On March 8, I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to get to Nigeria's National Youth Service Corps, or NYSC camp, in Kubwa, Abuja. I wanted to be one of the first people to arrive for registration so I would receive a good choice of accommodation and not have to spend the whole day in the sun. By the time I arrived, I was No. 228. Apparently many people had spent the night there in order to be the first in line. Initially I kicked myself for not coming earlier, but then I saw how the line had swelled by thousands as the day grew. Camp numbers reached 5,670 as announced by the officials.
What is it about filling out forms or going through a registration process that just sucks? Well, after going through an NYSC registration process that lasted nine hours in the sun -- all while carrying two duffel bags and a bucket -- I will never complain about a more benign registration again.
This process was awful. We were made to walk in lines and around campus to different checkpoints as part of our registration. (Mind you, half of the checkpoints had nothing to do with registering.) Part of the process included the soldiers welcoming us formally by making us dance, sit on the dirt ground (no matter what we were wearing), demean ourselves (albeit in great fun), play "Simon Says," and carry our bags on our heads. All I kept thinking was, how the heck am I going to balance two duffel bags on my head with bucket in hand? More importantly, I had just gotten my hair done, and there was no way I was getting sand in it.
I didn't mind sitting on the dirt since I had yoga pants on anyway. My heartfelt wishes to all the girls who wore dresses. When it got to my group's turn, we started out with a dance, got to the next point where we were to carry our bags and I couldn't carry mine. Of course that drew the attention of the soldiers and all three of them came to see why I wasn't obeying their command. After interrogating me, laughing at what I had in my bag and at me in general, they kindly let me off the hook, and I proceeded on. Others were not so fortunate!
At about 3:30 p.m., I was almost done -- literally and figuratively. You could stick a fork in me -- I was cocoa krispy toasty. Finally, I would see the room and bed that would comfort me for the next three weeks. I was the last of my group to pick a bed since I was still dragging my duffel bags, which at this point felt like they were filled with rocks. The last bed standing for me was barely standing. It had three and a half legs.
Our chaperone, although very sympathetic, told me that I would manage and that they would put a rock under it. I looked at her like she was crazy and suggested I would rather go home than put my life in danger over an unsteady bed on the verge of collapsing. Luckily for me we discovered there was a pregnant woman who shouldn't have been bunking with us, so I was given her bed. In the end, I got a top bunk at the end of the room in front of a window next to the ceiling fan. Trust me, that was a luxury, as I would soon come to find out. They say a firm bed is good for the back; well, then, iron beds might be the best yet.
Out of those nine long, painful hours spent in multiple lines, seven-and-a-half of them had nothing to do with registering. At this point, filling out those forms felt like taking the GMAT. Everything just seemed harder. One of my bunkmates started crying and all I could do was console her and tell her it would be okay. We got through it together, and then it was time for me to go back to my room and sleep.
By 5 p.m., I fell asleep -- I had had nothing to eat since my day started at 4:30 a.m. After 15 minutes, my sleep was disrupted by the voices of soldiers yelling and banging on our walls to put on our white tees, shorts, and sneakers and to head to the parade ground. How I got dressed and found my way there is a blur. Despite my interrupted slumber, I was in high spirits, because I would get to see the campers.
Before we got to the parade ground we were broken up into 10 platoons. I was in platoon 8, and those who joined me would be my teammates for the next three weeks. The soldiers kept us out there for another two hours, teaching us how to march and stand like soldiers in preparation of our swearing in ceremony in a few days. By this time, I was hurting really badly (all it took was nine hours of registration, 15 minutes of sleep, and two hours of marching to finally feel it in the bones). After it all, I went back to the room, took a shower and fell asleep. Everything else was secondary -- food, touring the camp or trying to make friends. Plus I knew the next day's wakeup would be at 4:30 a.m. And if my first day was anything to go by, I knew I'd need to be rested for what was in store.