Nkem Story

All the Sh*tty Things that happened leading up to NYSC camp

June 19, 2017

Warning: this is a rant-y post.

I know my blog posts are typically light hearted, fun and optimistic but I feel like that sometimes comes off as me sugar coating things. That is definitely not my intention, I just happen to often look on the bright side of things and by the time I open my computer or phone to type, any frustration has been vented elsewhere (my journal or a close friend or family member). 

But today, I’m giving the raw and the uncensored. The truth is, my NYSC experience had not be peaches and cream and anyone planning/preparing to do NYSC should be prepared for an inordinate amount of headache. If you’re doing it for the right reasons, the headache might be worth it – not really, but let’s pretend it is.

The amount of crazy hoops I’ve jumped through for this NYSC business is nonsensical and I’m sure I’ll write another post about why NYSC needs to be fixed ASAP or just scrapped (but staying positive, so I’ll hold off on that until I’ve had the full experience myself, beginning to end).

I should also mention that many of these experiences are not unique to me at all. Many corpers suffer through this same mess.

So here is my little rant session (with some gratitude at the end). Warning – it’s a bit long, so skim through, laugh at my pain, bookmark, then come back for more.

1. Not knowing when camp would start

Like any story, I need to start at the beginning. When I finished my year in France in early May, I went back the US and was trying to decide when I would leave for Nigeria. Based on my friend Chineme’s experience,  I knew it should be around October and I also knew I couldn’t wait for them to announce the start date. So on blind faith (and a work conference), I packed my bags and headed to Nigeria in early October. I waited waited waited, unable to give curious and concerned well-wishers any information because it didn’t exist. Sometime in November, they announced registration would soon open.

2. The online system is sh*t

Online registration for NYSC only started a few years ago. While I’m thankful I didn’t have to go all the way to Abuja just to register (that’s what foreign trained graduates used to do), the online system was still quite inconvenient. I had trouble on the very first page trying to upload my passport photo, it kept on telling me my head wasn’t centered or the background wasn’t white. I tweaked and tweaked the image to no avail. At one point, it even told me the image was dark and was not of a human person. Rude. I couldn’t get to the rest of the application without doing that part so it significantly delayed my process and there is only a short window in which the portal is open. I finally went to an internet cafe to get help and it took the guy several trails to get it to accept…I still couldn’t tell you exactly what made the system accept it.

3. I was moved to stream 2

NYSC used to be one batch per year, but there are more and more graduates every year (ya for education!!). So they moved it to two batches a year and now each batch has two streams. I was annoyed about this because it put me in limbo (they of course didn’t announce when stream 2 would go), but it worked out for the best because I was able to finish out my position.

Lagos-nigeria-cityscape-sunset

4. January Limbo

Most of January was filled with speculative rumors about when NYSC would send Stream 2 to camp. It made it hard to make travel plans or work arrangements since I didn’t know where and when I would be off to camp.

5. Camp was announced a week before possible departure

So while they had all of December and most of January to tell us what’s up, NYSC decided to announce on Jan. 15th that we had camp on January 24th. This meant scrambling to get my ish together. I’ll have to say this one is partly my fault – I could/should have done more of my shopping even before I knew the exact date. But as far as travel arrangements and buying food, that can’t be done til you know where and when you are going.

6. The dates of camp screwed up some long term plans

Since they weren’t telling me when camp was, I began making my own moves. I had a job offer that I planned to work as my primary place of assignment for NYSC. The dates of camp interfered with the job training and I had to choose between the two: my immediate professional development or long-term and personal goals. It was a hard decision, but ultimately, for the reasons I outlined in this post, I went with NYSC. As I headed further and further north, I tried not to regret my decision.

7. I was posted to Borno

Yup, you heard that right. NYSC still posts people to a region that’s known to be extremely unstable. It’s where the more that 264 girls were kidnapped and while a large number were recently released, many still remain missing. In fact, they don’t even camp us in Borno (they try to avoid large gatherings of corpers even now). I was told to report to camp in Bauchi.

8. Camping was again postponed for those posted to Borno

So two days before I was scheduled to leave (I had bought my ticket, turned down the job and everything), they send us a text saying anyone posted to Borno should not report to camp but should instead look out for a new call up letter and we would start camp Feb. 16th. Cool. More limbo.

9. NYSC now requires a medical certificate

This rant probably deserves its own blog post…Or maybe its own website (is whynigeriasucks.com taken?). During camp for the last batch, 3 corpers died from “medical complications.” NYSC now decided that all corpers must come with a medical certificate of fitness as part of the documents they present at registration. Fair enough. When I first read this snippet, it was in the original Jan. 15 post of NYSC and all it said was get a medical certificate. So being the go getter that I was, I asked a family friend to show me how to get one. We went to a private clinic where the guy asked me to write down my name, he filled out a form, signed it and then asked me for 5,000# (WTF??!!) . I was livid. “You didn’t even ask me any questions!! Run any tests, nothing.” Be careful what you wish for ya’ll.

Two days later, OK a Thursday, I get my call up letter and it’s only here that I see “medical certificate from a government military hospital.” (WTF?!). I already had plans Thursday and Friday and was asking around about the right hospitals. So I rush off to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital Friday afternoon, only it was too late. I returned Saturday morning (having to cancel volunteering plans I made – shitty thing #10). The useless nurse mocked my accent the whole time as she tried to explain why I couldn’t get a medical certificate on a Saturday – there are no computers on Saturdays?? (WTF??!) Between accent mocking, she said to come back Monday, but I already bought a bus ticket for Bauchi that left Monday so it was not possible (I didn’t know at this point that Borno corpers wouldn’t be camping Tuesday). I ended up yelling at her for being incomprehensibly rude. Her colleagues (friends?) tried to console me saying she was just teasing me as a sister. Hell no!! I don’t know you. We are not buddies. Anything rude you say isn’t teasing…It’s just mean as hell. This accent mocking is still a concept I’m trying to come to terms with til this day. It’s getting better though!

 

Sometimes you have to reflect on where you have been to help you decide where you’re going. But no matter what, always keep moving forward.

11. I couldn’t figure out how to get a forged medical certificate

In the spirit of breaking things up a bit, I’ll put the other shitty things as different numbers although they still have to do with the medical certificate. It was that very Saturday I was running around looking for a medical certificate that I got the text saying camping was postponed. This annoyed me but gave me more time to figure stuff out. I asked around and wasn’t able to figure out how to get a fake medical certificate saying I wasn’t fit to camp. Before you go gasping with you judgey eyes, this is something that has been happening well before we needed medical certificates. People get out of camp all the time by saying they have some sickness or the other and getting a doctor to forge those details. Unfortunately, none of my relatives knows a doctor who works in a government or military hospital. So I was stuck getting a real one.

12. I got a rushed, incorrect and extremely expensive certificate

So while waiting to hear back about the possibility of a forged certificate (and also because NYSC is not the center of my life), I put off getting a real one. By the time they told us where we would camp (hence confirming the date of camp), I only had three days to get the certificate and travel. Silly me, I thought it would be a straight forward process as long as I went early on Monday. Instead it became me running around LUTH from office to office trying to collect useless tests that said I was healthy. The doctor told me I would need to get tests for ECG, Urine Sample, Blood Type, Glucose Level, Chest X-Ray, and Genotype. Eyeroll. I was trying to get a general price out of her, but she said she didn’t know because I would have to go to the different departments myself.

I ran around the whole hospital getting tests done from about 5 different offices, all of whom had their own convoluted non-system. The worst one was the blood and urine sample. They give you the vials in one place, you go get you blood drawn and then find a toilet on your own, then run to the other side of the hospital campus, looking for the lab you are supposed to turn it into. It’s actually so unsanitary. You have to hold on to all of that, as you collect a pay slip, then go to another window to pay then return to the original window to turn in your receipt and your sample. Whatever. I begged all of them to have it ready by the next day.

The next day, I got my hair done and ran to the hospital. I started at the main clinic to let them know I was going to run around collecting my results. They said no problem. I had gotten my ECG on the previous day (2,000# for them to stick dirty suctions cups on my bare chest and print out a sheet of paper with lines on it. OK). The chest x-ray was straight forward to pick up, as was the urine sample. The blood tests though were such a HEADACHE. It was from two offices that shared the same window. They kept telling me to wait even though they said it was ready. I ended up telling them off about how they need to use the empty cubicles behind them to file their results. The reason they couldn’t find people’s things was because they didn’t have a system. Everyone in the waiting room agreed with me. I got my results and ran to main office – who also had no system. I seriously felt like the first person to ever get a medical certificate from this place. First they sent me back to see the doctor, after looking confused about what I was asking for, then the doctor sent me back saying “they’ll know what to do.” they didn’t.

To wrap up a little bit faster, I finally got all the information I needed out of the right people, had to pay another fee (don’t even remember what it was). They had trouble finding my file, even though I told them to be locating it while I go pay – they said don’t tell them how to do their job. So after paying, I came back to the window only for them to waste both our time looking for the file. Whatever. Finally at down with the doctor, she signed documents and sent me to the IT office that would print it out officially. It’s then that they told me that part would cost 15,000# – I wasn’t having it. I was livid because I had asked from the JUMP how much everything would cost. And this price wasn’t from a separate department so there is no way to say they don’t know, unless, again, am I the first person to get a medical certificate from this place?

After agreeing to not charge me, I had to wait for the electricity to miraculously come one. Somehow, it did just in time. The guy typing it up was sort of mean, but ended up staying past three (yup, they close at three) to help me get it finished and signed. But then there was a typo on my blood type and my name was spelled wrong even though he came to double check. I just thank almighty God that I’m a healthy person that didn’t need a blood transfusion based on that certificate. I traveled the next day and vowed never to go back. The experience just made me realize why I see so many people yelling at people providing a service – it honestly feels you can’t get decent service in some places without raising hell. It’s frustrating and it’s exhausting.

13. We were told where we were camping 3 days before the start of camp

So again, NYSC had three weeks to figure out where to camp those posted to Borno (Where they shouldn’t be posting us in the first place), but they chose to tell us the location on Monday when we should report to camp Thursday.

14. None of my aunties knew where the camp location was

We were told to report to Jigawa which is in northern most partof Nigeria. While Jigawa itself has had no reports of bombings and such like other northern states, it’s still in a region we are meant to avoid. Worst (or best part?…No definitely worst), no one knows where it is. My aunt that lives the furthest north wasn’t even sure where it was. Another aunt just asked “is that a state?” (But, part of this could have had to do with the way I pronouncing Jigawa…who knows!) Smdh. What did I get myself into?

15. Couldn’t book my Arik Air flight online

Like Nigeria’s medical system, Nigeria’s “#1” airline also deserves its own dis website. Remember also, I only had a few days to prepare. Was trying to book my ticket the day before, so I called Arik Air to book over the phone, only they don’t take cards over the phone. Oh and there is no way for me to electronically transfer the money. The man suggests I call back the next day to book my flight then run to access bank to pay THEN go try and catch my 11am flight. In this Lagos traffic? You tripping. I decided to take my chances with booking at the airport.

I took Med View home from camp because ArikAir couldn’t get their POS machine working. Sorry, I don’t tend to carry around 24,000# in cash.

16. We were delayed at the airport for no reason

As per usual (I’ve never taken an Arik Air flight that was on time), our flight was late. As in the plane wasn’t even in the tarmac by 11. You should have heard the stories the lady kept telling us about where the plane was. As in they didn’t even let us start checking in for our flight til like 12:40 (the final story they went with was that the plane was fueling…but boo…why didn’t you fuel it last night or earlier in the morning…but ok).

17. There was no coffee at the coffee shop

So they finally tell us to check in and I walk into the waiting lounge (it’s a small local airport) and see a large tapestry saying coffee, café, cappuccino in warm inviting and varied scripts – you know typical hipster-chic coffee joint. I practically skip upstairs, do I want a frappe or just black coffee, mmmm, choices. The lady gladly gives me their menu – the only coffee I see there is a cup of Nescafe (instant coffee) for 1,000# (Which costs 30# for cup sized portion, btw). I just look at her and ask if she has any real coffee. They have a broken cappuccino machine. I very nicely (ok, not that nice), explain how much they have broken my heart and how they need to take down their flashy coffee sign. I feel kind of bad and I know they are just the face of the company so I settle for a yogurt drink.

18. I had to tell this idiot about his life

This story actually ends well for me but it was annoying while it unfolded. It’s not directly related to NYSC, but isn’t long enough for its own post. I was in Kaduna finalizing a few things before continuing on to camp. I went to this cyber café because they were the only ones in the area with a gen and there was no light. First of all, I had zero privacy because it was a small space and the people who ran it kept looking over my shoulder. Finally when I got up to leave and asked how much it was, this boy opened his mouth to say 2,500# (meanwhile I had just paid 250# for 2 hours at a previous café and I only spent a bit over an hour at this 2nd café). I just started walking away, then I turned around and said “tell me the real price or I’ll just go home.” “Ok, pay 1,500#,” “I’m telling you that you better tell me the real price or I’ll go home right now.”

He looked like he was thinking again and I whipped out my strongest Yoruba, telling him not to speak any rubbish to me and has he heard me well? (Mind you I was in the north so the chances were, he didn’t understand a word I was saying… but I needed him to know I was a Naija Nigerian). “Just because you see me applying to different school you think you’ll cheat me? And even this one that you didn’t let me browse in peace. And you are saying 1,500#. Before you open your mouth again, you better tell me the real price. Use that your brain and think hard because if I hear rubbish I will just go home.” “Ok, how much do you want to pay.” We talk back and forth and I’m offering 350# and he wants 500#. He tells me his boss wants to talk to me. I look at the boss who gestures for me to come in, I say “no, my aunt is waiting for me, I’ll stay right here.” “Ok, if you can’t pay the 500 just go.” “Ok, thank you.” And I went on my way.

People trying to cheat you simply because of your accent just really offends me for some reason – are you mean, or you just think I’m stupid or a bit of both. Please, you can’t cheat me to that extent in my own country.

19. I’ve spent so much money on preparing for camp

Getting ready for NYSC is actually SO expensive. Between running around looking for white clothes, that stupid medical certificate, getting provisions and travelling North, I’ve spent WAYYYY too much money on something that’s technically volunteering. While they pay us, the allowee is barely enough to cover a normal person’s living expenses…so all these superfluous expenses are just annoying.

20. Stopped and almost searched en route to the north

So this still makes no sense to me, but on my way from Kaduna to Kano our car was stopped by non-uniformed men, it looked like an official road stop though so idk. They looked all in the car. I stayed quiet. But for some reason, the guy still singled me out to come out of the car and point out my belongings. Now, ALLL of this was in Hausa and even after it was clear I don’t speak Hausa the guy was still talking to me in Hausa and visibly annoyed when I didn’t respond right away or react (I guess follow his instructions). But like, I don’t know what the HELL you are saying. They had me point out my bag, and then follow them away from the vehicle. At that point I looked pleadingly at the girl in the front seat “please help me, I said, what do they want.” (I was trying to stay quiet so as not to give my accent away). She followed me to the shed where they were taking my stuff to search. The guy was saying to open it and the lady explained I was a corper. He says Oh, never mind and I’m suddenly free to return to the car with my stuff that I never had to open….errr OK! Seriously SUCH a scary experience. I can’t overstate that. I mean just imagine being asked to get out of the car by non-uniformed people yelling at you in a language you don’t understand and then they separate you from the rest of the group. Seriously not ok.

21. The women at the gate wanted bribe money

So finally when I arrived at camp after this whole ordeal, the women checking out bags at the gate (we couldn’t bring in forks because it could be used as a weapon…okay) asked me for bribe money. They never flat out say that. They say something like “did you bring anything for us?” Nope. No I didn’t. I’ll write a post soon about all the creative ways I’ve avoided paying bribe money here. I amuse myself sometimes.

 

So! The 21+ shitty things that happened on my way to camp (props to you if you can find #10). Sorry it’s so long but I just had to get it all off my chest! Have you had experiences that like this, that just make you think….why am I doing this again?

The whole ordeal of preparing and getting to camp just really made me reconsider whether Nigeria is where my future lies. I’ve now seen the country’s true colors and I was not pleased. I’m trying to stay optimistic because there really is so much to love here, but every day can be such a battle and it’s exhausting. Why can’t we just have programs and systems that work efficiently? Are we as a people allergic to progress and order? Or maybe this is why I really need to be in Nigeria – it needs my efforts the most? I know I can’t cut Nigeria off my list yet, but it’s really trying me.

I will always stay optimistic. I won’t let this country break me.

Gratitude Time

Now, getting off my soap box, let’s get to the gratitude. I don’t like ranting for the sake of ranting and I know this rant would be significantly longer if it wasn’t for the people supporting me all the way. I’m so blessed to have family and friends that have bent over backwards, welcomed me and supported me (and continue to support me) throughout this journey. You all know who you are and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. And to all well wishers and those curious about my adventure, thanks for listening to my story and sending your encouragement!

And I also have to be grateful to all the awesome strangers I’ve met along the way. I can’t report the doom and gloom without also commenting on the rays of sunshine. For example, there was a Yobe corper in my car that helped me out a whole lot by getting me to the right car park to continue my journey north. In the same car, was the woman who helped me out with the ‘search committee.’ And that’s just heading to camp from Kaduna. I’ve met so many other kind souls along the way and I just want to remind everyone that small kind gestures really really matter. You never know whose day – or month, you’re making.

“Be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” – Maya Angelou

I’m definitely still learning a lot about Nigeria and learning more about myself and the best way to roll with the punches and handle the frustration. Feel free to share your own stories below or some words of encouragement.

 

Yours,

Omolayo Nkem

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