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As in……{Living like a local no be small thing o}

I decided staying in a village will make me miserable, plus I was rejected at the school I was posted to. According to the school’s principal, I wouldn’t cope at the school because I am a foreign trained student. So I began the process of getting re-posted to Ibadan (the capital of Oyo State). I was naive enough to believe this process would be easy and straightforward but I was dead wrong. First, there was no office or person/official in charge of this. I was at the head office in Ibadan every day for 2 whole weeks before I finally got an official to accept & approve my re-posting. I was very lucky – he (the official) only accepted my application because I schooled abroad. All my other friends that schoole d in Nigeria either had to bribe or bring their influential parent before they could get anything done.

Before & AfterI began apartment hunting – a tortuous process. All the apartments I saw were very disgusting. I wasn’t asking for a lot – I just wanted a decent place with running water. In January, I had to pick the best of these apartments. The apartment had two rooms, kitchen, bathroom and no living room. The bathroom and shower were not tiled so we had to pay for it to get tiled #1stworldproblems. There was running water, constant electricity & it was located in a very safe neighborhood. I shared with another girl.

I loved my Job at Ibadan; I was posted to a research institute – Nigerian Institute of Social & Economic Research. My boss was amazing and engaged me in several research projects. I had few friends in Ibadan so I should be happy right? No, I hated Ibadan. It was way better than the village I was originally posted to but still wasn’t the city I would want to live in. In Ibadan, there are no places to hangout during the day, no malls or interesting sights and there were plenty extremely aggressive people. The city had no flavor to it, just plain, big, dirty and very ugly! I went to Lagos every weekend so as not to die of boredom. At the end of January, I got a call – the happiest call since I moved back to Nigeria. I was re-deployed to Lagos!

So February, I was busy completing registration out of Ibadan, subletting my room and beginning registration at Lagos. The only disappointment I had in Lagos was I wasn’t allowed to work at a research institute. Lagos corpers have just two choices – working in a school or at the local government (county office). I was posted to a local government. At the office, I was told by my boss that there was nothing for me to do so I shouldn’t bother coming to work L. At that point, I started brainstorming projects I can do, no way was I going to be a bum.

Tarkwa Bay BeachIn Lagos, I began to grasp my new life. Many people consider it fun,   interesting or exotic to ‘live like a local’. This is true if the country you are living as a local is NOT your country of origin. I loved my experience living like a local in Colombia and Honduras. Living like a local sucks for me in Nigeria because I lived here for the first 17 years of my life, I have family here, I have ties here. It is simply not exotic!

With the national service program, we are paid an equivalent of USD$125 per month. I have never lived on $125 a month. The least I’ve lived on is $400/month (in Honduras) and Honduras is way cheaper than Nigeria. A bulk of my money is spent on transportation – Lagos is similar to Houston, Texas in that if you don’t have a car, getting around is complicated.

I keep myself busy and sane by taking French classes; online courses via Coursera and exploring Lagos & surrounding states. Also, am partnering with an Educational organization to launch a Summer Camp Program in Nigeria. The camp is scheduled to hold in August. Check out our website Summer Camp Nigeria.

To be honest, the move back to Nigeria has not been an easy transition for me. It has been a roller-coaster; some weeks I’m depressed, others am just fine. I continue to network and explore Lagos. Another thing I do is to organize fun trip (Team FUN) with a group of people from my network. Many Nigerians don’t travel within the country and there are expatriates interested in seeing the country. So monthly, Team FUN visits new places. So far, we have gone to Tarkwa Bay beach and Olumo Rock, pictures coming soon.

As in and no be small thing o are common slang used in Nigeria. No be small thing o means it is not that easy. As in is used in the same way Americans use ‘you know what I mean’.

Victoria IslandBelow is an interesting interview I went for in Lagos……this happened last month and I want to believe am over it by now.

Background: my friend calls me up for a job she thinks I would be interested in. The company needed a recruitment agent that spoke Spanish. It sounded like a good opportunity so I forwarded my CV (Resume). The Operation Manager gave me a call – enjoy the conversation

Operation Manager: Good Afternoon, may I speak to …..

Me: I’m doing fine, and u?

Operation Manager: fine as well, I am calling about the recruitment position. What religion do you practice?

Me: Excuse-me

Operation Manager: What religion do you practice?

Me: I have no religion

Operation Manager: You have no religion?

Me: Yes, no religion

……call drop (me thinking, what a jerk, he hung up on me because I have no religion!). A few minutes later, my phone rings

Operation Manager: hmm, would you like to come for an interview? By the way, sorry the call dropped, poor network service

Me: Sure. When is the interview?

Operation Manager: if you can come in today, that will work fine

******fast forward to the interview********

AbeokutaI was lead to the interviewing room. There were 3 women and 1 man already in the room.

As I enter the room, the man begins saying a prayer. The prayer included the ‘casting out of demons’, ‘sanctifying the room’ and several chanting along these lines. It went on for about 5 minutes. During this period, I was confused. Then I thought maybe he’s on the phone. After he stopped praying

Me: Hello. I’m Kunbi. I hope all is well

The man: yes, I’m **** ***** and I’m the Operational Manager. I was praying to cast out the demons you can with. Since you have no religion and your hair is dreadlock. All I need now is Holy Water to completely cast out the demons. So tell me, how come you don’t believe in God?

Me: (400% shocked) Oh, so that was what the prayers was all about. God and religion are not the same thing.

Operation Manager: so what happened to make you not have a religion? You schooled in the U.S.A, right? It must be the American influence. Here in Nigeria, you must have a religion. Without a religion, you are lost. You are like a headless chicken without direction. And your hair, you will have to cut off the dreads within one week of working here.

Me: okay, your opinion. Nothing is going to make me cut off my hair.

Operation Manager: No, it’s not my opinion. It is a fact. You see, I win souls for Christ. I was responsible for my best friend becoming a Christian, now he is very dedicated to the church. I just pity you because you are unfortunate without a religion. The man that will marry you will be so unlucky because he will end up with unfortunate person like you. Do you wear heals, make-up, dresses, skirts? You see your problem is, you are too simple.

Me: [my mind suddenly goes blank, as I can’t believe what I’m hearing, so I shrugged my shoulders].

The Operation Manager went on to say more inappropriate and offensive stuff………………..then offered me the position……At that point, I was ready to leave. I had been trying really hard to mentally erase all he said to me but without much success.

After this interview (my first in Nigeria), I cried. I felt so belittled and couldn’t do anything about it.

Until next post……………………………….

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Part 1: It has been a very Long Thing

Networking event - Oct

Networking event – Oct

Sometimes in April 2012, I made up my mind to return to my birth country – Nigeria. In September 2012, I packed up my belongings into 5 suitcases and boarded the flight to Lagos, Nigeria. I had a flexible plan that would enable me transition smoothly to life in Nigeria but I wasn’t fully mentally prepared to manage this huge life transition.

From mid-Sept to Oct, I hung out with family and close friends. I also started networking and re-learning directions, vocabularies & culture (call it reverse culture shock). For instance, when I went to open a bank account, I asked about their checking & saving accounts. The teller gave me a blank stare, like I was speaking in French. Apparently, in Nigeria checking account is called ‘current’ account. I didn’t know this! In Oct, I took a short trip to Abuja (the capital of Nigeria) to register for the Nigerian Youth Service Corps (NYSC) program. Abuja seem like a nice place, it is more expensive than Lagos but not as lively and vibrant.

Abuja – sieving a traditional northern food

Apparently I do not look Nigerian and my hair simply fascinates people here. I get lots of stares and the where are you from question. Most times, I have to prove to folks that I’m really from here by speaking in my native language.  I actually think I adjusted to life in Lagos well. A lot of things did not bother me, for example, electricity is erratic in Nigeria so frequent power outage is normal.

Well the most interesting experience from Sept-Dec last year was in Nov. Remember I had to go to Abuja to register for the Nigerian Youth Service Corps (NYSC) program. The NYSC is a mandatory one year service program that Nigerian citizens who have graduated from a 4yr University/college have to do before they can be employed in Nigeria. This program starts with a 3 weeks Para-military camp, followed by 11 months of community service work. My 3 weeks in camp was horrible for the most part. It was then I doubted if I made the right decision of turning down my prestige job offer from Teach for America for moving back home.  Now, sit back as I recount my camp experience…….

Abuja

5 days to camp

I picked up my ‘Call up Letter’ from the NYSC head office in Lagos. Call up letter shows the state you are deployed to for camp and the rest of the service year. You cannot choose your state of preference. The government decide this. I was disappointed with mine – I was deployed to Oyo State. I wanted Lagos or Abuja. I began buying things I needed for camp. For a complete list of things needed for camp, click on ‘The Foreign Trained Student Guide: Surviving NYSC’.

Camp: Day 1

We left Lagos at 7am and arrived at my camp location in Iseyin, Oyo State at 11am. The roads were in very poor condition. We were not allowed to drive into the camp premises, so we packed the car outside. The soldiers ordered us to put our luggage on our head and join the line. So for the next 1hr, along with others, I had my 20 pounds hand-luggage on my head. Their only explanation for this was that it was step 1 in ‘swiping out the civilian thought process’. Finally we passed this stage and went through bag checking then proceeded to sit on the floor while another soldier gave us a welcome speech. After this, we were assigned a mattress and dunk bed and told to begin the never ending registration process.

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Entrance of the dorm i was assigned to

I made new friends while on the line for some paperwork. Together, we continued with registration until 6pm. I took a shower outside in the open space with my new friends because there were no bathrooms. I couldn’t sleep that night. My bunk bed was in the hallway because the dormitories were overcrowded. The whole dormitory had a bad odor.

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First day of camp – sit on the floor

Day 2 – 6

Since day 2 was still allocated to registration, the soldiers were lenient with us. I collected my ‘kit’ (approved camp uniform). In camp, we are only allowed to wear what they give. You can only wear your own clothes on Sunday for 4hrs. Day 3 hence wards, we had to be on the parade ground at 5.20am. Every morning, we began by saying prayers, national anthem, pledge and NYSC anthem.  See the attached photos for the daily routine timetable.

We had no toilet. They expected us to use an uncompleted building with nothing in it for shower, number 1 and 2. Remember the stranded cruise ship where passengers were asked to use a plastic bag for number 2 for 3 days. Well, here in camp, you had to use the plastic bag from 3 weeks. I began using Imodium to slow down my digestive system so I wouldn’t have to use a plastic bag. I had to learn to take a bath under 2 mins with my towel wrapped on my head. The soldiers usually come to harass us for taking our shower in the open space in front or behind the dorm. So you had to be fast about it except you want the crazy soldiers to see your naked body or you feel like being punished in only your towel wrapped around your body.

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The uncompleted building with no roof, door or anything inside. We were expected to have our shower and ease ourselves there.

I also had to contract petite work to women from the town. We had to get water in a bucket for shower and to wash your clothes by hand. Getting water was frustrating enough, so I always paid one of the women to get water for me daily. I also paid to have one of them wash my clothes.

By day 3, the dorm was filthy. My dorm has 3 floors, I was on the ground floor and there were about 128 females crammed into this tight space on the ground floor. Some of these females were DIRTY. For example, it was common to see used sanitary pads on the floor, feces behind the dorm, food crumbs on the floor.

From day 3, we were made to understand that nothing is optional in camp, everything is mandatory. If caught, you will be punished severely. Punishment included locking up in a guardroom (a small dark windowless room); kneeling down or sitting down on the dirty ground for several hours or expelled from camp. You cannot talk back to a soldier or NYSC official, it doesn’t matter if you are right because to them you are ALWAYS WRONG and they are ALWAYS RIGHT!

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Punishment of waking up late for 5.30am morning drill. I was never caught 🙂

Week 2

We were asked to pick a skill (out of 6 available) that we were interested in. For 3 hours every day in week 2 and part of week 3, we would be trained on the skill of our choice. I choose IT; I wanted to learn web development. Also we were given an option to train as a peer educator on adolescent reproductive health and HIV prevention and care. I signed up for this and I’m glad I did. It helped me maintain my sanity. Throughout week 2, we were busy training from 7am to 6pm every day. I loved it because it meant I didn’t have to participate in the stupid marching or attend the senseless lectures.

HIV prevention care training: graduation

From week 2 onwards, the camp commandant (the highest ranked solider in camp) came to the courtyard that housed all female dorms every night to harass and insult us. Our theory was that he came to look at naked girls taking their bath; from there he picked out females who will pass the night with him. The camp commandant favorite insults were ‘all of you are ugly’, ‘your breasts are ugly’, ‘I swear I can never date any of you’, ‘dirty girls’, ‘all of you are witches’. These rants went on for about 20 minutes every night.

Also this week, they killed three snakes. One on the parade ground, one at the back of female dorm and the last beside the kitchen. This snake incidence put a fear in me.

Week 3

Unfortunately the HIV prevention care training was over on the third day in week 3 so I had to return to camp daily routine.  Since week 2, I had learned ways to outsmart the soldiers. For example, when they come to chase us out from the dormitory at 4.30am, I remained in bed. Fortunately, my dorm did not have electricity, it smelled badly and it was difficult to walk through because of the bunk beds in the hallway. For these reasons, the soldiers rarely came into the dorm. I guess I was lucky because I was never caught; punishment for violating any camp rule went from mild to severe.  I made friends with most of the soldiers, sometimes I bought them food or drinks. That way, when I wasn’t obeying rules, they let off the hook. During week 3, we went for ‘Endurance Trek’. I absolutely loved this. We took a walk (about 2,000 of us) alongside camp officials and soldiers around the town where the camp was located. It felt good seeing people and the outside world. The walk took about 7 hours.

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the line to get water for shower

Last day in Camp

I pretty much did not sleep the night before. We were told we had to be out of the dorm by 6am. At 8am, the closing parade ceremony started. After this, we had to line up to collect our ‘posting letter’. This letter has the ability to make you sad or happy. The posting letter shows the city/village/town and the institution that you are posted to work for the remaining 11 months. Keep in mind that some of the villages are in the middle of nowhere with very basic amenities. Again I was extremely disappointed with my posting letter. I was posted to some village called ‘Fiditi’. We had to report to wherever you were posted that same day. I went to mine, what I saw frightened me. If you know me, you will know I’m a city girl, I can’t do villages or small town. Those simply aren’t cut for me. But here I am, posted to a small village with mud houses. I decided then that if I was not reposted to the capital of Oyo State, I wasn’t going to do the service program anymore.

After camp

I went to the head office in Ibadan (the capital of Oyo State) to beg/request/petition them to kindly repost me to Ibadan. This process was frustrating and further introduced me to the ways things are done in Nigeria.

……..to be continued…………watch out for part 2 (I should post it in 2 weeks)

Long thing = a Nigerian slang that means ‘it is not easy, it has been challenging or impossible to achieve’.

The Foreign Trained Student Guide: Surviving NYSC

The purpose of this post is to provide necessary information pertaining to NYSC for those folks that schooled abroad.

  • Step 1: keep in mind, NYSC mobilizes graduates 3 times a year. The first – Batch A is around March, Batch B in June and Batch C in Nov. Registration close for foreign trained students a month before camp begin. So always check the NYSC website for updates in case anything changes.
  • Step 2: you have to physically appear at the NYSC headquarters in Abuja to register. This registration can take a whole day. I’ll advise you to schedule two days to complete registration. Make sure to take all ORIGINAL copies of your documents and make at least 8 photocopies of each document. Check their website for which documents to bring. Make sure to have your Nigerian passport. Have at least 30 passport photos and a pen. Start buying things you need for camp. For a sample list, check below.
  • Step 3: Wait for your ‘Call up Letter’. This letter shows what state you are deploy to serve and the start date of camp. You can request to pick up your call up letter from your state of residence (if you don’t live in Abuja). Usually you have between 4-5 days to report to camp from the date the call up letter is ready for pick up.
  • Step 4: Report to camp. It is advisable to report the very first day of camp. That way, you will have a head start with registration. Endure an intensive 3 weeks of paramilitary camp. For my camp experience, check out ‘It has been a very Long Thing’. On the last day of camp, you will be given another letter called ‘The Posting Letter’. This letter will either make you smile or cry because it shows what city/town/village and the institution you are expected to serve for the remaining 11 months of the program. In the ideal world, you cannot choose where you will be posted. But in reality, you can actually arrange it in camp to get posted to a favorable place. Ask around in camp (the soldiers cannot help you with this), it might cost you some money.
  • Step 5: Report to whatever institution in the city/town/village you were posted to. Prepare to be accepted or rejected at the institution. The institution you end up working with is your ‘Place of Primary Assignment (PPA). If accepted, you have no problem; you can proceed with other registration. If rejected, you will either be assigned to another institution or you can seek ‘request letter’ from an approved institution of your choice. Note, by law you are required to serve in any government agency or schools. No private institution is allowed (except private schools).
  • Step 6: If accepted at your PPA, complete all registration at your assigned Local Government (LG), including opening a bank account (you will be told which bank). Then apply for a 2 weeks leave. This should allow you look for accommodation and transport your belongings to this city/town/village that you will serve for 11 months. You might have to do some registration at your PPA, do this before going on the 2 weeks leave.
    • If you want a re-deployment to another state. The process is tiring, by law, re-deployment is only granted on health issues or to be with a spouse. But as usual, you can work your way around it. It will cost you money!
  • Step 7: at the end of your 2 weeks leave, you begin work. Once a week, you are excused from going to work for the ‘Community Development Service (CDs)’ at your local government. You are given a CDs card that must be signed by your Local Government Inspector (LGI) weekly.
  • Step 8: once a month, you must collect a ‘Clearance Letter’ from your PPA stating that they are satisfied with your work and that you do not owe them any money. You will take this letter to your Local Government office and sign a ‘Payment Voucher (PV)’ before the federal government will pay your monthly stipend to the bank account you opened. Failure to sign a PV will result in disciplinary actions against you.
  • Step 9: If all things go well, at the end of your 11 months service you must participate in the ‘Passing out Parade (POP) and your certificate will be given out. This certificate will be required before any employer offers you a job.

Note, every time you go to the NYSC head office or your assigned local government, you HAVE to dress in the appropriate uniform (that is, your khaki pants, white t-shirt and white tennis shoes/jungle boot). Nobody will attend to you if you fail to abide by this dress code.

Camp: Sample list of things you will need

(1) Baby wipes and toilet paper

(2) At least 5 round neck white t-shirts and 2-3 white shorts -it can be knee length, mine was

(3) 5 pairs of white socks and 2 pairs of white tennis shoes

(4) Medicines: anti diarrhea, vitamin c, cold & cough, acetaminophen/tylenol or ibuprofen

(5) Soap, sponge, detol, hand sanitizer, body lotion, toothbrush & paste, 2 towels

(6) Enough underwear for 3wks, sanitary pad, body spray

(7) Bed sheet, pillow and pillowcase

(8) Mosquito net and mosquito repellent

(9) Bathroom slipper/flip-flop

(10) Waist pouch (big enough to hold your cash, phone and key to your luggage)

(11) torchlight/flash light

(12) Books to read (if you are the reading type)

(13) At least 8 photocopies of each of your credentials and documents including your American passport and university ID card. Bring a folder to store all your document

(14) Your Nigerian passport and 20 passport photos

(15) Phone & charger (I took my blackberry and Nokia c7 and it wasn’t stolen – you just have to be careful)

(16) Bucket

(17) Padlock/combination locks to secure your luggage

(18) Snacks

(19) Your own cutlery and food container if you plan on eating at the camp kitchen. I didn’t bring mine and I was fine since I ate all my meals at the mami market (camp market)

(20) 2-4 change of clothes

(21) Cash – between 40,000 to 50,000 Naira minimum cash

(22) Open mindedness!