Whenever the thought of serving my country crosses my mind, I often feel a fresh wave of fear creeping slowly into my soul. One would wonder why the thought of service to ones country would be accompanied by fear. For me, I have never nursed the idea of ever living outside my comfort and the frightening stories we hear from our predecessors of their experiences in camp, mostly outside their usual geographical comfort, is enough to make any sane person shudder in fright.
However, it is a task that must be undertaken by every Nigerian graduate after the conclusion of their first degree programme in any recognized tertiary institution of their choice. The overall aim of the NYSC scheme is to encourage cultural and ethnic integration among the different ethnic groups in the country as well as foster unity in spite our diversities. This is achieved by exposing corp members to the aesthetics in the cultural practices of the people in their respective states of deployment. The scheme is also aimed at correcting misconceptions about the traditional practices of the people by giving the corp members the opportunity of not just being an observer but an active participant.
A day prior to the reception of my posting letter, a friend of mine, realising my apprehensions, made some silly remarks about my posting. He told me that he had seen my posting letter and that I have been posted to Zamfara state! I found myself refuting the statement, calling on all the host of heaven to intercede on my behalf. But little did I know that either by error or some sort of clairvoyance or divination, my friend was right! Zamfara, it was!
I can still remember the series of lectures I received from friends and loved ones on the eve of my departure. A lot of those lectures bother on maintaining self dignity and self restrain as Zamfara state is noted for its strict adherence to the Sharia law which emphasizes capital punishment on defaulters. One of such issues that are not treated lightly is the sin of adultery, in which case the man’s limb is amputated while the woman is stoned to death. I left home with promises to be of best behaviour and embarked on a fifteen hour journey to the NYSC temporary orientation camp, Tsafe local Government in Zamfara state. Thus, I began my journey into an entirely different world! A world of antithesis, where the frost bite so deep at night and the sun burns like fire at dawn!
The journey to Zamfara state is the farthest I have ever gone from home and in the most uncomfortable sitting position. I was sandwiched between a cluster of men; some old, some young, all dressed in the usual Hausa/Fulani kaftan (a long and flowing gown, touching the ankles), steaming with dust and a nauseating smell of native perfume, filled the air. Since I was in a hurry to meet up with the deadline for reporting on camp, I had no choice but to stack myself alongside these rare breed of humans in a J5 bus, which appears to be the last bus plying that route for the day. The sitting arrangement was done in such a way that we had to sit facing one another, like in a face me, I face you living condition. The chairs were naked! No foam or leather covered their nudity and they protested in their own little way by biting so hard on our butt!
There was no space to stretch our legs either, as the little room that should have served that purpose now occupies our bags and baggage, which in turn has been converted into chairs for about four children whose mother couldn’t afford to pay their fare. I would have objected to this sitting arrangement if only I knew how far we would have to go before we get to our destination and what would happen thereafter. But like a true African who had been groomed in the art of hospitality to the point of addiction, and as a youngster, burning with the zeal to explore and discover a new world, I looked beyond my present chains, hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel.
The journey continued in spite of the jostling and shoving around we experienced, a product of the recklessness of the driver who complained bitterly dashing out curses with heavy breath at the dilapidated state of such a major road. Some five hours into the journey, I was shoved back to reality as I had dozed off by a strange sound coming from the row directly opposite me and everyone seemed to be trying to get their belongings out of the way. In that instant, I felt something warm on my leg, only then did I realize that the man sitting directly opposite me had decided to baptize me and some other occupant of the bus with a sweltering marshy substance from his bowels. He must have experienced some sort of uneasiness caused by the heat in the vehicle or the fumes of fuel. The nasty smell that pervaded the whole place made me want to throw-up. Most pathetic is the fact that, he practically threw up on one of the children who slept innocently in spite the shouting and curses showered on the man by the child’s mother. It was really an appalling sight!
I quickly cleaned up the mess with a tissue paper I got from the mother of the unfortunate child and wondered how long we would have to be in that frustrating state. But hardly had the mother finished cleaning her child when another passenger, on the same row, taking cue from the other man, started the same ritual! But this time, he was not caught unawares as he took the messy bowel content in a black cellophane bag he already had with him which was probably to serve some other purpose. We were left with no choice but to accept our fate and listen in voiceless protest to the seemingly endless groaning of his bowels as he unleashed its content! In protest, my salivary gland began a mass production of saliva! I kept salivating as I could not put away the mental picture of the ugly sights I had witnessed!
I was still salivating till I let myself loosed in the warm embrace of the frosty night, drifting in drowsiness; I longed for the soothing melody of the night but emptiness and thick darkness forms an invisible wall in my heart which was constantly being threatened by the alien armies of the frost infested night. Only the noise from the engine of the rickety bus could be heard in the distance as it breaks through the darkness. Defying our common enemy – the cold!
Watch out for the remaining story in Orientation Camp: The Drama and Intrigues!