So I set out, with my mind as blank as my phone screen recently cracked from my hasty packing. My mother dropped me off at the park without too much fuss over the departure of her son to a distant land, (I was terribly shocked).Raymond
When I started out for camp in November of 2017, I had no idea what I was going into, or what it meant. I did not make efforts to find out what NYSC (National Youth Service Corps) was, the only discovery I made about NYSC was that “corper” is a wrong word to use, since technically, it did not exist as a word describing someone on mandatory service to his country. So I set out, with my mind as blank as my phone screen, recently cracked from my hasty packing. My mother dropped me off at the park without too much fuss over the departure of her son to a distant land, (I was terribly shocked) often only heard about in the news and renowned for its violence against its people. The ride seemed long and bland, but often times interspersed with the occasional comic remarks from the numerous soon to be “corpers” on board the vehicle. My sweater was tied around my waist, perhaps giving off the impression that I was ready for something, maybe the cold I guess.
Fresh out of the university, barely old enough to know myself, I wondered what lay before me. Without getting too somber I tried to align my past with where I was going, but the only thing that worked, was the window I brought down to let in some air.
As per the usual with public transportation over long distances in Nigeria, the trip could not be completed in one day. A break down of the vehicle at the end of our journey through the southern part of Nigeria, indicated where we needed to stop, to pick up the journey the next day. My solitude in front of the bus with the driver, put the whole world before me, literally speaking; I was zooming through the world, I hoped my life would carry on this way, not just figuratively if you know what I mean. With the whole world before me, or just the illusion of going through the world, I sort of had an insight to what I thought I had coming, occasional eavesdropping in the bus showed what mattered to the other people and what mattered to me. To the other people, it was mostly gossip and NYSC talk, mostly small talk of how much they expected to get paid. Fresh out of the university, barely old enough to know myself, I wondered what lay before me. Without getting too somber I tried to align my past with where I was going, but the only thing that worked, was the window I brought down to let in some air.
Here a new journey begins
Upon my arrival in camp, I could only wonder at the discrepancy between my age and the ages of the folks I saw. Obviously they were older. I saw weathered looking men and women who ran ten years above me on the age scale, these people were the ones I would greet or say hello to with a polite nod of the head because of my home training — I like to think I was properly brought up — but these people right then were a wonder to see in their white khaki shorts, and the overly compliant nature they put on display. I was especially shocked at how willingly they abided to rules which I felt were designed to make one look stupid. I put that aside and got to filling the required forms and proceeded to get my khakis. I was officially a “corper,” albeit the feeling, because, I guess you had to feel like a “corper” too. In my mind, I tried to plan my stay at camp for the three weeks I was mandated to stay because I wasnt spoilt enough to complain to my parents that I was living in hell, and throw all the type of tantrums I saw rich kids throw on television. I tried to plan ahead like the man I figured I was in my mind, but I was interrupted by friendly shouts of Raymond! Raymond! (This is my name) My shock was answered by hugs from two guys I knew from my university, apparently they found it hard to process the scenery the camp presented as well. Bemused and happy we exchanged our horror tales of the camp after only a few hours there. We suddenly went from guys that said only hello and howfar? To guys close enough to exchange hugs in public.
Exposure came to me in ways I never thought possible… Yes, even the occasional flirting from a few older girls. I remember one whose name I purposely will not remember
Every passing day made me realize the pedestal going to a private university put me on. I’m not the tallest of guys, but in camp I think it was obvious I was a head taller than most. My strides carried an air of superiority, not superiority based on aristocracy, but on a plain I thought higher than material gains. In one of my many soliloquies, I mentioned to myself that “I looked upon them like philistines.” Camp was supposed to integrate us, but from my lens I saw exactly what I did not want to be or perhaps mix with. To sound a bit scholarly I must say; It showed the flaws of person after person against the backdrop of others. To say in plain terms, I saw the intricacies of class relations and the complex fabric of society, maybe the country at large, as ethnicity in camp was as diverse as shades of blue. Perhaps still, I saw something else. It was the empty conceit that had been warped in my fear of mingling.
Away from my high horse, exposure came to me in ways I never thought possible, interactions with people were not just a means to an end, but a lecture on how to relate with people. Yes, even the occasional flirting from a few older girls. I remember one whose name I purposely will not remember, who had a glint in her eyes whenever she saw me, intimate conversations with her one perspiration filled day, revealed how upset she was when my age slipped in one of our conversations, but enough of her. At this point in camp I could say I was getting to know myself a bit better, a realization I termed “consciousness” freeing me from the numbness that held me through my teenage years.
My insouciance towards the NYSC, slowly faded, and it blossomed into juvenile excitement for what lay ahead, maybe blossomed is the wrong word to use, but surely, my feelings towards the NYSC changed. I felt the distance between my parents and I gave me a chance to finally grow. In one of my episodes of growth, I had an argument with my father over where I should redeploy to permanently after camp, because obviously what was I supposed to do in Plateau state? My father’s words reminded me of the grip I wanted to escape so badly from, and in a way, my mind was made up, in truth I felt it had matured way beyond the 20 years I was, so I told him I was going to remain in Jos. “So I should tell the woman trying to run the redeployment for free to forget it? “This was my father’s response when I gave the vague reasons why I wanted to stay back. Then, an occasional glance at an older corps member would fill me with excitement, and I would say sharply to myself, “they dont know what’s coming, they are not ready.” Who were the “they” I was referring to? I wasn’t sure myself. Camp came to a close and I got my money and I left the camp. I left behind the frog jumps I did one lazy saturday for refusing to go to the parade ground, I left behind the nights at the mammy market too vivid for my pen to capture, and most importantly I felt I left the immature 20 year old me in camp for a new guy in a new town. I even left those girls I knew “the boy” would have replied appropriately to their advances. I left.
Soon enough, nostalgia quickly caught up with us as the buses streamed out of camp pausing only for us to say bye to the soldiers…
Written by Oshioke Raymond Asada
Excerpt from part II “I caught a glimpse of some girls crying and I wondered if it was young love, because everybody, okay most people had paired up already and the bond seemed like the type that held marriages together. My wonder was quickly doused by the laugh imbued announcement; they had been posted to a village synonymous with riots and uprisings, and even though I wanted to laugh, my heart skipped several pounds because it was pounding at this point.”