We got to Akure motorpark 1pm that afternoon. Johnie has come to town. Not one but five Johnies. We would enter a taxi that would ferry us down to NYSC camp gate. Being Johnie the that we were and the cab-man feeling lucky, he quickly jerked up the fare. But we were not all Johnies from the same place. Myself, along with another guy were Johnies that journeyed from Lagos. We knew how e dey go and we no go carry last. In short we created a scene such that their NURTW chairman had to intervene and eventually reverted the transport fare back to normal price. So we started another long journey. In a land unknown. To a place unknown. Still halfway into the journey, we thought the obviously unhappy driver was on an ulterior mission of abduction. The over two-hour drive was scaring and endless until we heaved a sigh of relief at the sight of a concrete statue of a Corper. Camp! Here we are. 5pm. But then the journey had just begun.
My first sight was that of adults wearing white shorts and round necks being chased like prisoners around the expansive compound by soldiers. They must parade. I saw stern-looking soldiers who clearly made a statement about their seriousness and no-nonsense disposition. My pre-camp orientation tutors did not mention soldier’s presence so I didn’t expect to see the khaki boys. I made sure I participated in most of the camp activities, missing the morning parade on occasions I was on duty at the camp clinic. It was annoying to be woken up by 3am by overzealous corpers who competed for bathroom space in order not to be caught not dressed up in the halls when parade starts 5am. I didn’t bathe to parade most times. I go like that. What?!
Fond memories of how I made eba (moderately soft one, infact the best during my platoon rotation in the kitchen) still lingers. I also “trained” both my platoon male and female reps for one of the pageants which they both won. But when it was my turn to show the stuff that friends know me for on stage, acting, the only thing I remembered in my script that night on stage was my name! That’s all. I wasn’t in form.
My hall, Agagu, was home to graduate “miscreants” and all sorts of human beings who were notorious for making trouble, defying the camp order for lights-out after 10pm. That was the time they began their beer-parlour talks. You can’t but laugh when they start. A lot of them were from Auchi. Terrible boys. English was not their strong point, however, I got used to their many bombshells that they started sounding like the actual correct grammar. But their impeccable pidgin coupled with natural wittiness would disarm even the most fiery soldier. I remember one night that a particular soldier who always shouted the loudest to instill quiet walked into the hall and said in a rather unusual calm and slow tone “Agagu hostel! You are good, but don’t tell anyone”. It was the camp time-keeper (also a soldier) who was friendlier that later told us that “he don mayan for mammie” meaning the hitherto strong-headed soldier was drunk courtesy of Agagu boyz. Other camp details are written in the other part of my memoir. Camp ended and we were good to go to our different local governments. I would be going to a town which as I later found out, was the “headquarters” of cocoa farming in the country.
Idanre. I had heard and read about hills and mountains, probably also seen them in pictures and on TV screens, but it never really sank that I was going to see the real deal. Soon. Five minutes into my journey from Akure to Idanre, I saw the most breathtaking thing ever to me; a wondrous cascade of huge rocks suddenly appeared in the distance, wrapped transparently by the clouds. Whew. How? So if I could climb on one of them, I could touch the clouds too? Interesting and intriguing. We moved on. By now it seemed the mountains had become a group of magnificient beasts or aliens who seem to be everywhere no matter the speed and miles covered by the small four-wheeled “ant” that carried me. I was amazed. Awed. Even at that distance, I had never seen mountains this huge. This close. We would still pass among the mountains to a town entirely wedged among the rocks. The tarred road that led into the town itself meanders through the rocks all the way rising steadily. Passing just beside one of them almost made my heart jump into my mouth. Overwhelming beauty. Nature in perfect alignment and position. The clouds were made lower than the rocks. I would later climb the hills. And live just at the foot of one of them.
If the trip to camp was scary, getting to my LG secretariat was terrifying. After the bus dropped me off en-route the main town, I would take a bike which started a journey into seeming infinity. One, I have never really been on a motorcycle for more than 5 minutes at full speed with no deceleration (In Lagos, hold-ups are no respecter of persons or vehicles). Secondly because this time I was alone. Ten minutes on full blast, we were not near. What made it more troubling was that after two or three on-coming cars that I saw along the road initially, we were alone for the rest of ride, occasionally seeing some farmers coming out of the thick bushes that lined the smooth road. I became uneasy a bit however I reassured myself that I cannot be kidnapped, not in this uniform. And definitely God-in-me? It won’t happen! Although I still questioned the rider subtly. He tried to speak the Yoruba that I understand but I could still hear strong coloration of the local dialect. We arrived at the secretariat after twenty minutes.
By the time I settled down, I had to grapple with understanding their language. To them they spoke Yoruba, to me they spoke Chinese. To me, their version of Yoruba was just too coarse, moreso they spoke in a rather hard and aggressive manner. Totally different choice of vowels, intonations and phonology. I adapted and understood them better over time. But what I could not adapt to was their soup. Yeepaa! Idanre women cannot cook! Even stew! Most times you get to their restaurants and all you can eat morning, afternoon and night was pounded yam with their brand of egusi soup (I feel reluctant to call it egusi soup because I believe that if egusi soup itself or any other soup at all could be animate and talk, it will deny that it has ever been cooked in Idanre!) I suffered because I didn’t settle down quickly, also because I was used to the Lagos lifestyle of eating out. Eating became a problem I had to mentally solve each time. I reverted to bread on many occasions. I know one shouldn’t expect much in a rural area, but with five commercial banks, big cathedrals, many schools, a general hospital and two standard private hospitals, a tourist destination and flourishing cocoa businesses, Idanre is by no means a rural zone. Maybe it is generally an Ondo state thing, as I have many witnesses to the fact that the food provided to us in camp from the kitchen was not different in quality from what I ate at mammie market. Trust me, I went round. Drab soup everywhere. But I must give something to them. Pounded yam! Hard stuff.
One day I was in the capital city heading to my base, a middle aged man who was an indigene of Idanre lamented profusely about a recent road traffic accident involving a motorcycle that claimed the life of a pregnant mother. He said if there were ten accidents in Akure, four will involve motorcyclists who hail from or come daily from Idanre. He nailed in my concern about the natural aggresiveness of an Idanre man and their women too. Often times I was woken early in the morning by neighbours who had started another fight. They unleashed injuries on themselves sometimes that it became worrisome to my Igbo medical colleagues and housemates, who had never been in any yorubaland prior, that they concluded that all Yorubas are violent. Well I’m not. I believe I proved that to them in person.
Idanre flourishes on Cocoa business. Their roads are lined by cocoa trees. Infact their choice ornamental plants are cacao and plantain. These make up like their flower-vases and “lawn”. One of the first things that caught my attention was the kind of private vehicles that come into the town. They were the kind I used to see in Ikoyi and Victoria Island. Even Akure didn’t parade such exotic cars. This isn’t an exaggeration because it is explainable. Real cocoa business is not done by roadside petty traders, it is a multimillion naira export trade for at least medium-scale entrepreneurs; those who have the guts and money. Apart from this, Idanre is one of critical (perhaps strongest) political blocs of the state. A very political town where partisanship is almost a ticket to government seat. The politicians come there in droves. Lastly, the hills resort also brings rich folks down there. In terms of economy and lifestyle of this people, I call Idanre a mini-Lagos; very rich and very poor in the same town. And just like Gidi, they all love fun to no limit.
I have mentioned in a previous post that Lagos, Ijebu and Idanre should rank as the most party-loving and extravagant people in the already ceremony-centric and owambeic southwestern Nigeria. They drink alcohol without restraint early in the morning, afternoon and night are no different. And as it is with prevalence of okada in Lagos, so it is in Idanre. Even more! There is no bus or taxi to commute within town. Only motorbikes. And the rider must have taken a “shot” of kainkain very early enough to get started. It was as if everybody above 18 years is automatically given a motorbike.
It was in Idanre that I first heard songs like “o ti mu dogoyaro”, “o ti kan mi lapa o…story for the gods”,”Tinubu eleniyan” and other razz songs around. I said this because even when I went to Ibadan at about the time the songs came out I didn’t hear them. And I didn’t expect the rave to spread to that town that fast. Sexual escapades and teenage pregnancy are Mushin-like. Unfortunately too for them, statistics put HIV prevalence in Idanre to be the highest in the state.
However I will end this on an astonishing and funny note. I lived contiguously with the Idanre Hills resort, where their week-long state festival, Mare, held annually. That week was bizarre for me as l could not sleep well owing to huge loudspeakers that were put just 50m to my window. All I could do was grumble and curse within me. My distress reached an apogee on the final day that my helplessness made me sleep in one of the hospitals far away, only to hear in the morning that local thugs invaded the all-night carnival scene, harassed prize-winners and carted away their prizes. Right there!
Here I can’t write all but I saw many things in Idanre. On the mountains, we saw a cold stream! There we saw a ritual house with no window or light source, where the king-to-be was made to stay for a certain period before coronation to “test” him. I saw a filling station named Jealousy. I saw local dogs everywhere on the streets like grains of sand. They were kept not as pets but for meat. Hmmmn. I saw things pen cannot write. Surely my heart will archive. Nkan nbe.
N.B Read a more personal account in the second part of this memoir. Coming soon. Follow @bamsky007
With my own hands @bamsky007