Monday, 20 October 2014

THE WITNESS II

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 ...continued


DAY TWO: EVERYONE TO YOUR TENTS!


Fruits of the Spirit


‘’Sisters, you have about thirty minutes left to dress up, pack up your belongings and vacate the hostel. If you’re still sleeping by now, you are very wrong.’’ 


The lady’s shrill voice rang out through the cacophony of the hostel’s early morning hustle and bustle. She was the ‘’captain’’ in charge of our hostel and was now going around each hall to make the announcements. I lay back on the bunk, observing the happenings around me. I was fully dressed and ready to move out at the ‘’go’’. This was what gave me the nerve to be in such a reclining position even as I watched other girls go frenzied. 


“Hey! That’s my bucket,” a short, plump girl shrieked as she struggled out of her bed to confront the tall girl who had picked a bucket beside her bunk. She seemed to have been sleeping, but she was wide awake now. 


“You carry bucket come this place? Abi dem write ya name on top am?”(Check the glossary if you don’t speak Naija Pidgin) the tall girl countered in an I-will- not-be-ignored thick voice and an undeniable Igbo accent. 


“But I was the one who picked it first,” plump one said quietly now as she gauged her opponent to be more than her match. She was obviously an ‘ajebo’ and probably didn’t want any kind of trouble. 
 

“And so?” Tall-girl prompted, hands akimbo and neck cocked in angle 45, battle ready. Several seconds of pregnant silence passed and I watched with amusement as Plumb-ajebo’s shoulders finally sagged in defeat.


“Alright, you can use it. But please when you’re done, give it back to me,” she said half-heartedly. If she had been expecting a boot-kissing gratitude for her act of “valour”, she was sorely disappointed as tall-girl did a 180 degrees in the direction of the door without so much as a “thank you” much less boot-kissing (plump-ajebo wasn’t wearing boots anyways, so it was just as well).


I shook my head in pity and amusement; plump-ajebo had nothing more than twenty minutes to get ready and now because of her cowardice-inspired gallantry, didn’t even have a bucket. I thought of how she had to also go in search of water, then wait on a long queue before she could have access to the bathroom and felt really sorry for her. But hers was even better as there were other girls who were still sleeping and those around did not even bother to wake them. Mortals!


Fifteen minutes later, I and my fellowship friends packed our stuff and headed out to the auditorium, we got there just in time for the opening prayers. An hour of worship led us into God’s presence in a way that felt familiar but strange also…sounds weird, I know but that was just how it felt to me. Familiar because I had been there before, strange because it was different also (don’t try to understand it, I don’t too). I felt really refreshed after the worship, having shook off the last shreds of ill-feel at the disappointment of the day before.


Soon after, we were grouped according to our zones in order for the registration to commence. We waited for several hours for that to be done as the zonal officials ran around to ensure that everyone in their zones got registered so they could be entitled to accommodation, feeding and the conference materials (a satchel, ID card, books, biro, programme booklet, bible study manuals, C.Ds, Bible). 

Well, fortunately, our zone was an…unorganized one, so it took longer than necessary for all that to be done – hours - and when at last we were able to get registered, we were handed the left overs. Luckily for us, this meant we got the worst of the hostels. There were 3 hostels for girls – Joy, Love and Endurance and 2 for guys – Love and Long-suffering (sure you guessed where that came from). Like I said earlier the place was still under construction, so the other hostels were unavailable. We girls were flung to Endurance while the guys landed squarely in Long-suffering. 


Funny names, I thought idly as I picked my bag.


Don’t rain on my parade!

So, we packed our bags with sweaty palms from the sweltering heat and headed to our fruits of the Spirit (I mean hostels). We girls walked to the building which housed our hostel. On an iron gate was boldly inscribed “ENDURANCE” and with relief coursing through my veins for the fact that a warm, cosy bed and a gateway for my tired bones to get a respite awaited, I walked through the gate and what I saw blew me away. Not the knock-your-socks-off kinda ‘blown away’. No sir. But the knock-your-head-to-check-if-you’re-hallucinating kinda ‘blown away’. I’m not sure if you’re beginning see the trend here yet. The movement of totally unforeseen turns. 


Now, here’s what I saw; two very big bungalow buildings with warm, comfy bunks in the rooms…all the amenities in place. Well, that is actually not the problem but the fix was, we were not standing in front of the bungalow. I also saw a grass covered ground towered by a large tent.


So, there we were with our big bags in hand and befuddled expressions firmly in place on our faces as we stood under the large tent flanked on both sides by the two other hostels.


“Where’s the hostel now?” I asked no one in particular, as I dropped my bag on the grass, looking around the large area with hands akimbo; as if expecting the hostel to magically appear, hit me on the head and yell, “Here I am. Bat!” I saw several mattresses on the ground with some girls sitted on them, looking all comfy, with their eyes all over me. What was going on here? Why couldn’t they join me in the search instead of staring at me like I had “idiot” written over my forehead? Well, apparently I was the only one not seeing this oh-so-visible hostel. Great. 


After doing a sweeping glance at the situation on ground, taking in the mattresses and suitcases, Florence, one of my group members (the one who sat beside me in the bus) looked at me and tilted her head upward, motioning to the tent overhead, her brain and eyes apparently in better condition than mine. I took one look at the other girls in the tent and I wanted to make a run for it (insert “blown-away” now). Melons! This was it! This was Endurance hostel!


And suddenly the joke was on me. Again.


“This is Endurance, right?” I whispered as though if I said it too loud, my nightmare would take on flesh. The tent was in between Joy and Peace, with its large tarpaulin towering over several mattresses, bags and…girls. Okay, so here I was again standing in the puddle of my disenchantment and trying to make a meaning of it. God was up to something, I didn’t know what but I just hung on to my dear sanity.


 So, I calmly dropped my bag on the grass, called my friends and we went to the secretariat to pick our mattresses. We found a space on the grass, set our beds and I tried to relax (Amazingly I did not lose my cool…hold your applause, thank you very much). Through the din which rose around me, I was able to suppress it all; willing my mind to zero off all sounds as I tried to sleep. It was past 3pm. 

So, I had landed in Kwali, instead of Abuja. So what? So I was now sleeping under a tent that was to house me (or “tent” me) for the next five days instead of a warm, cosy hostel I had imagined (like the one I could see on both sides of me). What did it matter? Besides, it was a missions’ conference, so maybe this was part of the training. I thought sensibly. Who knows? It could even be fun, I thought with forced optimism, squinting as I tried to look on the brighter side of the whole situation. I mean it couldn’t possibly get any worse than this. Could it?


So I’m sleeping now.



I sigh as cool breeze fans my heated skin, Lord knows I needed it. This was definitely a welcome development. Aha! A brighter side; tents are more airy, I thought enthusiastically. I rolled over, trying to find a better position on the small bed.


The breeze got cooler…colder. I frowned. Odd. That was definitely no breeze. It felt like…like… wind! My eyes flew open and a tiny moan escaped my lips. Oh puppies, no!


The whole place had gone shadowy, as clouds floated gloomily in the sky, promising an outpouring of pent up rage. Rain! I stared dazedly as the floodgates flew open minutes later, delivering the promise straight to our tents. The whole place was in an uproar then, as everyone tried to move her things away from the rain’s cold, watery grip. I blinked. You gotta be kidding me! Rain?! I thought in alarm as it finally sank.


 My teeth clenched in anger. This vendetta had lasted too long. I had not paid the few thousand naira I did and come all the way to this…this…village to be beleaguered by the forces of expectations. I looked longingly at the two hostels, seeing as its occupants closed their windows and crawled up under the covers while we ran helter skelter looking for dry spots to put ourselves and things. This wasn’t fair! We paid the same amount with them, so why did we have to be the ones to bear the brunt of all this? Endurance indeed! I should have known.


The water now filled the canopy, threatening to bring it down under its weight with gallons of water spurting out. Some men came around and used sticks to relieve the canopy of its burden, in the process wetting what little dry ground was left. Our bags were clutched tightly to our chests and mattresses dripping wet. There we all stood, looking all wet and forlorn, like street urchins locked out in the rain.


Someone had gone out-and-out to meritoriously and vindictively rain on my parade, in every sense of the word. And now my umbrella had been blown away by the wind.

I sighed resignedly. One more fruit of the Spirit couldn’t hurt now, could it? I thought. So, I endured…


Blankets and rainbows

The endurance test by rain finally stopped, leaving cold, wet and weary girls in its wake. But we weren’t the only ones who suffered. Some damage had been done on the grounds; tents had been raised down, the power went out and some other reparations I can’t really say (ask the technical crew) had been inflicted. This meant a change in schedule. We on the other hand sought to change our stations, we had endured enough and now we sought better. While I packed, the National Director, Uncle Bala, came around to apologize to us for the inconvenience. He also promised a better reception next time.


We left the tent in search of greener pastures. Joy proved abortive as it was already full. Peace was no better. I finally decided to settle at the corridor of Joy (no pun at all intended) with my sodden mattress. I was cold and frustrated. This was not how I imagined my trip. Don’t even get me started on that one.


However, you know how there is always a promise preceding every storm and how strips of colours glow in the sky to show there’s a brighter side? You, know…rainbow? Well, mine finally showed up when I got the news that Florence (bus partner, remember?) had acquired a bed-space in Peace hostel and needed someone to stay with her, since it was two per bed-space. Who knew she'd eventually become my savior? And then, I felt guilty for not being so friendly to her on the bus.

Well, the long and short of it was that I finally got my warm, comfy bed complete with a blanket (not literally though). I could go on and on about how happy and relieved I was to finally see the light at the end of my tunnel, but I’ll spare you the whole sappy drama. But, really I learned something from the whole experience (Don’t roll your eyes now). It sounds corny, I know but it’s true. 

Lessons:
1. There’s always a rainbow at the end of every storm. God’s special promise. And maybe a blanket too…

2.  You never know who'd save your behind tomorrow. Be good to everyone you meet.

3. Be careful what you wish for, you never know what fairy's eavesdropping your mind.

There’s more (like never ever ever ask thoughtless, obvious questions no matter how stumped you are…yeah, that type and many other really thoughtful lessons) but let’s stick to these ones. 

Funny the things God does to get our attention sometimes.

Glossary
- Ajebo – a person born with a silver spoon in their mouth…or one who acts as such .
“You carry bucket come this place? Abi dem write ya name on top am?” - “Did you bring a bucket to this place? Or did they write your name on it?”

Here's for those who missed the beginning of the story. 

Side note: Is that the end? You ask. Honestly, I don't know but I guess, yeah. We'll just have to see. Thanks for sticking around and sharing my story!

AdiĆ³s queridos! 
 

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