He woke up just a few minutes before seven that morning, not because he intended it so, but was forced to owing to the increased activity within the clinic that became intense along with noise by corpers who had come in to receive some treatment or another. Ay, the pharmacist was busy dispensing drugs, he wasn’t surprised he never struck it up with her, first off she was just as slim as the sociologist, more beautiful but with some pride (if not overtly self conscious), which naturally put him off, besides the fact that he was more into plus sized females, though he could once a while will stray in the opposite direction, like as with the sociologist.
Some corpers had invaded the clinic that morning, feigning all kinds of illnesses just so that they could be exempted from the second ENDURANCE TREK scheduled for that morning. He had no qualms with trekking, in fact the first one yielded him the sociologist on a platter, and by the time soldiers came into the clinic to oust everybody, ill or not to proceed to the halls of residence to prepare for the trek scheduled for the next hour, he’d struck up an agreement with the only female doctor in the pack to walk with her all the way. She was way older than he was, having trained in those universities in Nigeria, besides Lagos where a six-year medical degree could take more years to procure because of strikes, and other disturbances of the likes, capable of disrupting the academic calender. He liked her because she had no airs about her, as well as being highly cerebral, not only on the issues of medicine, but also on life issues.
A bath, and a breakfast of “shayi” (tea with milk, laced with lots of sugar and ginger) later at the hostel, and he was, like other corpers in full regalia of white T-shirt, green khaki trousers and shirt, and the excuse of a fez cap that’s the green khaki corper cap, and orange boots on white with green stripes stockings.
This trek was different from the first, the occasion on which he met the sociologist, in that in the first trek, they wore just the white T-shirt, white shorts, white snickers, white and green socks and the cap. While the first was orderly with soldiers ensuring that everyone fell into line, this one was more leisurely, and corpers interacted across platoons with others with whom they’d developed friendships over the past few days, spanning a period of more than two weeks, as the days in camp wound to a halt by the third.
He went over to the rendezvous he’d agreed with his date for the trek, and she was right there on time, for which he was quite impressed. Initially, the trek was like the first only on the main tarred road, and they slowly covered the distance they had during the first in a longer time, mainly because there wasn’t any singing or matching associated with their movement. When they thought they’d be turning back after trekking some five kilometres, the soldiers at the head of the pack, directed them out of the road unto the unpaved roads leading into the adjoining villages in Gumel. Corpers were encouraged to even enter homes and see how things looked in that part of Nigeria. He was glad he had the trek with the female doctor, and because he wasn’t romantically attached to her, they easily spoke of and about all else without as much as having queer moments between them, and most importantly about what they could see. They took a few pictures in the different homesteads they visited, the few times the “unofficial” photographer and chronicler of events in camp, a serving corper from the set before theirs, passed by them.
Most inhabitants of the village they walked through, lived the simplest of lives, they seemed pleased to see the corpers come around, while opening up their homes to them, though some parts of the houses were “out of bounds” especially to male visitors, with the hosts quick to warn that such were “ba shiga”. The girls, depending on age, could be naked with just panties for the very young, with brown hair which may point to malnutrition, while the next in line were fully clothed, with or without headscarves. They had skirts and blouses sown with “Ankara” material to fit even their tiny bodies. The teenage girls were usually slim, and always had their head covered, mostly clad in Ankara and wiggling their waist seductively in the kind of catwalk you can only see in the North of Nigeria amongst girls their age.
The women in the “ba shiga” sections of the homes, are mainly wives, and one couldn’t tell whether they are beautiful or not, as when they are outside of the house they are covered in Burqahs, a full face and body veil that blunts out all feminine curves, but with a rectangular opening in the eye area. The grandma’s around the home are the other females that can be seen with their sagging breasts and chewing sticks regardless of time of day. These ones were the more willing to chat and with the little Hausa he and his companion could muster, coupled with some improvised sign language, they struck up some conversation howbeit awkwardly with the women, with whom they also took pictures.
They found a different case for males, for while there were just a few of them, especially little kids and the very old in the houses, the majority could be found outside, but not necessarily at work, except the ones in the farms. Very young boys, with empty plates begging were just about everywhere, some of them trekking with the corpers as they made from one homestead to the other, though with the aim of searching for leftovers they can scavenge.
These are Al-Majirai, and according to what one of the corpers from the region told him, they are disciples of Islamic teachers, and sent from far and near by their parents to receive lessons in Islamic teachings, law and jurisprudence from a very early age. Though, at some time of the day, they can be seen chanting Quranic verses, the rest of the day is spent loafing about in search of the next meal, looking tattered with brown hair, either of malnutrition or from the dust from play. Interestingly, while the society in the north condones this state of affairs, hardly will one find the children of the elite in such conditions, and in recent times these Al-Majirai have been ready and willing tools at the hand of politicians, traditional rulers and religious leaders for ends that tended mostly towards the violent, in the northern part of Nigeria, during ethnoreligious crisis.
The presence of a technical college in Gumel, meant that many of the boys, even girls in the immediate vicinity could school there, and that was how they spent their day. Nearly all the old men had beside them transistor radios, while the younger ones even had theirs pimped with extraordinarily long antennas to improve their reception of the BBC Hausa Service. It is difficult to find the Hausa man, even Nigerians of other ethnic groups residing in the north that isn’t knowledgeable about local and international events because of the love for the transistor radio. The same cannot be said of their counterparts in the South. The radio as a means of communication has been used most effectively in the north to garner the people towards forming a common bloc on several occasions, a feat that appears almost impossible to be contemplated in the South.
Unlike the last trek, that lasted barely two hours, it took close to six hours before the bugle sounded for corpers to head out of the settlements into which they had embedded, and make their way back to the main road to Gumel and then to camp. He had managed with his companion to come off with lots of dates, known locally as “Dabino” and lots of products, in different shapes, sizes, and colours made from sugar, to which the attention of his sweet toothed female companion was largely drawn, while they waltzed through the village together, so much that she couldn’t get enough of them. He wasn’t surprised though, as she did have a trophy to years of sweet toothedness in the form of a missing first upper left premolar, and appeared not to be too keen to turn the corner. He managed to eat only the Dabino, while attempts to ingest any of the sugar products proved futile as each time he did he felt like throwing up. Southerners don’t eat this much sugar, especially so raw, yet the incidence of non communicable diseases like diabetes seem to be on the rise there, compared to the north, where even obesity is a rarity, and usually amongst politicians. After his last experience with Fura De Nunu from Maigatari, he made sure to steer clear of it despite the many offers from the grandmas and other corpers who were already helping themselves with bowlfuls.
One thing he saw and couldn’t help but get for himself was a wrap of kebab made from lamb, called “Balangu”. Unfortunately, by the time he’d done consuming the little he bought and couldn’t find to buy as they made their way back to camp, he wished he’d bought more. Interestingly, it seemed like the journey back was shorter than it was coming. Some corpers travelled with full bags of gifts from the villagers, as well as things they bought for themselves. By the time he parted ways with his companion within the compound of the camp, he was so exhausted that he ignored the queue for lunch as he made his way to siesta, rest assured that his roomies will help him get his food using his meal card that he’d dropped on the only table in their room.