My pre- NYSC preparation was top notch. I learnt all the tricks and tips from the old dogs in the neighbourhood. Somehow, I felt prepared for the journey into the unknown. To spice up things a bit, I learnt few Yoruba words to boost my survival instincts (as I journeyed through the lands).
Well, those words didn’t arrive Ogun state with me. The night journey in the drama-filled luxurious bus got them exhausted. They evaporated like a thick fart close to an air conditioner. So, I had to start learning local words all over upon arrival . Life also forced me to expand my taste buds to accommodate the spiciness of Ofada rice. In fact, I had to adjust to the culture of my host community.
I got a bit comfortable at some point that I could stroll into the markets without the services of my “ interpreter” friend. On one of those voyages, we ran into a group of nicely dressed folks. At first, I thought it was the usual shut -a -street -down- for- a- party venture. The driver of the taxi I was in stopped abruptly and pleaded with all of us to alight. He spoke in Yoruba; I didn’t understand most of what he said, but I heard and understood “ ejor, e ma binu”. His non- verbal cue complemented the “e ma binu” nicely. That made it easy to tolerate. The only available option was to walk down the road, which I did graciously. I have got long legs. Trekking wasn’t an issue.
The dancing and drumming got my attention which unconsciously hastened my steps. Boom! My unsuspecting mind came face to face with pallbearers in the company of elegantly dressed men and women. The casket, which was in no way empty, rested on their shoulders and was forced to tilt to the left or right to conform to the rhythmic body movements of the pallbearers.
I had never seen anything like that. My soul jumped out of my body in fear and rushed back in to complete the view. I found the sight troubling but I was held spellbound. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t mentally prepared for that. It was way off my list of expectations. Back home, corpses meant tears. The sight of an ambulance sent women and children away. The scene was so beautiful and disconcerting at the same time.
In my culture, if a person dies, old or young, “proper” mourning is expected. Family members are expected to cry for days, the compound of the deceased is clouded with dirge and soaked in tears from wailers. At funerals, glamorous outfits do not make any sense. You dare not wear makeup!
I just couldn’t marry the two cultures in my mind. I tried but failed at rationalizing their celebration of the dead. Well, that experience won my 2012 “shocker” award.
When I finally made it to the Corper’s lodge, I found a willing ear that was patient to listen to my narration of horror. My narration got a shrug that meant what’s new about this? Na me mess up sha, I for no tell anyone. I got disappointed and decided to call home. My mum was shocked and couldn’t hide it. It felt strange to her as well.
But hey, that’s their way of celebrating or mourning the dead. That’s their culture. It is what it is.
This is the gist: we belong to different climes on a cline of exponential activity. We are uniquely different and true beauty is in understanding our differences.
Peace Habila, a resident of Jos, Plateau state is passionate about creative writing. She wrote in via firstname.lastname@example.org