#YNaijaLit: Read the first chapter of Morayo Koleosho’s NYSC memoir, “Hernortherstory”

Morayo Kolesho

As part of YNaija’s dedication to the arts and especially literature from Nigeria and the continent, we have opened our platform to novelists and poets and creative non-fiction writers, to share with us an integral part of their work and give us some much needed insight into why they have chosen to express themselves through this form.

Writer and photographer Morayo Kolesho is our debut feature, and she offers her very first memoir, “Hernortherstory” which chronicles her year serving the nation as part of the Nigerian Youth Service Corps. Dealing with diversity, culture shock and the beauty of immersing one’s self in new cultures, Morayo’s book is an important new perspective on a practice that has raised much discussion. We hope you will find it as interesting we have.


******

The sweltering northern heat blazed excitedly down on all our heads, mine was covered in a big multi coloured scarf
I had purchased the day before. We shuffled our tired legs and bags, uncertain what lay ahead. It was the last time we
would see the world beyond the massive yellow gates that had the large green N Y S C imprinted on them. It was the
last time at least, for the next three weeks.

The whole place looked as deathly and dusty-brown as life just beyond the gates. Everything in it looked misplaced, or rather, confusing, as several waiting lines staggered in and out of shape and I staggered into one of those.

The characteristic smell of stale sweat; the travellers’ odour, wafted through the air, and bade themselves a safe journey into our nostrils with the help of the hot desert winds that swayed lazily about. And boy was it hot!

Queued up raggedly before our new officials, I looked around quickly and uneasily to make general assessments
but we looked like a dull and uninteresting assortment of people. Maybe my eyes were too tired to see real colours
or make any good judgements but it all felt so strange and I wondered how I would manage. Ah, I was here hustling and bustling, and had started to miss my home very badly, but did they miss me too? I wondered as my eyes shut up involuntarily and my mind journeyed quickly to home.

After a while of distracted thinking, I felt an impatient tug at my back and then a gruff, “Sista, abeg move front.”

I opened my eyes lazily, daydreaming was officially over. I moved up the few empty centimetres in front of me. The
NYSC official was now in view so I tapped the person in front of me and asked, “Please what are they asking for”. My voice sounded a bit foreign to me, it was crispy; thin, rough and parched. I did not expect the effect the new place gave, so I cleared my throat and asked again, “Hmmgh, hmmmgh, excuse me please, what are they asking for?”

“Two passports, your call up letter and your school I.D,” he replied without looking back.

“Thanks,” I said as I dug out from under my arm the black folder that contained all my documents and pulled out the stated requirements. Before long, it was my turn.

The northern looking gentleman assessed me briefly with his eyes before demanding for my particulars in Hausa. “This is the third time this is happening today,” I thought as I raised my voice and slowly answered, “I am not Hausa sir,” my documents stretched out. He looked up quizzically then, and I smiled. He collected the documents dismissingly showing me papers on the table to sign on, I sensed his disappointment and quickly moved on. I was tired of hearing the incomprehensible language everyone else seemed to understand save me, and I really just wanted to rest. As I left the line, he asked, “Whey are you prom,” his English tainted with a little northern accent, I smiled and said, “Oyo sir.”

“You look Pulani, welcome to Kano,” he quickly added and then went back to his work of registering other corps members like me.

******

Arise, O compatriots
Nigeria’s call obey
To serve our fatherland
With love and strength and faith
The labour of our heroes past
Shall never be in vain
To serve with heart and might
One nation bound in freedom
Peace and unity.

“SHHH, you guys should stop making noise nau,” one of the graduands from another department cautioned with his index finger to his lips.

“Don’t mind them,” hissed another lady beside him.

We all should have sung the same tune with the others but as usual, we half obeyed and half continued whatever we were saying before the anthem’s call was made. The last verse especially was drowned in our murmurings but we cared less. Today Thursday, 30th April, 2015, was the graduation ceremony of the Masters and Doctoral set of the University of Lagos, Lagos, Nigeria, and I was graduating too. It was also the day a good number of us received our National Youth Service letters of posting,

******

The small looking but massive hall was chunkily decorated in yellow and red ribbons. I came in late and the hall was almost full. Fortunately my fellow Architecture students were allocated somewhere at the very back, the noisy bunch was well situated.

The convocation hall had gotten noisy before we even started checking. But the noise escalated in our corner as many of us checked and received our NYSC posting destinations and letters via Opeyemi’s tablet.

“So you guys are really just checking? I saw mine last night as soon as it came out. I got Ebonyi State, and I was peeved,”commented Hackett, another of my classmates. He had gotten his funny name because of his love for that particular cloth brand, Hackett.

Gradually, more of my classmates left their seats and gathered around Opeyemi, whose tablet had suddenly become
priceless.

“ABUJA O, REALLY?” Teslim commented.

“Your own is still good nau, I got Nassarawa – yes, Nassarawa. So don’t complain,” Fajinmi, another classmate, answered.

The little ruckus continued and I and a few others who had courteously decided against joining in, scrambled off our
seats as we heard Opeyemi loudly say, “THESE PEOPLE ARE MAD O, HMMM.” She was laughing but the person
standing next to her was not finding the joke funny.

“What happened?” Hackett asked.

“CHIDINMA WAS POSTED TO BORNO O,” Opeyemi replied.

“WHAT?” We all exclaimed.

“Do they still post people to those places?” Teslim asked

“BORNO BAWO?” I thought, demanding mine be checked immediately.
Moments after, I received my posting letter and walked back to my seat, indifferent. “Eh, where did they give you Morayo?” someone called.

“Ehm – Kano”, I replied unsure if it was good or bad news.

“EH, NA KEBBI ME SEF GET O,” another friend of mine, Seun James Taiwo, shouted.

Little by little, the ruckus subsided, we realised a large percentage of the class had been posted to the dreaded northern parts of the country.

“Imagine, Nassarawa, Jigawa, Borno, Kano, Kebbi – how can they start such terrible news with Dear Compatriot,” Fajinmi jested and we all laughed. I was not sure why. The celebrations continued, but for most us, it had been
tainted. Some contemplated not going to serve at all while others prepared to leave in less than five days for the orientation camps that resumed Tuesday, 5th May, 2015.

Maybe I was still in shock, or maybe I did not realise the full extent of the uncertainty that lay before me yet or maybe I just had a strong belief that all would be well but I seemed so unfazed by the whole thing, and that bothered those around
me.

******

On the morning of Tuesday, May 5th 2015, I jumped out of bed at around 3:45am. It had been a fitful sleep. Freshening up and praying took another hour and a half and as I rounded off, Mr Sango’s horning shot me out of my slow motion. I rushed down Baba’s stairs, grateful but silently wondering, “this Mr Sango man wants to wake the whole neighbourhood up abi, doesn’t he have a phone?”

Thankfully my luggage box was already packed so I rolled quickly to his cab.
He looked tired so I smiled and said, “Ekaaro sa, e try o, ti e tete de bayi”
“Mo ti so fun yin pe n’ma tete de, so–”, he bragged as he opened his boot and helped put in my trolley box.
Fisayo, my immediate elder brother, had also decided to come with us – indeed I needed more than just the financial
support my family had so graced me with, he sat with my second large bag at the back seat while I sat in front, next to Mr Sango, teasing him as we zoomed off to Murtala Mohammed Local Airport.

I almost took another short nap on the way but I was too anxious.

We got to the airport in no time, the road was free and the cab flew all the way, so much so I concluded Mr Sango must have been a pilot in his former life. Fisayo helped me offload my bags but returned to the cab swiftly and waved me goodbye. He was still very sleepy and so was Mr Sango who hastily started his car. I bade them goodbye with a clog in my throat, and then dragged my trolley luggage and huge handbag into the airport as they zoomed off.

Surprisingly, the airport was very full; I checked my time again – 5:30am. Apparently, most of the people on the various queues were corpers going to the various orientation camps all over the country. I brought out my new big multicoloured scarf from the side of my bag but tucked it back in as quickly as I had removed it, “Nah, not yet”. It had been strategically bought the day before to act as a camouflage just in case I ran into trouble in the northern borders. I was not planning to deny my faith, Christianity, but I was not ready to risk having to do that either, and prevention they say is better than cure.

“Mtschew” I hissed and laughed at myself, “what kind of funny thoughts are these?”

I stopped the building thread of doubt before I became paranoid, better positive or not think at all at this point. I had
come too far already. I preoccupied myself with the other passengers in the lounge, “who and who was going with me
to Kano”, a foolish question but I still went ahead, starting with the young lady beside me.

“Hi, are you going to Kano too?”

“Yes I am”, she said surprised. I was delighted. She had a beautiful smile, and very calm demeanour. Her name was
Lydia. She studied Economics at Ambrose Alli University and was my first ‘Kanoan’ friend.

At 6:20am, all the passengers were on board; I never saw a plane so full in my life. I thanked my father for the ticket as  buckled my seat belt but wondered why he had not paid the extra N3, 000 for the Business class, which seemed a
lot scantier than my current Economy. I paid rather late, two days before the trip, due to the impromptu invitation, so my ticket was double the normal price. Oh well, I was seating by the window so I was pacified. Still wondering where my new friend, Lydia, sat, I noticed another young lady by my side. I introduced myself to her and gratefully she smiled and offered a quick acknowledgement as a corps member headed to Kano too.

Just then, the air hostesses asked for our attention, I did not mind listening, I had already made my second Kanoan friend, Simi, and it felt strangely comforting sitting close to her. I brought out my large multi coloured scarf then and enthusiastically put it on, grateful the time had finally come to do so. With that action came a sudden feeling of bravery and adventure and instinctively I sat up.

The final instructions came in, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We welcome you on-board this Aero flight to Mallam Aminu Kano Airport, Kano. The time now is 6:30am and the flight duration is an hour thirty minutes. We expect a fairly smooth flight today. Once again, thank you for choosing Aero and we hope you enjoy your flight”. The aircraft lifted gradually.

I kept my eyes open throughout the flight, Simi drifted off to sleep after about 30 minutes; we kept smiling back and
forth before she did. About an hour after, I started to think  as I continued my aerial viewing, “maybe the north is not as bad as the news say it is. Maybe this Boko Haram thing is exaggerated as Africa is to the Western world, as a place
primarily known to house lions, apes and snakes, maybe –” the last maybe hung in my throat as the lush green landscape underneath began to fade lifeless before my very eyes.

“AH”, I exclaimed, sitting up swiftly from the relaxed position I had formerly taken. The withering process was quite fast and I whispered to myself, half scred, “Why is everywhere so dry and scanty.”

Simi had also woken up and was looking as stunned as I was, the jaw dropping transformation had taken a full toll on the earth, and it seemed naked in comparison to its former self. I muttered under my breath again, “MY GOD, THE NIGERIAN GOVERNMENT SENT ME TO SERVE IN A DESERT – AH”.

I shut my eyes then and prayed for mercy, all my words were under my breath because I just could not find the voice nor strength to speak them out loud.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to begin our final descent to Mallam Aminu Kano Airport. Currently the time is 8:00am. The weather here in Kano is clear and sunny with a high of 40 degrees Centigrade. We have certainly enjoyed having you on board today and we hope to see you again soon, thank you for choosing Aero”.

I did not look forward to getting down; in fact I wished for super powers to turn the plane back around and almost tested if my wish had come true by trying to lift my chair, it refused to yield but of course what did I expect.

The man in front of me had been watching my reactions and he calmly said, “this is not the real Kano, the interior is way more beautiful,”

“Indeed –” I gave a false smile, embarrassed. I shut my eyes again to pray as we descended from the soft fair clouds that felt safer than the hard brown earth beneath.

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