NYSC @50: Sahelian conditions not for me
Before going for the NYSC orientation programme, I had heard stories about the North’s extreme weather conditions, mostly from an in-law, who was a Customs officer.
Among other work stations, he served in Maiduguri, where I underwent the orientation programme. I thought his stories were confected or benefited from narrative supplements like exaggeration, as the conditions he described sounded unreal. He talked about ultra-searing sunshine and heat as well as achingly biting harmattan cold.
Well, my experience of both conditions were much worse than what he described and I do not believe I’m misremembering things. I got to the camp at about 5.30pm one day in mid-April, met a few friends from my university, who helped accelerate the registration process.
I was uncomfortable while it lasted because my body was adhesive-sticky with sweat and dust after the long journey. I needed a bath. Badly. I would happily have had one at a car wash, as I needed something with the force of a pressure washer to sufficiently rid my body of grime. Well, there was none, so I had to do it the normal way.
That provided the first confirmation that my in-law hadn’t been making up stuff. Got my bucket filled in the bathroom and an attempt to scoop water and pour on my body came with a warning: Try and see. The water was just a little less hot than one for making eba. At well after 6pm! I didn’t travel all the way to get my body scalded.
I wore my clothes, left the bathroom to gripe to the guy whose bunk was next to mine. He said I would have to leave the water in the open for it to lose the heat. He had spent a day or two in camp before my arrival and told me that he filled his bucket, kept the water overnight for it to be suitable for his morning bath. Iku de!
I endured the mightily uncomfortable stickiness for a while for the water to lose heat considerably. The night’s sleep was in the open, on the dormitory corridor, because the heat was nothing short of tyrannical. I looked at guys who spent the night indoors and thought they had the skin of a rhino. But even they had to drench their mattresses in water, one of those things I sneered at when my in-law told me those stories.
Brushing your teeth in the morning meant doing so with water from the tap still hot enough for tea. I had never seen sun come out so early and with such belligerence. By 11am, your scalp was close to simmering. By 1pm, you’re squinting so much and, as I joked in those days, you saw with your teeth, which you were forced to bare like a kid having his/her teeth brushed. You dared not turn on the tap
The very sandy ground posed its own challenge. With the baking temperature, the rubber soles of your NYSC boots felt like they could be liquefied by heat. I once bought a chocolate bar from Leventis Stores, after which I was inattentive enough to go around town doing a few other things. By the time I brought it out to eat, it was molten mess. One more thing about the hot season: lizards.
They were not the scrawny ones I knew. These were big lizards, looking well fed like a butcher’s dog. When tortured by the sun, they could creep into your dwelling. How I hated that.
Harmattan provided relief, but it came with its own teeth. It was unbearably cold, with its winds always whistling menacingly. It was different from anything I had experienced. Lips were were left looking like pizza crusts and skin like sandpaper. You felt you could pee ice cubes if you went to the toilet.
With harmattan came flies, big and sufficiently impudent to perch on eyelids and lips of children, who felt no discomfort from their presence. There were flies in the hot season, too, and did frame eyes and lips. At butchers’ tables, you hardly ever saw meat lumps when you approached, as flies would have formed a dense canopy on them. They only moved when the butcher waved his knife. The flies apparently thought they were butchers’ pets and the knife wave was a gesture of bonhomie. The returned once the transaction ended.
The best time for me was the rainy season, which gives a balmy feeling. It came with its own irritation. That was personal to me, I have to say. It was in the shape of chameleons. I hated them. So badly. They could pop up at your door, walking slowly like they were in a religious procession. Truth is they scared me shitless.
Before the rains, you saw bridges running across dry lands and you wondered why they were built at all, given that there was no water anywhere around there. It was only when the rains came that you’d know that those drylands were rivers with water completely licked by the sahelian sun. The weather conditions were brutal, but the people were nice.