My NYSC: A Full Year of Redefinition | Part 2: Camp
My NYSC: A Full Year of Redefinition | Part 2: Camp
The alarm blared by 4 am. I was awake by 3:37. I had brushed my teeth (outside, in the quadrangle, which I later learnt was not acceptable), used the toilet to flush out whatever remnant of the previous 3 days’ ordeal was still left in my system, and had taken my bath. It was like any regular camping experience, and I was no stranger to camps, so I knew to wake early and finish up my shit before the place becomes the muster point for a different kind of clarion call, a not-so-palatable kind. The alarm blare was accompanied, right on time (and they maintained this for all 21 days of camp, right on time, except the night after the carnival. We marshalled for morning parade by 6 am – two hours later instead – that day) by the military men, of various ranks and shades, blowing their many whistles, and I was on my mufti. I looked around; I wasn’t the only one in that room donned so, but odds were that in the entire camp of over two thousand potential youth corpers (yup, they made sure to emphasize the fact that going to camp does not equal becoming a corps member, everyday), that very Thursday, I would be one of at most seventy persons not dressed in the traditional white-on-white.
I stepped out onto the wide expanse of the Dakingari camp parade ground on that weather-dry Thursday morning, sun still coming up, sparse movements, the mami market waking up too, and there, then, I felt the first chill of the entire NYSC experience. I was like, “this is it! This is the moment where I decide how this coming year will pan out for me. Will I retire at the back seats and let inactivity or laissez-faire responses to action be the order of my day, or will I finally live, become part of something different, feel life a little differently than I had known, and be adventurous?”
Suffice it to say that choosing the latter has proved worth my while every single time. Yes, there had been overwhelming moments, but they matter not when placed side by side with the gains of living beyond my comfort zone.
My comfort zone: Throughout my life, up till camp, I had allowed being uptight be the order of my day. Some will term it ‘being serious’, but I knew many free-spirited persons who aren’t afraid to bungee-jump off The Golden Gate at a second’s notice, but who as well take their business as serious as whatever you think is the most serious thing ever. Knowing this, I decided to be Jack who realized that with good work comes good play.
I had previously intentionally, and willingly, estranged myself from dancing (something that used to be an insistent passion of mine before puberty hit), not to talk of doing it spontaneously; I had always kept myself behind the curtain, as the man behind the moving train. I needed to move the train myself for once. I had to learn how to go beyond being the stage-manager to being the stage-presence. I was not all drab and glum, mind you. At camp, I already had a lot going for me, and chief among them was the influence I wrought in the lives of young literary-minded students who attended FUTO with me. I had founded, and run, successfully, a literary club (Route Africa Writers Organization) whose goal was finding new writing talents and empowering them in FUTO for a full year. I had friends in quanta. And they loved me. What they didn’t do, and couldn’t, was include me in things that concerned dancing, and sports, and gossip, and having a good laugh; going to see a movie, talking about girls, meeting girls, swimming, visiting a beach, riding a bike, living. And this was because I never spoke about these stuff, and never hinted any interest at any of them.
And so, in camp, I begun my journey of redefinition. This is not the same as saying I was shifting my moral standing. I am a Christian, and still cherish Christian morals beyond anything. This is saying, I chose to stop being the lovable, but stuck-up Christian who people tiptoed around when planning fun outings. I participated in camp. PARTICIPATED.
From that morning when I and the remaining seventy-something late-comers were assigned platoon zero, and then got our outfits and I got into platoon six, as new as I was, I nominated myself that day to run for platoon secretary; I didn’t win (came a close second to someone who already had the hearts of the people before I even arrived in camp), but I had already made good friends with the eventual Assistant Leader (and we’re still friends till today, relocating to the same state, running the relocation wahala in Asaba together; and it still pains me that I couldn’t see her during our passing out parade, for while I was in Warri, she was in Agbor).
The platoon activities begun, and I was screened as one of the best parade demonstrators in the platoon, giving it my best everyday with punctuality, dressing, giving it my best to listen and follow every instruction daily, surrendering the needed athleticism, charisma, and smile with each “pre-pre shun!” or “stand at-ease!” or “remove headdress!” command, and each man-o’-war drill, down to the main man-o’-war obstacle course. I didn’t get to do the final demonstration on parade day because I switched over to Tae-Kwon-Do…and I learnt a lot. Mum still gets iffy when I remind her that I learnt Tae-Kwon-Do basics in camp; and were remaining in Kebbi state an interest, or an option for me, I’d have been visiting the Birnin-Kebbi Dojo every weekend to improve, because those days instilled in me a desire to make self-defence classes a life-goal. We ended up demonstrating in front of thousands. I broke two planks with my bare hands using two different techniques. No jokes.
No try me o! Sho mo age mi ni?
I joined the platoon a Capella group, was the only low tenor singer, but had to sing and teach bass instead. We remastered the national anthem and the NYSC anthem in a few days of practice. I drummed for our cultural dance troop. I played one of those annoying chieftains you see in every traditionally-set Igbo-based Nollywood movie, and learnt the difference between shouting and voice-projecting. I almost joined the contemporary dance group, but I figured my dance skills needed some improvements before I could showcase it. And the ladies were watching and gesturing. It was tempting, full confession. Added to the whole camp-madness where guys and girls feel like it is time to exercise loose morals and hook up with a plaything for 21 days. I used boring SAED lectures, and NYSC lectures, and pairing up with a pair of focused lady friends in my platoon to send me off their trail. It was all riveting, an experience.
By the time the relocation papers came in, and everybody’s heart beat, not knowing where they’d get posted, I had cemented a singular drive for the rest of my service year, and even beyond, and knowing beforehand that I would be moved to Delta State, which eventually happened, helped make parting with camp and my new friends a lot easier than it was for most others.
Camp was fun. Camp was also intensely prayerful, and I have intentionally excluded elements of my Christian walk in camp from this episode, and the next, to be told in part 4. Why? Because it is a story deserving a volume of its own in every regard.
The morning to leave arrived, people packing bags the previous night, tagging their names to it, many deciding to sleep outside next to their stuff and beds, cos we had a line of over 2000 people submitting beds who must also leave camp that morning, many not even bathing at all, and in and after the hullaballoo of everything, the journey back home, another story, nearly as rough as the journey to, ensued. And that’s what I tell next.
This piece is a non-fictional account of my one year experience as a youth corps member.
I promise that every information shared here is factual and true. I, however, have willingly withdrawn information I would rather not share on a public platform such as this.
This piece is inspired by the feeling of gratefulness that overwhelms me whenever I remember my service year.
It is the second part in the series.