It is the season for NYSC camp postings and the new batch of graduates are about to enter the supposedly difficult conditions of staying at camp and dealing with Nigerian bosses and/or staff within the institution, the tedious and bureaucratic procedures and an array of challenges.
I went to camp with a massive suitcase in 2014 thinking I would brave it for the next three weeks. Even my family thought that I would not make it through and I was ready to prove them wrong. I had heard the most horrid stories so I was ready to face everything.
By the time the first day was over and my backache was severe, I was ready to go home. Mostly because the soldiers were shouting too much and I did not want to sleep next to someone I had never met in a room full of 42 girls squished together.
My back pain was serious enough to stop me from being able to walk so I ended up sitting around the doctors on a very long queue to get medicine and two weeks away from camp, I could not deal with the physical fatigue. Call me an ajebutter all you want.
I had to come in after that, to sign papers and get some other things done and that was when camp hit me by surprise. I spent the whole day in the sun and became at least 3 to 5 shades darker all due to the severe sunburn BUT I fell in love with camp. I realized it was the one place where ALL fingers were equal. We all wore the same clothes repeatedly, we all ate the same food and all had to walk around doing the same activities and sharing the same facilities. The adventurous side of me took it as a challenge. Could I stand out? Could I make new friends? Could I charm everyone around me? I was willing to give it a try. I kept going back during the day to sort out things and speak with people so by the time my two-week break was up, I had met a lot of different people from so many different backgrounds and managed to get many people to like/get along with me, even the harsh shouting soldiers smiled at me even when I didn’t wear the disturbingly uncomfortable white plimsolls everyone had to wear.
I got into an argument with the naughty but charming Chine Ezekwesili and oddly enough, we became friends afterwards. I got to know an acquaintance better- Zayyad Mohammed, I realized he was a natural born leader; he rallied up so many guys and gave them a sense of belonging. There, the truest and most charismatic people were revealed and I was glad that I got to witness some of it.
So for the last five days, I decided to sleep over at camp and brave the horrendous toilets and the strangeness of sleeping next to people I didn’t know much about.
During my days at camp, I had my papers flung in my face by a woman for disagreeing with her
I realized being a foreign trained student meant being the target for some people and an object of admiration for others
I made a bunch of new friends who I still talk to but I lost contact with so many others
I learnt that living and working in Nigeria was going to be a massive challenge
I showered in front of dozens of girls for the first time in my life
I learnt the value of charisma
I realized that if you’re kind and humble enough, you could avoid so many problems
And yup, drop the accent or hide it as much as you can. Try to sound as Nigerian as possible
I realized that there are so many different people from different parts of the country whose experiences in life vastly differed from mine
And I learnt to appreciate the air conditioning in my room after sleeping in a hot room full of people
The conditions are bad, the staff can be harsh (or extra harsh, whatever you prefer) but I genuinely saw the reason why NYSC started, to get to know and appreciate other people’s cultures and the reality of the harsh conditions many Nigerians have to face every single day of their lives, not just at a fancy camp.
Here are my tips for surviving camp:
Travel light- don’t carry unnecessary weights because sometimes the soldiers will make you carry your suitcase, you have to wear the clothes and shoes they give you for the full three weeks anyway
Do not go in with valuable items – the schedule is tight, there are so many activities and it is stressful to try to protect your items while trying to focus on other things. Carry your padlock!
Be brave- the conditions will be harsh if you are not used to that kind of thing but brave it, make friends and make the best out of the situation
Be humble and kind- you meet so many people that can easily be a huge part of your life at some point, be kind and humble enough to get to know them
Keep an open mind – you’ll have to eat different foods and do things you’ve never done before. It doesn’t hurt to try
Have extra cash – for days when you wanna hang out in the market or just in case you have a mini emergency
If you get too sick or too tired, don’t force it. Ask them to let you go home
Whatever you do, make sure you sign THE BOOK OF LIFE