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HomeFounder's DeskA Must-Read Story From Across the Atlantic

A Must-Read Story From Across the Atlantic

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The setting is Nigeria of 1998.

I graduated from the University and had to proceed on a one-year compulsory service to my fatherland which included a one-month paramilitary training as part of the experience. The service scheme is called the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC). It still subsists but is sadly now dysfunctional because of terrorist acts. (a story for another day)

The NYSC scheme was established in 1973, being a child of Nigeria’s post-civil war musings. It was meant to promote unity and development of common ties among Nigerian youths. As such, it became a law that every Nigerian graduate (Bachelors or its equivalent) must participate in the scheme to be employable in either the private or public sector. Except of course, if you previously served in the military for more than 9 months, are above 30 years of age at first degree or earned any national award.

And so, in January/February 1999 I took off to Yola, the capital of Adamawa State in the Northern part of Nigeria where I was posted. On arrival, I fell in love with my host town instantly.

At the end of the one-month paramilitary training, I was posted to a village called “Pola”. This was where my adventure began for the next eleven months or thereabout. Pola means ‘Dove’ which is symbolic of peace and indeed the location was peaceful. I learned a lot of lessons from my service year, as shared below.

1. Nothing beats unity of purpose.

Pola was such a remote village that vehicular movement only happened once a week – every Sunday, their market day. If you missed it, you had to wait till the following week. Due to this, passengers often had so much luggage to transport leaving us with no other option than to sit on the luggage in the open trucks. And while we all scrambled for our spots, it didn’t matter who sat beside us or how physically close they were to us! We had to accommodate one another.

And the road network was bad. I lied. There was no road and there was no network. It was there I learned the meaning of “ku sauka tura”, a phrase meaning “everybody get down and push”. And I heard that as frequently as I traveled the land. The vehicles got stuck too many times on the journey that you had to get down and push the truck or whatever you were travelling in.

Whenever the vehicle got stuck, it didn’t matter that not everyone on board spoke the same language or had nothing or anything in common. We had a singular aim – to arrive at our destination safely. Therefore, our differences didn’t matter. We found ways to communicate while we pushed the vehicle out of the horrific holes. And we always succeeded. We were not even bothered whether our driver was male, female, Christian, Buddhist or whatever – we had faith the person had enough experience to get us to our destination safely.

That is unity of purpose.

2. When faced with a situation, quickly analyze, decide, and move on.

It was funny that whenever we traveled, some stretches of the land were so bad they were all filled with huge potholes. You couldn’t even avoid any, you had to choose the pothole that was your size.

The driver could have turned back on sighting the potholes, but he never did. He rather chose which pothole to face and how to approach it because the potholes were not meant to stop him.

Life challenges are there to see if we are merely dreaming or committed to our goals.

Even when we seem to face multiple challenges at a time, we don’t need to address everything at once. We can choose our immediate focus. Yes, the others may not go away, but we can at least make progress with one.

When on a team, whatever affects an individual’s progress will ultimately affect the team progress. Take care of it.

In each instance, the driver would come to a halt, look round, ask everyone to hold tight and then drive on. We didn’t have a choice, we had to pass through one. So, he simply analyzed the situation quickly perhaps based on past trips across that area, but he never vacillated, he was always decisive.

Of course, he knew the risk involved was that if we didn’t hold on tight enough, one of us could fall out and therefore delay the journey.

When on a team, whatever affects an individual’s progress will ultimately affect the team progress. Take care of it.

3. Make assumptions but test them because you might be wrong.

Because I was born and grew up in the southern part of Nigeria and had been taught that there was northern Nigeria, I assumed that Northern Nigeria was inhabited by the Hausa tribe because it seemed that everyone only talked about the Hausas.

I also erroneously assumed that all Hausas were Muslims! O’l boy! Was I wrong! This was a major shocker for me when I traveled and lived in Northern Nigeria for one full year! Thanks to NYSC..

I realized that the North had several other tribes. In Adamawa alone, there are the Chambas (amongst whom I lived and worked), Baburs, Bachamas, Bansos, Bayas, Komas, Billes, Bileis, Botleres, Giras and a host of others. (In Nigeria, we have between 250 and 300 different tribes! That should not be surprising from a country with close to 200 million people!)

I also realized that NOT all these tribes spoke the Hausa Language. In fact, a good number of the Chambas among whom I lived did not even understand or speak the Hausa Language.

What am I saying? To make progress in life, we need to make assumptions but test the critical ones among them.

And it can save you from unnecessary bias and prejudice.

Traveling to a place that was outside my comfort zone made me a better human being.

4. Follow peace with all men

When you attribute the same value to human life regardless of tongue, gender, age, color, religion and any other human standard, life assumes a new meaning. While I lived in Pola, everyone I met and interacted with became my family.

I learned to trust and depend on them for my very existence because my closest sibling was at least about 1,500 km away nonstop driving and under perfect road conditions. Yes, my background was different, but we had the same red blood flowing through us.

To integrate well into the new life I accepted, I chose to live in the same kind of house most of them lived in and even though they offered me what they considered luxury, I declined it.

I learned to farm the way my host community did because they were predominantly farmers so when they left their houses to the farm in the evenings, we left together. When they returned, we returned together and that was despite our language barrier. However, I soon learned how to communicate in their language. The experience was symbiotic – I taught them English, and they taught me the Chamba! Seriously, when we respect our differences and choose to live in peace with one another, life can be full of bliss!

When we respect our differences and choose to live in peace with one another, life can be full of bliss!

Recently, four family members of Pakistani heritage who relocated here fourteen + years ago were run over by a truck and killed by a 20-year-old boy in London, Ontario, Canada. The Police declared this a premeditated act of murder motivated by hate, primarily their Islamic religion. This is called Islamophobia.

According to Global News, a “74-year-old woman died at the scene. A 44-year-old woman, a 46-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl were rushed to hospital by paramedics, but they later died of their injuries.” Only the nine-year-old child survived with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.

Sadly, this boy lost his family to avoidable hate. How well will he recover from this harrowing experience? What does the future now hold for him?

I’ll say this. I KNOW that some of us get tired of hearing people talk of hate crimes, racism, Islamophobia and all other forms of oppression against people who feel oppressed and undervalued.

Sadly too, not everyone will understand it. It is what it is. However, that you don’t understand it does not mean it is not real.  That you are privileged (yes, it is a privilege) to be around those who talk about it does not mean they are playing the victim card. Rather, it is an opportunity for you to understand them.

I’ll end with two curious questions. If you are tired of hearing conversations regarding racism, Islamophobia and other forms of oppression, what do you think life feels like for those who experience this daily? And what are you willing to do about it?

Got a story to share? Share with us in the community or send it to thrive@immigrantlife.ca


Written by Dapo Bankole.
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