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Advice from a good friend

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I had just been posted to Oyo State for the one-year mandatory service to my country. I would forever remain grateful to those who initiated the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme.

To a large extent, this scheme has helped to detribalise Nigeria and made some of us to view Nigeria as one entity. This is a scheme that if I had my way, I would ensure that it is never done away with in the furthest foreseeable future, though I must confess that the scheme requires some modifications.

Sitting in the dimly lit living room of my friend Mr. Akpanadiamkpo, I ruminated in my mind about Oyo State. I tried to recollect exactly what I knew about Oyo State… It wasn’t much; it was in theory because I hadn’t been there before. I knew that it’s in Western Nigeria; it’s a traditional society. It’s a Muslim state. An Alaafin rules it. It is home to Ibadan, the second largest city in West Africa. It has the oldest university in Nigeria, the University of Ibadan. It has a famous research institute there(International Institute for Tropical Agriculture).

Akpanadiamkpo had completed his mandatory service in Oyo State, so he was my progenitor. He sat on the sofa opposite me devouring his eba and egusi soup*. He said to me in between mouthfuls of dinner, to be of good cheer.

“I have told you so many things in my life, however, what I want to tell you now, please don’t forget it will help you,” Akpanadiamkpo continued.

“Listen Patto, when you arrive camp, don’t try to be different by going to the mammy market to eat. Eat whatever you are given in the camp. Your solar plexus will go through a readjustment phase, and you may visit the convenience a bit more often than usual, but after that, you will be inured to it. This will save you a lot of money and hassles,” he concluded.

“But why do I need to deny myself the pleasure of eating what I want?” I complained.

“Well, you have an aged grandmother and two siblings back in the village that need financial assistance from you, the earlier you wake up to your responsibilities, the better my dear friend. Also, if you get into the consciousness that you need to be prudent with how you spend money right from the boot camp, chances are that you will be able to carry that awareness throughout your entire service year.”

I knew this was one of the wisest pieces of advice I have ever received. “Wow! You are very wise Akpan, thank you very much”.

“No problems buddy, anytime, anywhere, any day,” he replied.

Mammy market is a market in the boot camp, where we purchase alternative food items. The boot camp is the place where all those turning up for the service year, first arrived for orientation and fitness drills. When once you enroll in the camp for the NYSC program, you become a ward of the Federal Government of Nigeria.

The scheme is paramilitary in nature and everyone is regarded as ‘gentleman corps member’.

The government takes care of you until you complete the national service.

In the boot camp everything is taken care of, except your laundry. The food may not be the tastiest, but it is free and guaranteed. Nigeria being such a diverse country with over three hundred and seventy tribes; has a huge variety of culinary delights.

Sometimes it could present you with a culture shock which would require a conscious effort for you to be able to integrate yourself to that new society during your service year. This one year national orientation program is similar to cross posting. You are never posted to your state of origin. People are posted to places different to their states of origin, reason being, they will have to learn and blend to the new culture and way of life.

When folks arrived camp, they tend to eat from the mammy market, which served a variety of more popular dishes like rice, stew, beans, dodo, and so forth. But you have to pay for it from your own pocket.

Folks from rich homes and some from middle class homes always like to visit the mammy market, but other folks will have to use their bicycle allowance paid upon arrival to be able to sustain eating there. Food in the mammy market could be expensive; so it’s always a game of knowing how to survive.

True to this wise advice, when I got to the camp, the free food being offered was very diverse. It was with heavy local context. This is one of the objectives of the boot camp though, to get you used to the different varieties of the Nigerian cuisines, culture and lifestyle. My solar plexus was destabilized for the first three days, which led to frequent visits to the pit house. After about three days, stability set in and from thence it was smooth sail.

Settling down at my abode in Lagos, the first welcome dish I had was yam porridge with ugwu leaves for breakfast. This was a fantastic meal, so delicious. I took more than enough. I knew I had to stop but the temptation was great, and so I carried on; I did not listen to myself. Four hours later, lunch was ready, a rare delicacy, ekpang nkukwo*, well spiced with ntokonokpo* and serenaded with ugwu leaves*. It was stuffed with mfi* as well. It was such a culinary delight.

Again, I did not listen to myself. I took more than a fair share of it. I ate about three portions and I knew disaster was on its way, the type that leaves your anus in a peppery condition for several minutes.

Not quite twenty minutes after the meal, the intro to the ordeal started. I went to the little room and spent some agonizing moments there. I came out perspiring and feeling exhausted. I turned on the air in the room and laid flat on my back. Within the next seven minutes another call came and I went to the little room. This visit was more intense and pressurized. I sat in agony as the emptying process continued. I prayed “oh God save me”. My mind went straight to Karl Jenkins’ The armed man: A mass for peace. I needed peace in my troubled bowels.

In the midst of my trauma, my defense instincts set in. Epiphany struck. I recovered from my temporary amnesia. I remembered my not too distant Oyo experience. I remembered the advice from my good friend Akpanadiamkpo. I was at peace. The bowels will only rock and trouble for few moments. Peace will set in afterwards. Calm will be restored.

As a spiritual minded person, one of the things I know is that we walk by faith. You may not know what the next step holds in store or where it would lead you to, but by faith, you just believe that, the best is in store and you brace for impact. I knew by faith that all was going to be alright and in the next couple of hours I was just fine, carrying on with my day to day enjoyment of comestibles!

• This is an excerpt from Uwem Mbot Umana’s Advice From A Good Friend


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