It was August 2005. I had just finished at the Nigerian law school, drained and worn out by the “studying bug”. National youth service had just moblised the next batch and I was on the list. To know the State I was posted to serve,I had to travel to my alma mater,Ahmadu Bello university Zaria for the call up letter.
By the way I am a home grown, home breed and home nostalgic Nigerian, so I wasn’t new to the stress inducing adrenaline pulses brought on by receiving short notices: to collect call up letter and statement of results from your school and report to camp within a week!!!
So, I set my pace, bagged my necessities, bade Kwara state a farewell and hit the road to Zaria in Kaduna state ,north western Nigeria. It was a seven hours tedious journey ( No thanks to killing roads) after which I made a rush to the main campus the next day.
It was really a mad rush at the Senate that day. Graduates, cramming and queuing to collect certificates and call up letters. After some few hours of wait, my call up letter got to me: Guess where I was called to serve my Nation? “BORNO” State.
You bet I fainted?!!!. Or bursted into tears?!! No!! Not me!!! I was elated, here was an opportunity for another adventure to know a new place! ( Mind you, Nigeria was quite calm during this period, terrorism and banditry had not holden sway, so I was not scared of losing myself to the road). Apparently to others of my kith, Borno state was the end of the ” world’. she is far away from everything and everyone. It takes two solid days to road down from Lagos to Maiduguri the state capital, it is situate in the desert, a completely sunridden, vegetation sparse region, it is one state that hosts a lone tribe,: the Kanuris , it’s one place that a rotund, ruddy young woman like me would not want to venture. But my ruddiness got the hold of me, and combined with my adrenang pulses,I put a call through to my parents and informed them that Borno State was the deal. So, like Gulliver, I vented into my sojourn.
Kaduna state was my starting point, I proceeded northeast through, Kano, Jigawa, Bauchi, and Yobe state. (As I journeyed, Nigeria became more dry and sparse to my eyes. people were thinner, longer, and language became stranger! I hoped I didn’t make a mistake by succumbing to National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) decision to take me to Borno state. After about 8- 10 hours of sandfull trip I arrived my destination Borno state the home of peace.
My world changed abruptly, the people were thin and tall in stature, they spoke Kanuri in a twist tongue manner, the language itself was like a song . women dressed like the India women I see in films, their saris of several yards wond round and round their small framed bodies, they have very long straight hairs usually plaited tinily to the front. And the scents?! o mine !!! Kanuris wore perfumes of the exquisite nature, the scents were choking!!! I was prepped up to live and get to know this unearthed side of my dear country so, undeterred I braced for National youth service.
I was posted to Bama, the closest local government to Maiduguri the state capital. Bama was 2 hours motor ride away, every other place was far, I mean faraway! Borno had a very large land mass, populated sparsely .you have to travel several hours on end before you get to meet humans within the interiors. There was nothing impressive about the weather in Borno state, I never knew how people do survive under very harsh atmospheric conditions which yours truly had to surmount. Every survivor in Borno state must have a taste of the sandstorm and a rainstorm. Two important events that ushers in the just three months lush season of farming. surprisingly despite the extremely harsh and lone weather that lives in this part of the world, the soil regardless sprouts with life! I was amazed to discover that the varieties of beans eaten all across Nigeria comes from borno state. onions, watermelons, and Cucumbers grow in commercial leaps in this Sahel region. I saw big brown cows bred (I got to know that these cows are exported to neighbouring countries) in massives. Fish harvested from the lake Chad sold in cartons at the historical baga market. Vegetables and nuts, millet, sorghum landscaped the interiors. Maiduguri was a large commercial hub. Trailers and trucks from southern Nigeria trooped daily to cart food in droves. My adventurous mind was “awestruck at the magnitude of life which Borno gave to Nigeria as a whole.why bother to ask “can any good come out of Nazareth?” The answer is obvious.
Towards midservice, the 2006 national census came up and yours truly as every other corper was deployed to supervise the census. I was deployed to Gwoza still in borno state, another local government near the fringes of Adamawa state. The journey was tedious. Lorries and trucks were the means of transport because literally there were no roads. From Gwoza local Government,I made for Ngoshe,another interior.It was at Ngoshe that I met the Mandara.
Mandara mountain ranges are the longest in Africa ranging from Nigeria into the Cameroons. It served as a dividing border between Borno State and Adamawa State (all north east Nigeria) at a point and I got to known that some parts of the ranges were Nigerian while climbing over and down was Cameroon. I was housed in a worn building just below the ranges, infact I could literally cast a stone and reach the mountains.There was a stretch of barbed wire across a long length of the ranges. I was told the barb wires were placed by the government to secure Ngoshe dwellers from chimpanzees which usually visits from the mountain tops from time to time. I was told the chimps are wont to eat crops and destroy farmlands. I hoped to sight one, but never did. The air around the mandara was cold and chilly in the morning and at night but quite warm during the day. There was quite some thick vegetation up the mountain tops that reared species of monkeys. I learnt that leopards also ranged the mountains on few occasions. At a particular peak up the mountains, I saw houses and huts and people making life. I was told that the Top was called Gidan Sanmo and it housed a missionary school ,a store, farms, and people!!!. Awe was a bit out of my reverence for these mountain ranges. At times I see people climbing up pulling bikes or bicycles,I see women carrying wares and going up hill. There was a particular day, I saw a man with two crates of soft drinks climbing uphill. I learnt there was a market day at Gidan sanmo, so people from “downstairs” go “upstairs’ weekly to transact business.
An intriguing part of the piece is that all these people climb the mountains with ease. I understood that they had tall lanky frames and muscular strength suited for the ranges. Two teenage boys who became my friends told me they run easily on the mountains and that their agility helps them to compete in marathons beyond the state. Their father actually told me that his kith and clan had same physical Structures like Kenyans and that they have been engineered to run long distance races because of the mountainous environ called their home. I found life at Ngoshe really interesting,and as usual with me I did follow my two friends up the mandara. I couldn’t meet up without their fast paces and stopped at step three when we were actually headed for the seventh step!. A certain portion of the mountain has a stream flowing from it.The villagers climb up to fetch from the distilled crystal clear water.
In fact the water board at Ngoshe placed a massive water tank connected to big pipes which collects water from the pipes and passes down to the community. These sights were delights for me and their memories remains etched on my mind even after many years . My brief stay near the Towering Mandara was the treasure I mined as a Youth Corp in service of her fatherland .