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Surviving the NYSC Circus: An Unforgettable Lagos Campground Experience

Answering the clarion call of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is a rite of passage for every Nigerian graduate. My journey led me to the Lagos Campground in Iyana Ipaja, where frustration, challenges, and a touch of 'torture' awaited me in this comically chaotic NYSC circus.

Delaying my arrival to the eighteenth of February, I endured a torturous drive from the island to the Lagos Iyana Ipaja campground. Registration chaos started the moment I crossed the gate as I juggled a bunch of required documents. After concluding my registration, I went to see the accommodations at the camp which turned out to be a less-than-comforting surprise – small rooms with small windows and bunk beds packed like sardines. 

Despite my prior experience in boarding facilities, the sadness was visible. On a quest for a comfortable mattress, I ended up sleeping on two but could still feel the bed frame's iron beneath me. As night fell, I lay on my makeshift bed, lamenting to my mother about my strong desire to teleport home.

Assigned to Platoon 2, I discovered I might be one of the youngest amidst faces aged 23 to 29. A bizarre blend of teen pregnancy and marriage vibes permeated the air, making me question the sanity of the situation – don't ask me to explain further.

Weekend arrival allowed time for contemplation and survival strategizing. Alone in camp as most friends had already served, I highly recommend doing it with friends; it makes the experience more bearable.

The real circus began with a 4 am wakeup call on Monday, marked by interpretative dance-like drills and parades resembling a herd of disoriented penguins. Perfecting the art of sleeping while standing became my morning routine – because, honestly, who's awake at 4 am?

Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony transformed us into 'gentlemen' corps members, whatever that meant. At this point, there was no turning back; I officially belonged to the government. That same day I dove into Man-O-War drills, finding solace in the chaotic and fun interactions with members and instructors.

The introduction of Man-O-War drills injected a dose of excitement, thanks to my previous sea school experience. I joined the Man-O-War group, becoming the Man-O-War princess/baby. The obstacle ground became my haven, where I ate, lamented, ran away from soldiers, and had an unexpectedly good time. Man-O-War turned out to be the saving grace, offering fun interactions with members and instructors.

Food at the camp was a mystery to me, as I barely ate there, only breakfast, which was literally bread. Mami market drained my wallet initially, but eventually, I developed relationships with sellers, becoming a regular at different food stalls and on good days, charming men would buy me meals, reducing the financial burden. Mami market turned into a place to laugh with friends and drown away sorrows after the day’s horrible drills.

Eventually, I adapted to the schedule and became something resembling normalcy. Lucky for me, I managed to skip many social night events for some much-needed sleep. One social night attendance was inevitable due to unforeseen circumstances, leading to unexpected encounters with the dazzling display of Mr. Macho and Miss NYSC. Men oiled up and displaying feats of strength, including one who carried a bag of rice with his teeth – a sight that almost sent me running.

A highlight of the experience was the carnival day, where each platoon represented a different culture. My platoon, representing an Igbo culture, showcased a spirited performance, earning us a respectable fourth place (I think). Surprisingly, I had been somewhat of a ghost in my platoon, only gaining visibility before and during the carnival. Despite my earlier reservations, I became a bit more social, even though still running from most men who happened to approach me. 

Counting down the days to return home became a daily ritual, starting from the moment I arrived. Finally, on March 6th, I eagerly made my way back to my mother. As the three weeks came to an end, the closing ceremony marked the summation of the camp experience.  

The laughter, the absurdity, and the unforgettable moments served as a reminder that sometimes, it's okay to embrace the madness and find humor in the most unexpected places. 

As I bid farewell to the Lagos Campground, I carried with them not just memories but a newfound appreciation for the art of surviving the NYSC circus with style and a healthy dose of sarcasm. Now, onto the remaining part of the service year – working.