If you live in a hostel on the campus of a Federal University in Nigeria, there are certain personality traits you MUST leave the place with: Patience. A high tolerance threshold. Being your brother’s keeper. Ability to share.
If you come in with the mindset that everything should be done speedily, living on campus will teach you how to apply the brakes. During exam periods, you will learn the art of being patient. If you have to queue to wait for the campus shuttle and the buses are not coming as scheduled (No, there’s no actual schedule but let’s just keep it flowing) you will WAIT. There are no alternatives. (Unless you want to walk and get to your lecture theatre sweating profusely) Patience.
We got to Law School, Bwari and opened the taps…water flowed. Ah! It felt like we had been tossed into the Paradise scene from the thick bound, yellow ‘My Book of Bible Stories’. While foreign students turned their noses up at the living quarters, we were in awe.Those of us coming from Moremi, Fagunwa, Amina Halls knew that running tap water was something we heard about. Back then, in Unilag, if you were in school on Saturday you’d probably catch a glimpse of this flowing water
Unicorn. The only other place you’d find running water is…Oh wait does fetching water from the tanks outside the halls count?
Anyway, in light of that situation learn to be your brother’s keeper. Everybody NEEDS water. You don’t believe me? Ask Fela! He said it. Water no get enemy.. You will need someone to help you ensure you have water in your buckets. (Yes, you should have like 3. It’s the hostel way. Deal with it). The thing about helping with water is that it is a STRICTLY reciprocal effect. Just like ‘keeping seat’, the only way you can be sure of someone helping you out with water (or a seat in class) is if you’re known to help normally. You HAVE to be your brother’s keeper so you don’t get caught in a bind on the day diarrhoea decides to visit as a result of having dodgy Indomie noodles in a dingy shop. Brother’s Keeper.
Okay, so by now you can tell that the hostels are densely populated and the ‘inmates’ are dirty. Your tolerance threshold for the irritating and the downright disgusting will increase. After a few weeks in the hostel you stop seeing the urine filled bath stalls as a barrier to your taking a shower. You find a vacant spot on the sink slab, hoist up your bucket and wrap your towel around your head (shower cap and towel rack in one – did I mention that you become innovative?). How can you live in that environment and not be tolerant? Your roommate doesn’t care that you hate the smell of locust beans, she is just cooking away, humming to music from the speakers of her battery-operated rechargeable lamp. As the weeks roll on in the semester, you don’t realise when the tune of ‘Akanchawa’ inadvertedly drops out of your mouth. Tolerance.
The university doesn’t have facilities to accommodate all the students. That’s fine. However, these bed spaces turn up on the black market at ridiculous rates. Thus, if you’re unable to ‘pay for space’, you find someone to squat with. This is where you learn the esteemed virtue of sharing. One narrow single bed. A 5ft square ‘lot’. Insert one fridge, one television one standing suitcase, a dangling curtain. Ah! Doesn’t sound like much eh? This is a fancy ‘corner’, people! Two adults? Yes, you learn to share. Sharing is a virtue.
You’re hurrying back from class, starving but you have your packed rice from Jesus Embassy. You get to your room and someone has ‘borrowed’ your hot plate. Okay, all is not lost, your roommate has one you can use. You don’t mind sharing electrical appliances, but you draw the line at crockery. Alas, someone has burnt your pot in the process of warming Beans. Okay, where’s your plate. Look, your roomie is using it to entertain her guests.
Yes, you will learn the share.
My friend told me of how in their room (BoysQuarters in Ozolua) 5 boys shared 2 pairs of jeans for the entire academic year. He tried to explain the logistics of it to me… *Brain Freeze*. Sharing… is… Caring? Sorta?
Every time I start complaining about how the Nigerian system doesn’t work, I am reminded of all the positive character traits that I have taken away from having to live that way. My response remains, is it absolutely impossible to have these traits and still have my basic social & physiological needs met? Isoken constantly reminds me that I am a product of that system about which I complain. “It doesn’t work perfectly, but it works”. The truth is, it doesn’t work. We tell ourselves that it is ‘okay’ because we find ourselves in a quagmire – an unchanging system. Secondly, it’s easier to look at the ‘positives’ than to take that deep introspective look. We are afraid of what we will find if we look too deeply. So, we laugh and we find a way to use cardboards to replace broken louver blades. We tell ourselves that contributing to buy the public address system for the lecturer is ‘team building’. We tell ourselves that absence of a functioning public transportation system is a good motivation for working hard to buy our own cars. We can’t really help it… or can we?
We laugh because, after all, na condition make crayfish bend! Let’s just stay positive and not keep thinking about the bad. But for how long?
Have a great week ahead. Be the change in your own little corner. Question norms, think independently and don’t be afraid to swim against the tide.
Peace, love & cucumber slices.
Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Michaeljung