Memory Lane: The Breakdown

It’s pretty interesting what triggers memories, especially those of the more pleasant variety. I was recently reminded of my service year far away from home. Born and bred a Lagosian (but really an ara oke) I’d been out of the state both alone and with family. Two weeks being the longest I’d spent and since my undergraduate years were all spent in Gidi town too, I wasn’t totally averse to leaving it for a short year.

This was a while back and unlike the current theme where corps members and people are generally massacred by the sheer whims of the BH sect, religious violence and anything that leads to mayhem, destruction and death. Nigeria was still relatively peaceful and corpers welcomed and actually protected by the various communities they were assigned for the service year. There had been incidents in the past but not as widespread as it’s now become.

So I trotted off quite happily to Benue state when I received my call-up letter. I was totally prepared for adventure, new experiences and every other thing ahead. The time spent en route was a lesson in sitting, sleeping, standing and trying to keep busy for thirteen hours. Being younger, my recovery was quite fast and since registration and other activities awaited me in camp, something I had to snap out of.

Anyway, one of the first things I discovered after orientation and I’d settled down to work was that the pace of life in Makurdi was nothing like Lagos! It wasn’t a commercial city, more like a civil service enclave. Imagine my surprise when I noticed that one of the odd features about the town was the total absence of fences. Most buildings didn’t have any walls between them and after the initial surprise something I got used to seeing…or not if you know what I mean.

Being a true Lagosian I was well versed in catching public transportation. If you ask any worth their salt they’ll tell you that it’s one of the essential ingredients for survival there. You’ll thus understand the complete shock the first time a bus reversed to pick up a passenger. Shock didn’t quite capture my emotions in that instance. Furthermore there were no ‘real’ stops and people dropped off very randomly. It could be as close as three minutes apart and nobody complained (I’m still baffled by this too). Apparently these were minor occurrences that I would soon take in stride…

One fateful day I was out and about (can’t recall my destination) and the bus decided to mess up. Part and parcel of the vagaries of commuter life and any one that has lived for any length of time in Lagos has experienced their fair share. It’s common and if you’re lucky to come out unscathed after the breakdown, the demand for individual fares is loud and often messy in execution. In some cases no-one actually waits for the bus to stop since the engine would have announced its distress loud enough to be heard. Whatever the cause, passengers quickly find alternatives to continue their journeys.

Interestingly enough in Benue state this was not the way. Astute in reading these signs I immediately made to get up. at that point in time I realised that not a single soul had stirred. I remembered where I was and decided to do exactly like the Romans. The bus finally came to a halt, the driver got down, opened the bonnet, tinkered with the engine for some minutes, got it started and the journey continued…ALL without one word of complaint, or murmuring of any sort from a single passenger! I was comatose after the bonnet was opened and in a coma by the time he fixed the fault. I got down in a daze and watched as it ponderously disappeared over the horizon.

This Passenger Ethics 101 has remained with me over the years and it will most definitely not go away for some time to come, me thinks. It’s refreshing to recall and makes me wonder if this is still the case presently.

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  1. I was posted to Kogi State, Seyi: something I was totally unprepared for. Like most people, I had tried to rig the posting to somewhere else but it had apparently backfired! You can imagine my state of mind after that. No amount of words of wisdom from my mum or siblings brought any sort of comfort for me.

    So my ‘issues’ began immediately the day I left for orientation camp:
    *I developed a pain in my spine that occurred every time I turned my head to the right side.
    *The cold in Kogi was morgue – like and made even worse by the surrounding mountains. I complained about it incessantly.
    *I passed out (for the very first time in my life!) during the oath – taking, and spent the rest of the event in the sick bay where most of the doctors committed my name and face to memory.
    *I woke up one morning and couldn’t bend my right knee without feeling pain, and consequently reacted violently to any treatment given from breaking out in rashes to bringing out drugs. A doctor was assigned to me 24/7. God bless Dr. Osaze. He’d leave fellowship to attend to my medical needs.

    In spite of all of these, I insisted on doing the mountain climb and the endurance trek while leaning on a doctor and three others surrounding me with the first – aid vehicle not very far behind. I have never felt so vulnerable.

    It was no surprise to most people when I was sighted walking out of the redeployment area with a letter in hand.

    I never got to experience Kogi or its culture; maybe it wasn’t meant to be ‘cos all my symptoms disappeared once I left the town. My mum said it was psychological.

    While I have some good memories of the three weeks spent there, the one thing that I took away with me were the friends I made during the time spent waking up at an unearthly hour and marching with no purpose. Of course, Dr. Osaze tops the list!

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