That NYSC Year…

My short Saturday morning sleep (I’d stayed awake till 4.30 am) was shattered by the insistent buzz of my cellphone at a little over 9.00am, and with it came summons to meet up with a bloke I met at NYSC camp and his wife. After braving howling winds and nearly passing out on my feet with the sheer amount of shops we went through, we got to share my peri-peri chicken addiction, and chat. True to form our conversation segued into the murky waters that are Nigeria and its various issues. Thankfully, reminiscing over the highlights of our service year provided a spot of cheer.

My memories of the NYSC year were largely good – bar three weeks spent in the hell hole that was Yikpata with its over-crowded rooms, near non existent toilet facilities and mosquitoes. Thanks to those mosquitoes from hell, I – famed for my obstinate resistance to all things malaria – ended up with a bout so massive that the camp days blurred into each other, a continuum of delirium from which all that survived were hazy memories of flitting in and out of the camp infirmary and nightmares so intense they often felt like someone had a pillow over my face and was suffocating me.

Ending up in Kwara had been the product of my famed quiet stubbornness. In a huff over something or the other my mother had said, I had insisted to the death that I needed no help in securing a favourable posting. In public I sounded very self assured – confident in my ability to take care of myself irrespective of where I ended up. In my less vocal moments, I was very concerned that getting Zamfara would be the end of me, especially given the fact that the sum total of my life lived northward of the Osse River was two weeks, bar my six month sojourn in Ajaokuta.

Postings came with further trepidation on my part. I’d hardly had a stellar three weeks – no success with either the sports or the arts meant I had hardly set myself up for one of the much sought after postings. It turned out I scored a fairly cushy number – 11 months teaching math and physics in a secondary school on the outskirts of Ilorin. Lodgings would be provided in the mission house right next to Maraba with all its accoutrements – loud Yoruba music from the shops across the road, waking up to the mellifluous, if insistent call of the muezzin, and community development meetings at the state secretariat on Ahmadu Bello way. A few of the lads were not so lucky – Dayo* copped a spot in Kosubosu, the Baruten nightmare we all feared, complete with a seven hour trip into the unknown, insular West which was more Benin Republic than Nigeria if the been-tos were to be believed.

Within the first few hours of reporting at school, I quickly learnt that we were being thrust into the deep end. The school – with the requisite mame as long as an arm – was on its last legs, tottering on the edge of the precipice of insolvency. It was massively under-funded, with a new mission head seemingly intent on making it fail and had students who seemed more interested in flirting with the latest batch of Corp members than getting good grades on their SSCEs. I also had an interesting set of Corp members. There was Bukky* – whose Lagos-chic affectations provided good sport for the rest of us (and brought back a few ice cream tubs from the only Mr Biggs place in town) and Musa* who took nominal Muslim to a whole new level complete with nights at the local beer parlour and more than one suspected tryst at the brothel next door.

Thursdays were a special highlight; we would gather at the state secretariat and swap our often very vocal views on the latest Premiership scores whilst pretending to be involved in some community development group or the other. The women by the road side ensured we spent our hard earned allowee on extra spicy akara and fried plantains topped up with a dollop of pepper stew so fiery our eyes would water. It also turned out that my wish to be far from home backfired spectacularly – my mother somehow found a friend of a friend to keep tabs on me and the trip up the road to Tanke every other weekend became a fixture. It helped that they had a son who like me thought DC Talk and Audio Adrenaline were the business, and that Football Manager was a valid reason to offer a full night’s sleep at the altar of a computer monitor.

Eventually, as the service year drew to a close and we began to chase jobs, the physics, math and chemistry refreshers I got from teaching served me in good stead, as did my spiel about mentoring which was made up entirely on the spot.

Reminiscing with my friend and his wife over chicken and coke zero, it all came back to me. I suspect if I had the chance to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.

The Friday Read: Self and The City

From Project Syndicate:

Urbanization is blamed for a wide variety of modern social ills, ranging from crime and incivility to alienation and anomie. But, by infusing us with their unique spirit and identity, our cities may, in fact, help to empower humanity to face the most difficult challenges of the twenty-first century.

What ‘unique spirit and identity’ might Lagos infuse us with?

She had Me at ‘Duh’

woman_green_dress

Source

To the woman in the green dress: Oklahoma City, December 24th…

She had me between ‘duh’ –
and the nonchalant, sultry blur
of her unruly hair; and the pouty,
smouldering incandescence of
her blood red lips; shimmering
life-like in the dull, barely there
blues and reds and flickering
purples of the BeeJay’s mirror ball.

We were like two large –
lumps of rock; boulders locked
in the unwilling, eternal waltz
of gravity; stuck in distant orbits
around the crowded dance floor
like as around a stranded, listless star.
In the interludes between the
mindless drone of the DJ’s songs,
and the rude, insistent scratch
of his beatbox our eyes
weave and bob, like corks
floating in a sea of ice cold beer.

But we never ever cross
the invisible lines of propriety;
and when the clock chimes 3.16
and the barman’s cleared throat
sounds the final knell for our
unwilling dance, we are still those
self same rocks; in step, but still apart,
with the cold, dark emptiness
of impassive space and the memory
of what mights between us

Feening for summer…

 

aberdeen beach

On a whim, I decide to wear a yellow shirt to work. There are no dress codes out here, but light greys, shiny whites and spartan blues are the most likely colours that peek out from beneath the heavy, grey jumpers that are de rigueur around these parts. It is a relatively mild seven degrees, less the wind chill and I feel sufficiently warm enough to ditch my heavy overcoat in favour of a lighter jacket.

I get a few odd looks as I stride through the doors at a bright and early 8.30 am, but no one comments until I show up at the corner office that houses the two much older guys on the team who have been on for forever it seems, just past 10.00am. One of them is a taciturn English man – complete with a posh accent and hair greying gracefully at the temples –  who is always properly dressed, dress down Friday or not. The other is a more gregarious middle aged Scotman, always up for a pint, with a keen wit, and that uncommon ability to deliver sarcastic barbs in that understated manner that only an aged Yoruba man can manage flawlessly.

 – Dressing for summer already here are we?, the slightly more gregarious one asks. He and I have had way too many Friday afternoons of banter around the coffee machine on subjects as diverse as immigration, the benefits system and the bid for Scottish independence; and he seems up for a quick joust this Monday morning. I have my sleeves rolled up  just past my elbows, one hand in my pocket and  with the other clutch a pack of drawings to my chest.

I dump the drawings I want him to review on his desk and pat down my sleeves thinking my rolling them up is what he is taking umbrage at, but he smiles slyly and proceeds to allay my concern.

I mean the yellow shirt, son. It’s too early for that. Yellow shirts are for summer only. 

I point to the sunlight streaming in through the blinds behind him, and we all laugh at the obvious illusion.  I make to leave – he is a great talker, and I’m not keen to burn a few hours just yet. Before I can escape, he  mentions his daughter is headed to New Orleans. It is her gap year, and she is spending it country hopping. Bank balance apart, he is glad she’s keeping out of trouble and enjoying herself. I ooh and ahh, throwing in a nod here and there as he regales me with bits and pieces of her itinerary.

When I finally peel myself away from him, I am left with a sense that I could use some heat – and a cuddle –  just now.. The bright sunny days that were last summer seem like a lifetime ago.

The Friday Read: The Case for Clawbacks

Michael Schrage mulls over the ‘de-knighting’ of Fred Goodwin  – the former RBS CEO who presided over its meteoric rise from a relatively small Scottish bank to at one stage the largest bank in the world –  and argues the case for better designed incentive systems that reward decisions which are inherently sustainable rather than geared towards risky short term profit:

…institutionalized imbalances in compensation encourage too many people to “game the system.” Traders are notorious for developing schemes that sync with how their compensation and bonuses will be paid out. Their defenders argue that consistent losers will, of course, get fired — so what’s the long-term point of clawbacks? But that ignores the (obvious) behavioral reality that traders who know that their greatest risk is losing their job — instead of their money — might be prone to making even larger bets to win comparably larger bonuses. The upside potential overwhelms the downside exposure. That’s a proven recipe for disaster.

Full text at The Harvard Business Review here.