The Upside of Getting My Fingers Burnt

When I got my NYSC call up letter and saw Adamawa state, I cried. I blamed my parents for giving me two English names that somehowalways put me in trouble. I strongly believed the powers that be wanted to punish me because they had no idea I was from the North (Or middle belt depending on how strongly you feel about these things), and had spent a significant part of my life there.
Because of how utterly horrendous the food was in camp (I survived on Cabin biscuit andNutri-C) two ‘corper’ friends of mine and myself decided we were going to have a restaurant in camp when the next batch came in, plus we heard of a guy in Benue that sold fries inMakurdi camp and made over half a millionnaira; a lot of money to someone earning 9,000naira ‘allowee’ at the time.When we got the approval, we all took a break from our places of primary assignment and went to work. We erected a structure, bought kitchen equipment, rented a deep freezer and generator and we were in business (All for a three week orientation camp oh) It was called MB’s Place and the tagline – Adamawa Is Not So Bad After all… (God! I cringe just thinking about it). We were very clear about our roles; I did the cooking, one helped with admin and customer service and the third made sure we were saving and spending judiciously.

From day one we had positioned to be different, while other shop owners were pounding yam and cooking Ogbono soup, we sold what we missed and longed for so badly when WE were in camp – oatmeal, chips and ketchup, custard and cream, hot cocoa and toast with eggs fried how you wanted it, noodles-veggies-and-eggs, bacon, prawn crackers, coconut, rice, fried rice and others. We weren’t surprised when ALL the cool kids and Nigerians in diaspora who had come back to serve showed up at our restaurant. By the third day we knew our customers. To make camp special, we let them know they could order specials for their birthdays and I would bend over backwards to make sure they got it. We were proud of our kitchen and equipment too, so we made sure they could see it from where they sat to eat. We wanted them to know we were clean and they were safe; I think it helped.

Our customers almost died of curiousity; we seemed too good to be true and a lot of them really wanted to know who we were and what all three of us were doing in the middle of nowhere speaking Queen’s English and selling such awesomeness, (if I might say so myself :D) Because corps members couldn’t engage in business activities while still serving, we couldn’t tell. Imagine their shock when on the next CD day after camp was over, we showed up in our NYSC fatigue… It was fun to watch their reactions, really.

Because we had to work with the same time-table as they did, it meant we got up before them, made sure breakfast was ready by the time they were through jogging, cooked when they were on break and slept after they did. I broke down after camp and left the packing up to my partners; it was more than I bargained for. I was grateful we had barely a month to the end of service anyway.

One of my partners, the admin one, came to see me a couple of days after camp carrying a blender. I found it amusing. I wanted to know how everyone was and when we were all going to sit and reconcile accounts. His response made me ill at ease and I began to get the sense that something was not right. Our partner, the one in charge of accounts had rented a truck and packed every physical asset we had bought, saying he had space where they could be stored until we decided what to do with them. Instinctively, my admin partner had taken the lightest thing he could carry, a blender and brought it to me, just in case. He ended up with a fancy kitchen knife we still laugh about.

To cut a long story short, accounts were never reconciled, I didn’t see our third partner until we left camp; and till this day, I can’t tell you how much we made from the business.

Sometime in the not too distant past, I was at LUTH to see my dentist. Since I didn’t have time to wait for a vacant spot I parked in the space I could find; obstructing a few cars that might have to leave before me. I wrote my number on a sheet of paper and pinned it down with my wiper. A car owner I blocked called. Imagine my shock when someone tapped me from behind and it was my third partner from Yola grinning so sheepishly I felt sorry for him. I squealed and shook his hand, sincerely happy to see him after all those years. He introduced me to his wife and we chatted lightly for a bit. Jeez, I’ve never seen anyone squirm so much before or ever since. He looked as comfortable as an earthworm in a plate of salt. I wondered if he thought I was going to demand my share of the cash right there. I moved my car out of the way and waved him goodbye. You know, there are different ways to look at the story. Some would say I was stupid, plain and simple. Some felt sorry for me ‘cos I gave 101% to make the venture work, some felt I should have gone after him. From where I’m sitting however, the experience proved useful and actually served as a game changer during my very short job-hunting days.

I got my very first job about a month after NYSC. My interviewers were more than impressed to know I ran two businesses as an undergraduate and was daring enough to set up a restaurant that I knew would only be in existence for three weeks. So in a sense, while I may have been cheated in the short term, I learned something invaluable even an MBA may never have taught me. And as trusting as I can be, I never make the same mistake twice.

See more at: http://naomilucas.blogspot.com/2013_09_01_archive.html#sthash.sCx7nFGL.dpuf

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