Today makes it exactly three years that I finished a stage of my life, that stage in which I learnt a lot of lessons that prepared me for the phase in which I presently am. I was so cocksure my posting would land me in the oil rich Rivers state. I had my industrial training at the Federal Livestock Department and my boss had assured me that she would gladly welcome me for my one year national service. My Dad was very open to that Rivers state idea and set machinery in motion.
I had forgotten that some states existed in the entity that my beloved Nigeria is. I did not even think I will find myself in any other place apart from the south. Lo and behold, my posting came in August of 2008 and I heard Taraba. “Tara-what”, I screamed to my friend who broke the ‘sad’ news to me on phone. “You possibly did not see it well jare. It would be Rivers or Plateau”, I boasted banking on my ‘sure runs’. Truth be told however, I spared the news some thought. “What if it is actually Taraba?”
My eventful Taraba life started with a mixed three weeks in the school which served as our camp. I had by then come to settle for just one thing – “make it as much fun as you can”. I started by meeting different people; some great company, some others sucked real bad. The first of the lessons in camp was to add to what I already knew about level-headedness and being good natured as much as possible. It got me many friends, even against my wish as I had wanted to be with me, alone with myself.
I had wanted a place directly related to my animal science field or a tertiary institution but I was handed my posting letter to Sikas Model Academy, Takum, a five hour bumpy ride from Jalingo. Little did I know that my own Takum was in the interior. A village called Kwambai which back in those days had one high school, one primary school, two nursery and primary schools, one church, no electricity, one borehole, and no telephone mast. We however received from town, the remnants of the trio of Globacom, MTN and the then Celtel which when combined was not equal to one.
I was posted to teach in one of the two nursery and primary schools in Kwambai. I remember on sighting the school, I sighed and told myself very audibly “tani mo se?” easily translated as “who have I offended?” What I saw were round mud huts which I later knew were called “Channel O”. “Me go fit live for this place so?”, I asked myself repeatedly. It was a village setting through and through, one I had never really experienced. I had the chance to relocate but I decided against the option, choosing to stay.
Deciding to stay was however a very hard one. What would I be doing in this village when I had my FLD job waiting in the Garden City? While reflecting whether to stay or relocate, I remembered meeting someone just after I collected my call-up letter. I was complaining bitterly to a friend in a commercial bus when this woman joined our conversation. She was calming me down with all sorts of soothing words, asking if it was Jalingo or Takum. Lo and behold, I was posted to Takum. Remembering the short episode with her, I did not see it as coincidental. I just told God to let me fulfill the reason He sent me there.
That formed the first lesson I learnt. We might choose to run from some things but once the Almighty chooses us for something, it is better to look out for the signs and flow with his plans for our lives. Who says there is not a special reason for him sending you there. I remember telling myself that if I would gladly leave civilization for one year if I was told to do so to avoid death.
I learnt to be thankful to God for making me come from a part where schooling was considered a right, not a privilege. It was time to be humble. Much as they asked me supposed ‘foolish questions’, I maintained my calm and told myself I was just lucky to know what they did not. With time, we forged a relationship. I was making some people happy, it gave me great joy. I brought myself down low, tried to be humble and level-headed as much as possible.
Pupils came to school with tattered uniforms, no pencils or one 2A exercise book for all subjects sometimes. I talked one-on-one with some parents and they yielded. I was starting to find joy in teaching the innocent little ones. Right in Kwambai, I met students who would have rivaled our own brilliant students but for their environment. Took them under my wings and they improved very well. I saw myself as just lucky, not better than them. A few more lessons in humility and thankfulness.
A lot of funny things happened in my life while there. It was in Kwambai that I learnt the value of having company around me. I was so bored I picked up a novel of close to 500 pages and finished it in less than 48 hours. I read a lot of stories, wrote a lot of poetry but it did not help my loneliness. I then turned to the Bible and discovered quite some hidden stuff. I understood hidden treasures and the value of being able to enjoy my ‘alone time’, one I so much long for but is not readily available again.
I met a set of Corpers whose ways of living were not quite like mine. Many had one bush allowance or the other, as the students in the secondary school and village beauties were called, a decision I had decided against because of my commitment to my then partner. I faced serious temptations, the beauties and ‘African Queens’ of Kwambai making their ways to my lodge at very unholy hours. I stood firm because I had learnt the value of loyalty.
Whatever we do while we are in a place has this way of speaking for us. I had a few reasons not to dedicate myself to the school where I taught. I however chose to do my bit. Three, four years down the road, they still call me from a better developed Kwambai. My students, the ones I gave free lessons after school, my colleagues, the teachers I met in that school, folks in town (as I later moved to town to be closer to civilization) all still call me to enquire about how well I am faring, chipping in words of prayer.
I learnt what dedication can achieve for you. I earned the respect of people in the village and in town because of the commitment I showed to things I did. I remember how I taught my pupils the multiplication table. Very explanatory that I felt good after the dullest student scored all marks in their class work. It was hard at first but I soaked myself in and came out happy and fulfilled. I was the tisha oko, village teacher.
I learnt how to make profit in Kwambai. I told to God to let me eat the good of that land, Takum and Kwambai. I learnt to buy and sell honey while there in Takum and Kwambai. A few years down the road, I still do that. I had folks who did not want to get stressed but I readied myself, got dirty carrying the load and sold to make profit. I still sell honey to augment my income. Honey, sweetness it has added to me, swellness it has added to my purse.
Whatever I am today, that I talk less, listen more; that I behave odd some times, that I crave to be alone occasionally, that I just act in a way some folks see as weird, can all be traced down to my one year away from full civilization. Taraba has added to me; Kwambai I can never forget. For a year in the village has simmered me down, has taken away the major exuberance and delinquencies in me and opened my eye to see the world, and life, in the right light.
This writer is @oscarpoems on twitter