‘‘Where are you going to? Come and get your bag searched’’ a gruff voice said. Peeking through my sunglasses at the security official who was apparently talking to me, I walked over to a canopy filled with security officials and dumped my bags before a really pretty policewoman (no offence but this is kinda rare) who asked to see my call-up letter and school identity card. She looked up from the I.D card, passed it to a female colleague and said;
‘‘Na wa o! See what maturity has caused’’ and they both giggled at my picture. Granted the photo used was horrid, I was bone thin in my freshman years and had an egg-shaped head. Still, couldn’t she have employed a little bit of subtlety?
After the initial luggage search which was carried out verbally (seriously, would I have told them I carried a bomb even if I had one securely fastened to my privates?), I proceeded slowly down the narrow path knowing full well that the next time I would probably walk down this particular path again would be on the passing-out day in three weeks *sighs*.‘‘Corper take. Take this too and this and that and this……’’. this was coming from various people who I later learnt were traders (read hustlers) who were trying to make some money selling stuffs, charging phones, opening bank accounts, doing laundry and what not.
‘‘Whoa, back off’’ I cringed. This was just ridiculous. I barely glanced up at their faces as I was partially nervous; I had no close friend serving in Lagos thus, none would be in this camp but trust Zibah, I had a game plan. No dulling *wink*. Prior to this day, I had a friend who served at Lagos camp describe the layout of the camp to me but on getting there, I wondered irritably how she aced geography (or maybe I’m the dumb one *lazy shrug*). Anyway, I walked towards the towering structure that I assumed geography chic was referring (correctly) to as the hostel and saw two men (dressed in plain clothes) conducting stop and search operation-again. The sun was shining in all its glory, I was mighty hot and could feel beads of sweat trickling down my forehead and my back so I gingerly stepped around them and proceeded into the building, so much for security.
Lo and behold, I am inside the hostel. ‘Not so bad’ I think to myself. There are two building blocks with a quadrangle in between them. On further inspection I discovered that it was male and female hostels side by side. Excellent
After registering at the male hostel, I was asked to join a queue which grew to about 32 boys. We were all taken to a room and a dude was randomly chosen as the room captain. This dude looked freaking weird. He wore a long flowing gown (popularly referred to as Jalabiya), aviator glasses and sporting a beard bushier than Rick Ross’ (hmmm! whatever happened to jeans??? *sealed lips*). He introduced himself as Chidi. We were assigned to room MH 49 which was located between two toilets and bathrooms. Nice!!! The room was extremely tight with no space between the bunks. I chose the top bunk close to a window (as adviced by geography chic). As I climbed on top of the spring bunks (been long I stayed on one), I was greeted by an embarrassingly unhealthy mattress which was as flat my bed sheet, like seriously. Lucky for me, I arrived quite early so I made my way to one of the unoccupied rooms, selected a clean, robust mattress and replaced the atrocious sight that would have been mine for three weeks. I tossed my bags unceremoniously on the bed grabbed the folder containing my particulars and disappeared down the windy stairs to get registered. Looking back at the way I came, I was fairly certain that locating my room afterwards would be a herculean task.
‘‘Excuse me, are those people over there waiting to be registered?’’ I asked an official who was dressed in all blue while pointing at almost two thousand people. ‘Yes’ came the curt reply. Plugging my ears with my ear phones, I took a deep breath and nonchalantly made my way over to the vast crowd sitting on white chairs and basking in the harsh embrace of the sun while mentally calculating how long it would take to get registered.
‘‘you, you, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 …….’ stand up and follow me’’, another official screamed.
It’s been over an hour of involuntary tanning sessions. An official comes over, plucks…erm picks a few people sitting in front rows and sends them over for registration while the rest of the corpers at the back (with the exception of yours truly) fall over each other to fill the now empty front seats. Yes, it was chaotic. I looked at them with pure disgust till I got so tired of sitting that I was subsequently championing the rush for the front seats. Yea, I’m cool like that.
It is now 1:39pm and I have; downed two bottles of table water, bought several recharge vouchers and made calls to all the necessary people, massaged my bum over a dozen times when blood stubbornly refused to circulate around it, soaked and discarded my handkerchief, cursed the Government for not scrapping the NYSC scheme and prayed to the Christian God about hastening the registration process as I was quickly turning into a fossil courtesy of the unforgiving sun. At around 2pm, the State Co-ordinator arrived and had the sense to ask that we be moved to a ginormous tent. Gee, didn’t the officials and security officials think of that earlier? After a few minutes of sitting idly, a blue and white form was shoved in my face and I was asked to fill it. At last, some activity. I filled the darn forms and was promptly ignored with the rest of the unregistered Corpers once again. At 5pm, I was past caring; I sat back in my plastic chair and lost myself in murky thoughts of survival.
‘‘Hey’’. A female voice said to me.
‘‘You have been really quiet, why? I don’t normally talk to strangers but you have great dimples. I noticed it when you smiled and I love them’’.
I turned my head towards the voice; she was sitting just beside me.
‘‘My name is Hillary’’ she promptly announced, ‘‘what’s yours?’’
Without pausing to hear my reply, she went on to bore me on her plans for camp; how she was ‘gonna rock camp’ and hoped we would get a chance to hang out later once we were done with ‘this retarded registration’. I just stared at her, smiling and nodding politely when necessary and wishing someone could punch her mouth just to get her to shut up. As soon as someone got up from the front row, I bade her farewell and hastily departed from my seat giving her the pleasure of accessing my retreating backside. At 7pm (yes, I was still not close to registering at this point), I got a phone call from a buddy and tried answering by sliding my finger across the screen but got no response.
‘Slide’ ‘slides’….’ah-ahn! What’s up with my phone?
My Samsung Galaxy SL touch screen absolutely refused to recognise my gestures and answer the call. He kept calling but finally gave up when it was obvious I wasn’t going to answer. I chucked it aside as an isolated incidence partly because I was bushed and also because the phone wasn’t up to a week old. I pulled out my other mobile phone device (my trusty Nokia 2310 that is pushing 7years and still waxing strong), started dialling his number and on second thought severed the connection and returned it to my pocket, I wasn’t up for chatting, not now anyway.
Feeling bored, I walked over to where a group of apparently bonding corpers sat idly conversing in English (no offense but the number of Igbo people at the camp was overwhelming) and we proceeded to talk about mundane issues. At about 8pm, I had found a walking buddy-Victor and the registration line had scattered so there was total chaos. Stomach growling, I decided to walk into Mammy market in search of dinner while Victor decided to remain with those still vying to register. The Mammy market is a Corper market located around the camp’s football field. Mammy takes care of everything, from charging and repairing phones, buying clothes, shoes, bags and jewelleries, taking zillions of photographs, tailoring and eating to more interesting stuffs like games (snooker, PS), exotic and not-too-exotic alcohols, cigars and small chops…no, they don’t have prostitutes for hire though I believe if you go through the right channel, you may find what you are looking for. I walked over to a canteen and for the second time in about 4years, I ordered swallow- a bowl of Eba and Egusi soup (I have nothing against swallow-ey kinds of food but from past experience, I had realised that my stomach reacted more violently to this kind of food than to others). Half way through wolfing down the food, my stomach started to hurt and churn out gas faster than I could clamp down on my deceitful butt cheeks to prevent its escape (luckily, no one was sitting behind me, as that would have probably caused a scene *chuckles*). I managed to finish the food and make my way back to the hall which now served as the registration point while gripping my stomach and occasionally looking for dark lonely corners to deposit the gas when the need arose. At 11pm, I was able to register online, get assigned to a platoon and receive a pin necessary to log on to NYSC website and conclude the online registration, while the rest of the registration I was told would have to be concluded at my platoon on the following day.
At 12:07am, I made my way to my room through the darkened staircase (no power supply available on the first day and through most of my three weeks stay at camp) I headed straight for the toilet on the right side of MH 49 for inspection (my stomach can be very sensitive to food, so the toilet usually turns out to be my best friend wherever I go). It seemed…usable. Hey, I would be dumping uglies in it and not sipping coffee, so what they had would suffice, unsurprisingly it had no toilet seat not like I would have used it even if they had one. It was large enough for me to aim my butt comfortably at the ceramic bowl while squatting (too much info right, my apologies). I also noted that the wall separating the toilet from the bathroom didn’t quite reach the ceiling thus, an individual’s rear perfume would definitely drift over to choke whoever was taking a bath *sighs*. The bathrooms on the other hand lacked panes in the windows leaving a huge gaping chasm excellent for advertising one’s nude body to the world. I sighed again too exhausted to care ‘sides, I was betting the female bathrooms would be in the same order (ain’t I the little perv *evil grin *). Luckily, I noted that there was steady water supply in the male hostel (something I later learnt the females weren’t fortunate with).
‘‘I’m coooooming out…..I’m comiiiiing.’’
I was jolted out of my reverie of the female bathroom by The Notorious B.I.G ft Mase and P. Diddy’s hit jam ‘‘Mo money mo problems’’ coming out from my pocket, I had a call. I pulled my phone out of my jean, made the gesture to answer the call and was rudely ignored by my phone. I realised my phone still wasn’t responding, I angrily pulled the battery hoping that whatever problem it had would be resolved somehow before the following day (sadly, the phone didn’t work for the next three days).
On getting to my bed, I saw my unpacked bags and with notable effort stripped off my clothing. In the process of removing my wristwatch, the metal clasp suddenly gave way successfully dividing my watch into two uneven halves.
‘‘I refuse to be frustrated’’ I muttered sleepily to the black un-answering night.
I was somehow able to find and pull my duvet, a night shirt and a bed sheet out of my bag before the light in my brain went out as my head made its way to my pillow. As I drifted off to la-la-land, my subconscious registered the loud snore of whoever was my bunkmate and the mewing sound coming from whoever was sleeping at my side. Sheesh!