Camp Idol and was given a consolation price—a toasting machine. The best my platoon got to was 3rd position in the Honeywell wheat meal cooking competition. With this track record of failures, you can now imagine how elated we were when the results for Miss NYSC and Mr. Macho were announced. We almost suffocated them as we all reached out to give them hugs.
Camp blast was the bomb. Several Nigerian artistes came including MI, Banky W, Waje, Dr. Sid, Ikechukwu, and so on. Comedians were there to tear our lungs too, likes of MC Bash. It was a fun night, though from where I was I couldn't see much of what was going on even after I stood on my chair. The crowd was something else. It was the only night Mami market was silent. MTech gave out 10 Android phones to some lucky raffle winners excluding me.
As a medic, I took shifts at the camp clinic. People came down with a lot of skin reactions, cough, catarrh, malaria, faint attacks during parades and a lot of fake stories to get exeat to leave the camp. I had fun climbing those ropes during Man-O-War. My favourite were the gorilla crawl, the scrabble net, the 12ft wall and the bridge.
I made a whole lot of friends from my circles: Room 6, Scrabble, NCCF, Platoon 7, Dollywood Academy and the clinic.
It wasn't all fun for me, don't get me wrong. I was told by some friends before camp that at the end of the three weeks, I wouldn't want to leave. That didn't happen to me. I was itching to go 'cause I developed some skin reactions, I was terribly tanned and I was just sick of the routine. Maybe it was just Lagos camp, but I think other camps must have had as much fun. Really, NYSC camp experience is one in a million. I think every Nigerian youth should have it.
PS: A shout out to the wonderful people I met at camp: Helen, Blessing, Rebecca, Faith, Kemi, AY, Zainab, Tinuke, Nurse Jegede, Omolara, Jessica, Jennifer, Ope, Dickson, Samuel, Omo, Toyin, Dapo, Ada, Sholakpe, Seyi, Segun, Bukola, Bode, Greg, Jeremiah, Samson and so many more I don't remember their names.