About a year ago, I anxiously went back to school to get my call up letter. I didn’t know what was going to come out of it. Deep within I had prayed for the Federal Capital Territory and I was full of expectancy. The call up letter came out with the initials ‘SO’ written boldly so there was no mistaking. It felt like the complete word was ‘SORRY’. There was only one state in Nigeria that began with an ‘S’ and that being synonymous to ‘Sahara Desert’ ‘Sunshine’ and ofcourse, ‘Sheep’ (‘cos there are a lot of them in that State).ֲ
Tears began to trickle down my face as the sorry letters kept glaring at me. I had never been in that State, not even by mistake. Family and friends kept trying to encourage me that it would all work out for my good. All the words I really didn’t want to hear. Then there was my lover, God whom I felt had let me down. It felt as though he had ‘slyed’ me. I was so pissed off. Iֲ won’t keep explaining how sad that moment was for me, but you have a picture.ֲ
Moving on, I discovered the State had an airport and that was a huge relieve from having to travel from Western Nigeria to the extreme North West. The State even shares borders with Niger Republic! Not only was I going to be far from home, but far from my friends…my mind was tabula rasa. I just couldn’t take it.
The Camp Experience
I had heard stories about soldiers forcing corps members to carry their luggage on their heads on arrival in the camp. Well, I was treated like a Princess because little boys carried my luggage for me with a small tip. The mattresses were nothing to write home about. Nothing! They were about 2-3 inches above the ground. After a night or two, I thought my S curved spinal cord would become straight. It wasn’t funny at all! Not to talk of the absence of good toilet facilities! I think the plan was to ensure that we nourish the bushes with sufficient fertilizers. Ewww! Right?
Three weeks went by with rigorous exercises and boring lectures. Met new people, made friends, contested for Miss Ebony (there was no way I could have won though), got involved in the parade (to think I hated marching back in school) and there were other folks from school who kept me company. Oh yeah, I had a minor crush on some good looking bloke ( it didn’t work out with him though).
I was more relieved than glad when the camp experience came to an end. There was the option of redeploying while on camp based on marriage or ill health both of which I wasn’t qualified for so I didn’t bother applying. Lots of people forged documents to defend whichever options they chose, the desperation of man! Well, not to be a Judge Judy, I wanted to redeploy but I stood no chance if I had to use lies so I let it go.
The posting to our Place of Primary Assignment came out. Disappointment laced my facial features as I got the letter and noticed I was not posted to the State capital as I expected. I was posted to some Local Government that sounded so strange to me.
The Place of Primary Assignmentֲ
Immediately after camp, we were taken to our various PPAs. Mine was about 20 minutes from the capital. But that first day felt like an hour! My tummy kept turning in anticipation. So I finally got to my PPA in some deep village that was another 30 minutes away from the Local Government town. The lodge assigned to us stood on its own in the desert with no neighbours around. I quickly thought of how one could die there without being heard, yes! that was my paranoid mind at work. From the door, you could stare right into the horizon because there were no buildings or trees to block your line of vision. At that point, I felt like God was taking me to the desert for testing as was the case with Jesus. Or maybe He was sending me like John the Baptist into the lonely wilderness without other people. I felt sick in my stomach. I couldn’t live in that place. It was already enough that I was in a desert land, being deep in the wilderness was more of torture to me.
Okay, this story is getting longer than I had planned. Moving on, I had to tell the employer to reject me because I couldn’t survive there. And yes, there was no place of worship there, which was a major discouragement. I tried getting back to the State capital but I didn’t know the right people to meet and deep within I knew God wouldn’t help me in going against His divine plan. I later got reposted to a school still in the LG but a lot closer to the Secretariat. Got an accommodation which was pretty much self contained, I could already imagine the room when I was done setting it up. The hitch in my new place was that the transformer had been bad for some months so there was no hope of light. No light? Can I live or function without light? I knew immediately that I had to put a generator in my budget. There were no taps in the apartment, hence we had to go fetch water a few blocks away. I literally pushed a wheelbarrow with five containers of water, each 25 litres! I was already praying not to have muscles at the end of the service year..(I think I turned out just fine, whew!)
Travelled home for the Christmas break and got back refreshed and ready for the long year ahead.ֲ
The Weather and Geography
As I had earlier mentioned, the State is a desert. You hardly see big trees except for a few that thrive in the desert without much water. The weather is always extreme. It’s either too cold when the Harmattan comes or it’s way too hot when it’s dry season. I passed through both and I would always pick cold over heat. With cold, a good covering would do. But with heat, only a good air conditioning can be of satisfactory help. Thank God I didn’t die even as I passed through both conditions. Then there is the strong wind that howls constantly. And there were hardly any windbreakers! Plus the sand and dust! OH MY GOSH! You’d come home and see your room covered in dust after you had just cleaned it up a few hours earlier.ֲTwasn’t funny at all!
Culture and Tradition
The culture and traditions of the people were a bit strange to me. In cabs, the ladies couldn’t sit in between men, they sat separately at the end of the seat. Then the dressing was in tune with the Hausa culture mixed with Islamic style where the women used Hijab and other noticeable Arab styles. I grew up in the north which gave me an edge especially in speaking the language. But their Hausa was slightly different though I could still understand and reply. The State is popularly known as the Seat of the Caliphate, indicating some rich royal culture in existence. But as with other States around this geographical area, there was a huge gap between the rich and the poor, the few literate and many illiterates, the few civilised (in terms of Western civilisation) and the many more uncivilised.
The Teaching Experience
I was teaching Government in the Senior Secondary School. Lots of my students couldn’t understand English even though it is the lingua Franca here in Nigeria. So I had to interpret my lessons in Hausa so they could grasp some knowledge. I however still tried to make them speak English while constantly learning definitions. It was a fun process but frustrating at other times. Then there was the marking of test and examination scripts where lots of scripts looked alien to me! It felt like I was reading Greek. I discovered they were those who couldn’t even write in English! They didn’t know the alphabets! I was flabbergasted. I had to be a little patient with them. Especially when I discovered lots of these students don’t even attend Primary schools. If the foundation is faulty, what can be done?
My Spiritual Life
My Spiritual life grew as I spent more time with God (yes, I had to let go of my anger against my lover because no matter what I do or don’t do, He remains God). I spent nights seeking His face, praying in the Spirit, singing to Him. It was amazing!
Of course there were trying times in my walk with God. But He helped me through it all. In the course of he service year, I was made the Bible Studies secretary and later the Zonal Coordinator for my Fellowship, I thank God for the grace to carry out the duties.
Indeed the wilderness was a place for my making. There is a reason why Jesus and John the Baptist had to be away in the desert at the preparatory stage of their Ministry…and I found that reason in my wilderness experience.
My Little Cottage
My little cottage was decorated to sooth my taste on the inside but the outside still looked like some old building (which it was). During the rainy season, the grasses in front of the house grew so fast and the front yard was water logged…so disgusting! Then there was fear that tormented me for a while. My lodge was a bit distanced from other corps members and I had an old woman for a neighbour. There were lots of sheep, cattle, goats and even lizards that constantly patrolled the area. These animals brought some amount of fear to me especially at night. To make matters worse, the Convenience was built outside…who does that?! So, most nights I couldn’t go out and ease myself because I didn’t know what animals would be outside. The first time I came out to ease myself, I shone my flashlight into the shiny eyes of some sheep. Their eyes were so bright with the light cast on them, it freaked me out.
The stormy nights were also really scary as I stayed alone in the room using my headphones to block out the sounds. It was always so scary especially as it was always dark. Heard there were scorpions and snakes as well as idiots ( as in the animal called idiot, lol) in the land. But God saw me through all those creepy, crawling animals. Never had an encounter with one.
I had formed strong bonds with my mates from school so we constantly kept in touch and exchanged weekend visits. It was hard to dress as I was used to in school without looking over dressed in this place. However, being with other school mates and friends always brought back the feeling of home. I particularly enjoyed the company of Mikey, Mimiboo, Daniel, Esosa, my CU family and other people that positively impacted my life. They all made my service year great. I and Mimiboo explored our cooking potentials as well as our creative skills (we made cute cut out t-shirts). It was really cool to have that brother and sister by my side(Mike and Mimi). They made ‘SO’ more like ‘SO COOL’. I appreciate every other friend I made, I learnt a lot from each one of them. Having my CU family was a huge turn up for me! I want to extend my gratitude to Aijay, Kaycee, Faith, Mikey and Mimiboo. Y’all made my stay awesome!
I was not able to really read all the books I desired to soak myself in.
I didn’t expand my friendship horizon.
I was always indoors and didn’t get any exposure.
Didn’t do much exercise as I had planned on.
I became more matured.
I became more independent.
I served God.
I became closer to God.
Gained new knowledge from books and messages.
Learnt how to cook better (smiley face).
God has been faithful. I’m a lot fatter than I came, fresher than I looked, stronger than I was, more skilled to face life’s challenges, ready to serve in whatever diplomatic missions I’m assigned to. I had my highs and lows, valleys and mountains…in all, God kept me. Congratulations to the other corps members who also came, stayed and conquered in the Seat of the Caliphate!
© Mfon Etuk, 2014
4 thoughts on “My Wilderness Experience”
really nice piece…looks like you had fun though
Sensational! I've absolutely enjoyed reading about your experience. Your style of writing is remarkable, it takes one right to the scene as if one was present during the experience. I've never had a desert experience before but have friends that have gone to the Namibia and Kalahari desert on holiday but I guess that's totally different from living in a desert for a year! I can't even remember the last time I saw a sheep or goat, so much so that I get very excited about seeing cattle (which only happens once a year when I go camping in the countryside).
I'm very proud of you Mfon and I'm glad you stuck it out and was able to accomplish the purpose for which God sent you there. I'm sure you've made an indelible impact on your students.
Keep up the good work. I once read that; “Your faith increases only as you place a demand on it”, so I believe that your 'Wilderness Experience' was only a stepping stone to a new level of faith in God! 🙂
Thank God! 😀