I never thought I’ll make it

It’s been two months since I got out, but I still remember those 21days clearly.
No, I’m not talking about prison or rehab, I’m talking about the NYSC(National Youth Service Corp) orientation camp. Part of the service* every graduate of Nigeria must render to their country. Basically, Nigerian graduates who intend working in Nigeria have to give back to the country by serving for a year. The first part of this whole program starts with the ‘dreaded’ orientation camp. It is usually the hardest part of the service year for many because for three weeks you have to live on a camp site with different people, eat differently, and change your entire lifestyle!

Before I set out for camp, I spent several weeks, may be months researching on survival techniques I would employ. I read a truck load of blogs, and asked a zillion questions. The response was always the same, “Don’t worry, you will do just fine”. A few might add, “when you get out you will be a stronger person.”

Growing up I heard all sorts of ‘camp stories’, to be honest, there were all negative. There were the gruesome stories of how soldiers punished Corpers* severely when they were caught breaking the law, stories of how some Corp members fainted during ‘endurance trek’, how difficult it was using the wash room because of its debilitated state and of course the most common were the shotput* adventures.
I think those years of listening to these tales were the formative stages of my ‘camp phobia’.

After picking up my posting letter*, the anxiety kicked in. I worried about whether I had bought every thing on my list , whether I had enough money, about who my roommates would be, about what i would eat…. The funniest thing however was that I didn’t look like a nervous wreck, I just became a lot more quiet as my boisterous thoughts ate me up.A few of my friends were posted to the same state as me, so we were excited that no matter how bad it got, we had each other.

I remember rolling my suitcase in to the premises and looking back at the gate and wondering if i would come out the same. The camp site for Lagos state isn’t much to take in, I was just too happy there were no bushes. The first thing i noticed however, was the big red dusty field on the right, it contrasted with the tarred roads within the compound. I would later find out that this is the location of ‘Mami market’.

Registration started an hour after we arrived, and i must confess it was exhausting. I think i made too many photocopies and too many passport pictures (talk about over preparation). After receiving my kit, I remember asking if it was over… lol.

My room was packed with so many bunk beds. I got a top bunk, that meant i had to vault myself up to my bed all the time as these bunks didn’t come with steps. For several days i couldn’t identify all my room mates. It was impossible. There were just too many of us. I only knew those on my side of the room.
I remember my first full day. It had been announced the previous day that the bugle would be blown by 4.30am, by 3am the next morning all the girls in my room were up. It was a frenzy! The bathrooms were in a state. There were minor arguments and the constant noisy chatter everywhere, you would think it was 3 in the afternoon.
It was drizzling that morning, and I was cold to my bones, the soldiers blew their super loud whistles at us as we made our way to the parade ground. The darkness was intense, I refused to believe my watch that it was morning. I could hear the crickets, feel the dew on my skin, the moon was big and bright, and the stars were twinkling! All I found myself asking was, what on earth was i doing outside at this time of the morning?
There was the meditation, the public address, physical training and man’o’war chants. It was annoying and tiring doing exercises so early in the morning. But after running round in circles and singing the most ridiculous songs… I didn’t feel tired anymore. What i found most interesting about these mornings was the gradual awareness of daylight, the fact that i could suddenly see everyone clearly noticing their sleepy eyes and raggedy whites…

They let us return back to the hostel before 8am and we were expected to come down again for drills. I hated drills. I hated the idea of marching under the sun for four bloody hours, I hated the constant thirst and tiredness. After three days, I began to doubt if I would survive it. I was down with a cold, and a cough that altered my voice. Evenings were the best. Those were the only times I really could socialize. There was Mami market- the only place you could buy ‘anything’ you wanted and get ‘any’ service you required. From photographers, to launders to tailors to restaurants… everyone was out to make money from us.
Mami market was most vibrant at night time. Most corpers came out to have a good time. Once there was good music, food and alcohol- it didn’t matter the location, corpers were determined to have fun. I remember the last days of camp, i wasn’t sure if i was imagining it, the parties grew bigger and louder. There were so many social events and activities that made camp fun during the final days. With each day i counted down to the day i would return home to my comfortable bed, to sleep as long as i could.

Now that i think about it, I really doubt I remembered to use any of the advise i received prior to camp… the only thing that kept me going was my Ipod and friends. My friends from my uni were totally awesome, don’t know how I would have coped without them. And my camp friends were so much fun also; there was always a reason to laugh.

The soldiers were not as evil as i anticipated, I didn’t have to do shotput and there was no endurance trek. In the end, there was nothing to be afraid of! My experience has taught me that ‘nothing’ is difficult, it only gets difficult when we believe ‘it’ is hard. It begins and ends with our perception! Would i want to go back and do those 21 days again? Most definitely No. My only advice to anyone going to do their service is, ‘Don’t sweat it! It’s not as bad as they say it is’

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*service refers to the NYSC
*corpers/corp members are used interchangeably to mean Graduates who are currently doing their NYSC
*shotput is a popular term used to describe the act of crapping in a nylon bag and throwing it away. Done when toilet facilities are usually not available
*posting letter is a letter from NYSC indicating were you are required to serve.

Have you gone to camp yet? what was your experience? what do you make out of my story? Feel free to LIKE, COMMENT and SHARE. And if you enjoy my write ups hit the ‘follow’ tab to FOLLOW my blog and receive updates on latest posts.

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