The Clarion Call


On the 15th of November 2011, one hundred thousand young men and women were summoned from the solace of their homes to one of almost three dozen centers across this country. I was one of them and like each of my colleagues, I had no choice in the matter. We were all going to ‘serve our nation’ with our hearts, bodies and souls whether or not we wanted to. Notice the irony?

I arrived at the camp gates about 8 o’clock that morning, shortly after listening to two small children as they sang on their way to school,
” Omi garri (trans: the liquid of garri) is water;
Eja didin (trans: fried fish) is fish ”
The town itself was an ancient one with lots of thatched roofs and small red mud houses but there were quite a number of modern, stately buildings too.

The first thing I noticed in front of the green-white-green camp gate was a prominently displayed, black-painted, life size sculpture of a male otondo(corper) and he was not smiling. He looked very unhappy, in fact. I took one step past the armed policemen at the entrance, and impressively there was a checkpoint. Once it was confirmed that I was not carrying any dangerous ‘equipment’, I got the 4-digit tag that assigned me to platoon 6.

A couple minutes after settling into a hostel, I went out to get my kit. It was rather fast, my platoon commander was helpful and kind but the kit itself was a mixed story. The jungle boots and cap were well-made. The belt looked and felt as if it had been made from fresh banana leaves, and it became clear that the voluminous,’agbada-style’ ‘white’ tshirts, were actually cream once I compared them to the white t-shirts I’d brought from home. Other than the fact that I probably lost a button each time I wore the khaki, the rest of the kit was passable.

I changed into my whites and calmly headed out to inspect the camp. My first stop was at the fairly large parade ground where a lot of corps (pronounced ‘core’) members had already gathered; a few played football and many more from the stands. I’m certain that a lot more was happening then yet I quickly found myself drawn to a thin, deserted strip of the field, just next to the fence.

There were less than a dozen people there but coincidentally, all belonged to my platoon, and three were just about to race. I was on time. On a sudden whim, I decided I would be the fourth contestant and they agreed. We slowly spread out over the foot-high bush, picked suitable spots and drooped to our knees, waiting for the signal. I was tense.

“On your mark!” Blood pounded through my veins, overwhelming me.
“Set?” My heartbeats echoed, and I heard each distinctly.
“Go!” I shot off with every ounce of force I could muster. The world became very silent and still as I instantly forgot that it was merely a friendly race. My brain issued a furious, short and urgent command. “RUN!”, it roared. Even if the earth had opened her mouth to swallow the ground from under me, I could not have possibly moved any faster. My muscles were drawn tight, subjected to great tension. My head and shoulders were bent, to assume a diagonal posture as I swiftly closed in on my target.

And then? Broken twigs. Not one or two in my path, a whole bunch and my right foot became immediately entangled. I leaped into the air that instant, reflexively hoping to evade the branches and continue my run but my leg was stuck. I fell back to the ground, fortunately in the fetal position and rolled off the track for a few seconds, into the brown grass ,rough sand and sharp sticks

Perhaps it defies reason, but my first reaction was to get back on my feet and huddle into a nearby secluded spot behind a stack of grass and wood to privately examine my wounds. Remarkably, I was generally unscathed but more importantly, and to my great relief, ‘it’ was intact, and un-punctured. I vowed then, that I would not run again!,at least not in camp. I had come so close to…I turned because someone was asking how I was.

“Are you okay? ”
“Yes, yes…” I gasped, ” I am fine”.
“You should go to the clinic”
“Oh, there’s no need, I’m uninjured. What happened to me?” I asked.
“You were second until you fell into that small pit”
“A pit?!” My eyes widened and I moved closer to confirm. In truth, there was a small depression where I had fallen.
By now, the pain of the impact was dwindling and finally my eyes opened. She was a girl. Quite the girl. She told me she was helping the platoon’s athletic team and while I was still thinking, I heard my voice volunteering to help her oversee the remaining races. She agreed.

“Should I put your name down for the platoon’s athletics practice? ” She asked
“No, don’t bother, I’m never running again”
In an insistent tone, “But you were quite good and…”
I cut in, “I was?…” mused a bit, looked around then decided. “Tolu, Code no: “xxx6”.
As she wrote my name on the paper she was holding, she said, “Tanya”.
When the real races ended, we slowly walked back to the finish line .What I convinced her to do over the next five or ten minutes, I am not at all proud of, and immensely grateful that there were no watchers. I ‘won’, convincingly.
However, it boosted my dampened spirits and strengthened my commitment to run for my platoon.
We split.I headed to Mammy Market for a much deserved lunch thinking that NYSC camp might not be so bad or hard after all, and I could probably, easily enjoy it.
I was foolish…and naive.

P.S : This is the first installment, of a weekly series summarizing notable events and experiences from camp. I will cover more ground in the next one, go deeper.

10 (or so) things I am grateful for despite #COVID19

COVID-19 is disrupting lives around the world and a serious challengePlease #StaySafe. This list is about small positives I have noticed:

I discovered here, after months living very close!
  • While trying but failing to panic shopI ended up using the critical ratio, an ops concept – I bought more fruits than usual because what if apples are gone for months! Now my meals are dramatically healthier than before! Not that it was a high bar. See for yourself

  • Zoom dates are now a thing! Never got why Americans wanted to text for days, or meet up first. Incredible waste of time! Why don’t we call briefly, and see if a date would be fun? (Do I really want to get out of my house) Things have changed.
  • While I am annoyed at how often I feel hungry and frequent interruptions from doing nothing to feeding myself, maybe I can finally gain weight. No progress in years.
  • Once in a while, there are classes that take 2 hours but actually only require 20 minutes of focused attention.  I wonder what I will do now…
  • Anytime I leave my house, which is once in days, the world looks extra beautiful!  The trees are greener, colors are deeper and I am just happy to be alive. 
  • Can you make new friends from 7 feet away? Not as hard as it sounds and it feels very novel. You can’t? Sorry, tough luck! 
  • Startup Networking! The inevitable 2-hour train ride to SF. Not so inevitable now, eh? We can actually use tech to get into tech roles. Wow!
  • I am learning so much about my classmates’ dogs (go Yuan!) and dancing skills (or lack of it) I refuse to name anyone. But if you see me off-key singing happily on IG… guess who inspired me.
  • I am now exploring my neighborhood. I’d no idea there was a nice park nearby and even an abandoned-looking building.
  • Since wfh, I am never late for any of my appointments! No more chasing down the bus!
  • I have been doing crisis management calls with my family across three countries because I am worried about them. I wish it was not a crisis, but good to talk to them more.