Oluwanifemi Adeyeye: Understanding Cultural Diversity & Other NYSC Camp Experiences
I was posted to Abuja for my service year. I had been to Abuja just once and I barely knew areas in the city. At first, I was indifferent about serving there because I didn’t like the idea of staying with a family member, but compliments from people raised my hope. So I begged one of my rich uncles who works with a popular flying agency in Lagos to help book a flight. Boy! The idea of flying to Abuja made me feel like a rich kid. I felt so important that I announced to everyone I know about it. See who’s flying for the first time!
In the WhatsApp group chat for prospective corps members posted to Abuja, everyone started to vibe, chat and ask questions. We had an argument on the last day of camp registration. As we exchanged words, I typed, “the date on my callup letter is the 27th of January, my flight is the same day and I can’t reschedule it.” Immediately the message appeared in the group, it occurred to me deep down in my heart that it will give the impression of who I really wasn’t. Two ladies privately texted me to inquire about the airline I booked. I froze because I was clueless about that. I checked the details my uncle sent to me via email and replied correctly.
I didn’t know how I felt flying for the first time; the feelings were a mixture of fright, anxiety, excitement and pride. As we flew, I said to myself, “I’ll never be broke in my life,” the words carrying so much hope despite being clueless about my life’s purpose at 23.
I got to camp and started with my registration, which was long and stressful. A hostel was allocated to me. I didn’t want the room but the woman in charge insisted that we – my bunkmate whom I just met –took the space she gave us. The camp environment was different and it was somewhat amusing when I saw fellow corpers jogging around the premises in files.
The next day, the bell rang at 3:30 am for us to wake up. My heart became full of regrets. I started to ask myself why I chose to come to this place. We were chased out for morning devotions by 5 am. Every camp activity drained me but I was determined to enjoy myself because I took it as a break from home. We started these stressful exercises and drilling and stayed in long-winded hours for SAED lectures.
My first two days in camp had me thinking that I don’t attract people. I had no friends. I talked to people but they all had another person they were closer to. On the third day, the lady that stood beside me in my platoon passed a comment and we had a brief conversation. I was in platoon 3 and I hated it because I have always had difficulty pronouncing figure 3.
Eventually, B, a new friend, became my buddy. I loved her energy and we became very close. We kind of sparked a topic for discussion in our platoon. I heard some call us the rough and the calm ones. I was the calm one. B is the freest and most high-spirited person I have met. She was so free that she told me about her past and present life. She had my back always and she said affirming words like, “f**k them, you’re not the weakest person. We’ll do it. You are going to do it. No one is better than you here” to encourage me always. I loved her so much.
I anticipated the worst experiences in the camp, but it boosted my self-esteem instead. I know I’m not ugly but I really don’t see myself as a pretty lady. Seeing so many fine faces in camp had me thinking that I was just there until guys started trooping towards me. I had someone compliment my hair, walking steps, my smile and my face. There was this day a lady in my platoon tapped me and she said, “Sister, you’re so fine I just have to say it.” I was surprised. The compliments made me check my mirror constantly and it really boosted my ego. I walked around the camp premises with so much pride and I even made sure I walked majestically always. One sunny day on the parade ground, the finest guy in my platoon and every female corps member’s crush walked up to me.
“Hi, I’m E. What’s your name?” he said.
I froze, and that was the height of it for me. This guy was not the type that talked to people often. I would be lying if I said I never noticed him. I did. He’s fine, but I wasn’t crushing, and neither was I planning to approach him. I was happy with myself and at that moment, I accepted that I was truly beautiful. We exchanged contacts. E became my friend but he was so clingy. I often avoided him especially when my roommates started to tease me about talking to a fine boy. The attention he attracted was crazy and I hated it.
We had nice activities like our cultural carnival and my platoon picked the Gbagyi culture of Abuja. I was also dressed in the Gbagyi attire as we shook our bodies in the musical rhythm and danced barefoot. It was a colourful and beautiful event and I was so proud to see the many cultures we displayed. My platoon came first in the cultural procession to many cheers. There were also other activities like miss NYSC and Mr Macho, and we won in all categories. I named my platoon “fine faces and vibes” because we only won interesting activities like the pageantry and not the talent hunt or cooking competition.
We had guest celebrities visit us to perform and some to promote the brands they work with. Uti Nwachukwu, Akpororo, Kenny Blaq, Chuks D General, Style Plus, among others. Our last socials were really fun and memorable. We laughed at Akpororo and Kenny Blaq, and the DJ had the intention of making us break our waists.
I lived in the moment. I enjoyed compliments from guys, I tried having conversations with people and of course, I slept during SAED lectures. My roommates were the best. We would gist and laugh heavily. They were one of the best things that happened to me in camp. My bunkmate would fondly call me bunky naememe. One of the challenges I had was assuming everyone was Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa. I would call my friend Hausa and she would say no, that she’s from the North. I wondered what the difference was. This guy in my platoon said he was from Adamawa and he’s not Hausa. There’s a girl that claimed she’s Cross River. I’m sorry but Nigeria prioritised just three ethnic groups from the onset and as a Yoruba lady, I was not bothered. Going to the camp made me see how culturally diverse Nigeria is.
I miss camp. I miss the people, the soldiers, the unhealthy food sold at the market, and the training and the experience. Since it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I advise everyone to go to the camp and enjoy the experience.