Saturday, 13 February 2016

This Christian Race: A Memoir (Episode Six)

Greetings again my kith and kin, friends and fans. Welcome to Episode 6 of the weekly serialised memoir, ‘This Christian Race'. For a whole quarter I will be running thirteen episodes of it. Feel free to read, share, like and comment as the interesting novella reads on. Thank you and I love you.

Episode Six – My Condition Helped Me
Get me right here, I beseech. The course, like every other course, was good. But, I stumbled at it and picked it blindfolded. I cared nothing about its meeting point with my configuration and calling. A big mess of it I made when I came face to face with that golden opportunity of choosing a life career through the form then. That came back to haunt me.

Course or no course! And irrespective of how you get there, a campus life is a campus life. It is an ocean of wide-ended opportunities that non-circumspect  and naive, as well as wise and experienced swimmers may not be guaranteed a safe haven. It has so much virtues to make you as well as vices to mar you. It is a world of equal opportunities. But the enemy of man's soul has increased his activities so much that the scale seemed to have largely been tilted towards the vices part these days. It is so much pity that on our campuses, campus prostitution and all other forms of immortality, and its twin brother, criminality and cultism, have taken the centre stage to become the beehive of activities, pushing genuine academic pursuit to the background. Lord have mercy. All such hues and cries about campus vices were very much available on the 1995 Ojere campus I was entering into.

But God used my conditions to help me navigate this stormy water circumspectly.

Yes, I mean conditions. Different conditions, garnered from the different strata, I mean aspects of my life, converged to dictate the pace, space and place in my Babylon sojourn. I must admit, in my naivety, I never purposed in my heart like Daniel who found himself on the campus of the Babylonian University.  But God was still faithful to keeping me from the defilement of the king’s portion through these conditions.

One newspaper cartoon I can never forget was a piece in which it was conspicuously captured on a corner-board of the cartoon box: no condition is permanent. The cartoon character saw this and queried in pidgin: the condition wey make crayfish bend nko (how about the condition that caused the crayfish to bend). Very funny to me then. On a second thought, I think the import of the cartoon is that we must admit that there are some conditions in life which are meant to last a lifetime. So, the conditions I will be highlighting as helping my campus life are a mix of both the lifetime and short-term conditions.

My first condition was the salvation condition. Though it was latent for most of my secondary school days (the most successful aspect of it being the resolution to write my WAEC without spying on other people’s work or asking them), the recent Eweje experience is fast activating my spirituality at all fronts. In short I was basking in the euphoria of my rejuvenated faith when Ojere came on me. Thank God. It was a perfect timing. Remove the Eweje episode. My spiritual life would have moved from the secondary school latency and struggle to a complete halt for nine months. From once-in-a-week reviving school fellowship to nine month spiritual wilderness. And what would become of me if I had entered into the campus directly from that condition is better left for the imagination.

In my state of flourishing faith it was not difficult for me to quickly get attracted to a Pentecostal student fellowship. And that was RCF: The Redeemed Christian Fellowship. How it had to be that one out of many fellowships on campus I can’t remember. Even my first contact to the fellowship is lost in my memory. But it is ordained that that would be my fellowship, even when I happened to come back for my HND. God willing, we will still have time to talk about my fellowship and my Christianity on campus.

It was the month I would be seventeen that I landed on the shores of Ojere. (Please, pardon me, the name of the community a campus is situated often swallows whole the name of the institution. The name of the locality becomes the unofficial name of the school in the mouth of all and sundry. So, Ogun State Polytechnic, now Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, has become Ojere in the mouth of everyone, including myself and this my write-up. Please bear with me) Do you still remember the Abiodun of small build and young face of Lantoro High School! (Nay? All you need do is consult the previous episodes). That was me. Not much has changed. I was young, funny and playful: that was the picture of the baby of the campus. Even if I would feel like doing something untoward, I would have to think twice. The words and reactions that would follow would eternally make me regret coming to campus at such a young age. But am I really underage? I often wondered. I had to when I considered the way people treated me. For crying out loud, I’m just two years short of the ideal age expected on campus. Let’s calculate it together now: 6 years primary school entry age + 6 years primary school + 6 years secondary school + 1 minimum year space between WAEC and admission = 19 years. Just two years short. Am I really that underage? I often lamented. It is a condition people often took advantage of but not towards vices. It is a condition that made me pocket  excesses that may be dying in me for expressions. Couple that with my sexual naivety, do you think it would be easy for me to approach those older and bigger girls to come and be my girlfriend? That is even if my spiritual frame does not first of all condemn the conception of such ungodly thought in me.

Definitely, you would say the calculation may be different for someone from a well-to-do home. For irrespective of his age, ladies would flock around such. Sorry! I didn’t have that luxury either.

Mama Sho, the sole caregiver for all five of us, her contributions to Wole Soretire's children, was a struggling primary school teacher. Those days, primary school teachers were poorly paid. Even with that meagre monthly take-home, she ensured we lacked nothing essential to our physical, social and educational development. That was evident. My schooling has always been on her bill. Ojere would not be any different. Knowing my background, it would be great wickedness extorting her to spend on frivolities. I never did in secondary school days. I would not want to start that now. There were even many occasions then that I would be so concerned that I wouldn’t want to ask for things we needed in school only for her to discover almost too late. She would scold me for it but I knew deep in her heart of heart she appreciated my childish display of concern.

Our food may not be rich but it was never lacking in nourishment. I remember those days of “pademi-nigunpa” soup (sort of flooded or waterlogged waterleaf soup). The Eba usually finished before the soup. Then it was time to relish that special moment of raising the watery bowl and pouting to meditatively sip in the tan sau├že.

What her honest labour provided we ate with joy and her early years stint as a food vendor helped her. She easily manipulate foodstuffs to provide great varieties for us within the limits of her means. No wonder her grandchildren later termed her Mama Kashopy (Food Wonder-woman).

That woman was great. Despite the large family and her teaching career, she was still climbing the academic ladder, her limited means notwithstanding. Starting as a grade II teacher, she updated herself through ACE and finally bagged her NCE when already a grandmother and was gradually smelling the last lap of her civil service years. She had a great heart of learning. I had no option, I had to face my studies too. The opportunity she was deprived of in her post-primary school days she was spending the last drop of her strength to provide for us on a platter of gold. I would be doing myself a great disservice wasting it on campus frivolities and encumbrances.

Well, our economic situation and my unpolished fashion sense combined too to make my campus appearance not too attractive. I cannot forget in a hurry this shirt and trousers I was fond of. The brown trousers belonged to my brother, Brother Ade, who left it in his wardrobe when he travelled to Niger looking for greener pastures. I tell you, that trousers was uncomfortably baggy, a bit taller and its waist swallowed mine. I couldn’t do anything about the bagginess but a belt always came in handy to solve the other two problems. Having used the belt to gather the trousers waist together in unnatural pleats, I would fasten it high above my waist to effortless tackle the length challenge. When I wore it on one suede-skin industrial-shaped shoes given to me by God-knows-who, you would be tempted to mistake me for a clown. Wait! Let me describe the shirt before you throw yourself or you are thrown into a fit of laughter. It was a real “to-match” with the trousers. I picked that too from my brother's wardrobe as well. You would think they threw me into it. It was a silk-material-custom-made shirt. The sleeves were massive. The cuffs were very long, expected to be folded back into two and held together by cufflinks. I’ve never used a cufflink-shirt before. Yours sincerely, I allowed the long cuffs to be, stretching freely and abundantly to my wrist. And ignorantly I would just button the cuffs together at the ends, one lying on the other, like every other shirt I was using. Shirt na shirt now!

I think the trousers eventually forcefully sacked itself when it embarrassingly split open down my buttock's line of divide. I had climbed a locker to write an early morning fellowship programme advert on the corner of the chalkboard in one of the classrooms when the snap-accident occurred. I walked awkwardly thereafter, like someone whose thighs have been glued together, praying hard nobody would see my open boot. I think I rushed back home immediately. As for the shirt, I got tired of it and dumped it when its teeth were beginning to show outside. I mean, the colour was fading.

The final condition space would afford me here was the course factor.

Two courses were available in the school of pure and applied sciences. The fully developed of the courses, that is, one that offered both OND and HND, was Science Laboratory Technology, my course. The other course, Food Science and Technology, was only an OND course in our days. If you are coming in to the school, the last building you will come across before getting to the admin, the end of the school, is this same School of Pure and Applied Sciences.

This so much fact, how does it connect? It is simple. My school, or what you will call college in the university setting, is the school 2 of Ojere. And my course, is the school 2 of school 2.

All other students called us that name indeed for no fun. Our social activities and involvements are drastically reduced or even non-existent. Socialising is a luxury that might end up too costly an ingredient to combine with our studies. For example, while other departments were selling handouts, ours stood strictly their ground on the no-handout policy. Every note is dictated in class and lectures are near perfectly attended by lecturers. It did not stop there. There were practicals in the evening that would extend to 5pm. And at that time, no more taxis on campus. We would trek about four to five kilometres to town, that is, Iyana Oloke, Onikolobo before we could get a cab to convey us to our respective destinations. Yet, we must arrive early to school the following day. That was our daily artillery. More so, the OND syllabus of SLT was too voluminous and jam-packed. Some of the courses made it looked like we were combining Cambridge A level with SLT proper. Yet, some of our lecturers with sadistic tendencies would not spare us if we did not exhibit academic progression to their taste. At a point, SLT became to us: Stress, Load and Tension. All these put together helped the serious ones among us to maintain focus. I was one of them.

That much said about helping conditions, permit me to veer off that line to roughly pinpoint some spiritual highpoints in my first “missionary journey to Ojere.

See you next week for episode 7 – Me, Exco?

(That was me standing first to the left in the picture below wearing my favourite: my-brother-dash-me, nay, I-pick-from-my-brother's-wardrobe shirt)

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