Times when NYSC and Hope Waddell Management delayed our “allowee” and emolument respectively, we were forced to manage; and by so doing adopted “Ma’ma“, the under-the-mango-tree food seller, as our unofficial cook. With less than a dollar, you can get your stomach filled with Rice, tomato stew with onions (shy of pepper), plantain, sometimes the bland-never-delicious moi-moi and fried fish big enough only for the eye of a needle. We had meat few times which mostly fell on days we had less than a dollar to spend on brunch.
In a lot of ways she tried for us as we had to, sometimes, buy on loan. We had two Ma’mas. The slim, gammer, unappealing looking one with food of more quantity than quality and the chubby, youthful looking one with good quality food but small quantity. On a very hungry-stricken noon, both food taste better than KFC chicken or the mouthwatering fried rice of Mr. Biggs. And I’ve always believed food usually taste like the cook; in the case of these two wonder-full hash slingers, I was never wrong.
The school, luckily, has a gardener; the farmer who works on the school farm on salary. But then he wouldn’t need his meagre salary because he had already learnt Oga’s “survival” tricks and way of “making it in life”. Quite comfortably, he luxuriated in filching the school palm oil produce. Myriad times, I caught him walking off with large quantities of the produce while carefully keeping them somewhere around the school fence till the school “dismiss” for the day, only to bring a truck to move his spoils later. But with all the purloining, he didn’t look any better than Mistoka who was receiving the smallest “decent” paltry salary. It reminds me of my village where there’s an adage cum prayer often recited by everyone, the good and the bad. “Ise kekere, owo nla” meaning small work (effort), big gain (profit). No disrespect but he and Mistoka had a really hard time getting their own prayers answered.
Papa, the frail old guard ended up a maid of all work. From carrying chairs to locking of doors and laboratory to locking of gate and arranging of hall for PTA, his job description was so obscure and complicated, even to him. He never knew his jurisdiction neither was he able to pinpoint his duty, he did everything painstakingly. Luckily, he never taught a class nor drove the rickety school bus or so I think. If truly driving is fun, I can bet the school bus driver wasn’t having any at all. He became Oga’s personal driver as he was seen, even during weekends and holidays, driving Oga and whoever and whatever Oga deems fit. And he had his own fair share of contumelies out of Oga’s overflowing lots.
Service year was going well according to plan, though I was living a sort of boring triangular life. School – Market – Lodge (Corper’s). I had ample time to build my gluttony skills as far as good food is concerned. The duo of Anu and Segun fed me a lot of times: God bless them. May and her kitchen weren’t best of friends; I can count how many times she cooked, probably because she wasn’t so good a cook or because she was saving to buy her first car or her first trip to Space.
Yes, I like food, I do but to clear the air, I don’t fall into the wain of people who live to eat. I eat to live and I try to make it worth it because as diminutive as it may seem, it is a great sacrifice. On the cross, I was made to believe Christ Jesus died for my sins. And in my pots, plants and animals died for my survival, they gave their lives for me to live.
On one of the humdrum, hot Friday noons at the LG Secretariat, while we waited for our ever-late Zonal Inspector (ZI) to come so we could sign the month’s PV (Payment Voucher), I met her again. Her; as in the pretty lassie who sat seats away from me while heading to NYSC camp months earlier. She gave me the I-have-seen-you-before stare and I responded. I reminded her of what she already knows yet feigning ignorance. She was happy we met again and it was all to see in her erubescent smile. More than anything, I was convinced she actually winked at me at the Park.
We exchanged phone numbers and promised to keep in touch henceforth since, fortunately, her PPA is quite nearby; Okagwe, a village where PHCN, maybe due to laziness, fear or favour, forgets to perform their “let there be NO light” miracles for days unending. Luckily just few kilometres away from Amaekpu where I was serving.
After chatting, incessant phone calling and texting for days running into weeks, we got really close and she, obviously sure I was crushing on her, suggested that we meet face to face and I, the awesome Ayodeji Lancaster should do the honours of asking her hand for a relationship. It was a great moment, a dream come true. My “girl-from-the-bus” eventually became my “girl”.
Within three days, the relationship wrecked due to an unfortunate misconstruing. Heartbroken as I was, I tried to move on. As usual. By virtue of luck, fate, destiny or whatever, we found our ways back into each other’s arms and stayed glued in the warmth embrace for three months.
The three month relationship was one of the best I ever had. The special bond, the connections we had and bred, the good food, the romance and all made it the best three months of my life – as at then. She is very brilliant and intelligent and I, being a sapiosexual being, fell head over heels.
Everything in life, good, bad and the ones that failed to rise to the level of being either good or bad has a beginning and as well an end, including life itself. Quite unfortunately, the sweet romance ended up a nine-day wonder. While thinking of the future ahead of us, we realized a lot of differences we neither couldn’t bear nor tolerate and we decided to do the honourable thing of calling it quits before someone or both of us gets hurt.
Tough decision it was, but it was worth every sleepless night it cost. We took solace in the good memories we made and forged ahead as “just friends“; though as highly expected in this clime, it was short-lived.
Once your intelligence and your innocence are available to you, just like two wings, the whole sky is yours. There are no more boundaries for you. I shifted my focal lens to other stuffs and people. I re-ignited the already dead flames of the school’s Literary Club and it would have been a success if I had some support from anywhere; corpers and or members of staff. While it lasted, I was inspired to write a few poems, some articles and motivated some members to romance with their pens. And it turned out that, a good percentage of the members had deep rooted love for reading and were glad to be introduced to writing. Though the school’s time table had enough space to expend on daily devotion in the dilapidated building used as assembly ground, not a fraction of a second was spared for Literary Session and I didn’t have the power to force it to happen not, even after I met with the principal. This made it impossible to organize a debate, drama or book reading session and it became the flood that eventually quenched the little blooming fire.
With little or nothing to do aside teaching Chemistry, I had superabundant time to play WHOT; almost everyday, with Segun and Anu and sometimes May. Twice I, not wanting to seem too pious, followed the guys to the tavern albeit I took no liquor. In the home where I was born and raised, ale houses are NO-GO areas. We are not allowed to visit anywhere alcohol is being served. Though, one time I followed my best friends in University to a popular Town End Suite. Aside my mother’s aversion for -OH, I have my reasons for not frolicking around bars and it didn’t bother more on my morality or the fact that I am a teetotaler. In actual sense, I stay off because I’m a chronic misocapnist.
The two times I followed my friends, Anu and Segun, were fun. One time I had Nkwobi (goat leg) and some bottles of chilled malt drink. Then the other time I was served “african salad”. Nutritious, yes, but I’ve never tasted anything more acrid. Baba was feasting on voraciously as if it were pure natural honey. So much for our diverse taste buds. Thankfully, these awesome guys made my service year fun. The yackety-yacks, discussions, games and food made it all an unforgettable experience. Service year would have sucked to high heavens if not for these gentlemen.
I had another friend I made in camp. Funnily, we met first on the NYSC Facebook wall even before leaving for camp and later unknowingly and coincidentally, became bunk mates in Malabo Republic. This dude, Kunle Obadina, though got posted to a theological seminary a bit far from my “village”, came visiting once. It ended up a fun filled, game-filled weekend.
All in all, NYSC is now history. All said and done. Left are just memories. Memories of places, people and events. These memories will linger forever in my mind. How will I ever forget visiting my very naughty friend, Seun Awobade in Okon-Aku village with a dead phone and almost dead iPad hoping to fill my belly to stupor and charge my devices only for the “light guys” to “do their usual wonder” until I was on the bike returning home? How can I, a chronic avian lover and food enthusiast, ever forget Ngozi Farms in Amibe where I get “cheap” full chicken for as low as #500 or the very nice attendant, Elijah, who sometimes give me extras? Alzheimer’s disease will rather take my life than the memories of the time spent happily with my ex in Imo state and “my girl” at Okagwe or the weekend, Tayo Babalola, my then newly adopted sister came a-visiting all the way from Umuahia where she was serving. Will I ever forget the day I almost got in a physical brawl with one SS2 clodpoll during the Chemistry exam? Will I ever lose the memories of tree climbing with my chicken friend, Maryam? Amnesia will do more than the needful before I can ever forget Oga’s parting words saying he never knew we were Yorubas before he hired us; apparently, he wouldn’t have if he was intelligent enough to know we bear core Yoruba names.
These memories will live and outlive me. NYSC gave me the chance to meet new set of people – diverse and different and I’m glad to have made the decision to serve the country.
Years back, months after we lost a colleague and a lot other innocent youth corps members up North to post election violence, I lent my voice to the discourse on how NYSC has failed us all even though I was yet to serve. In a piece I titled “NYSC, from my own view”, my friend Adewale “Sailheat” Sanusi dittoed Naomi Lucas by “reserving their comments” till I experience the “under the sun and in the rain” exercise. So now, over to you guys, this is a bit of my experience, this is my Diary.
My opinions cease to change. I still hold on to the belief that NYSC should either be scrapped or be well managed. A larger percentage of corps members have and are still having experiences they can’t write about. Some are still in volatile areas where they are prone to terrorist attacks, rape, kidnapping and other threats to their lives.
Anything worth doing at all is what doing well. I do pray Mr. Jones or whoever succeeds him and their wagons of policy makers have a rethink and review the scheme and most importantly revisit the monthly allowance of #19,800 being paid to these “hapless” youths.
To Ishana, the supreme unseen power who kept me, to my family who stood by me and my friends who supported me, I say a big “KA”.