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I Travelled 12 Hours Overnight, By Sea, In A Leaky Boat – From Cameroon To Nigeria – Without Money!
The decision to travel to Cameroon
It all started in June 1999 after I finished my intensive 3-month French language study program at a language school in Benin City. I realized that although I was already comfortable enough to read and write in French, I had not achieved the level of fluency in speaking that I wanted. For example, I still struggle to easily answer simple questions or carry on a conversation for short periods without having to pause and interject some “eems and hmms”!
So, I told my teacher that I wanted to travel to every French-speaking country and spend part of my annual leave there to develop my fluency. After some deliberation, he decided that although Ivory Coast would be the preferred place to go, he would send me (for cost considerations) to stay with his family in Cameroon (Yes, my guardian is Cameroonian). In this way, by following their instructions in a letter to them through me, their brother and sisters will help me gain exposure to numerous opportunities to practice speaking French.
I went to Cameroon by road (via 2 border towns: Ikom in Nigeria and Ekok in Cameroon) for two reasons. Previously, this was the only way my N12, 500.00 (about $125 US dollars left from my annual leave allowance) would have been adequate for the trip (I was told that a return air ticket would cost N30, 000.00 – $300 USD – at the time). ). Second, it gave me the opportunity to mix with French-speaking people as soon as I crossed the border.
He can hear the natives speaking in French for himself; having the gendarmes ask me for my passport and visa in French (it wasn’t often that I met one who could speak English!) served to help me consolidate my learning faster. Using the money I saved to go on the road, I was able to buy a lot of novels and magazines published in French – including those written by authors well known to us here for their works, for example James Hadley Chase, Agatha Christie etc. . I read it regularly while there, and brought it back to Nigeria for continued use in my studies.
Trying to get back to Nigeria – The drama begins!
But back to my traumatic experience back home. Let me give you an idea of what it was. That July morning in Douala, I had asked my friend for the money he promised to give me, and he told me that he had asked his boss for a salary advance. He left for work saying that I would call him at 9.00 am so that he could give me directions to go through his office and get the money on my way. A few minutes after 9.00 am I called him. To my dismay, he told me that he couldn’t get the money and started apologizing profusely, pretending that I had left for my trip without him!
I was stunned almost beyond words. Recovering a little, I told him (in as dignified a tone as I could manage!) how sorry I was that he had put me in such a terrible situation knowing that it was my first visit to the country (to which I had even more. profuse apologies). I hung up the phone in disgust, and did some quick and very hard thinking.
One thing was very clear in my mind. I had to return to the Guinness Benin brewery (in Edo State, Nigeria) to resume the afternoon shift later at 2.00 pm the next day. I had used up the remaining days of my leave waiting for my friend to come with my money. It was about 10.00 in the morning. I took a bike downtown and inquired about alternative routes to travel around Nigeria on the cheap.
I remembered meeting some Nigerian traders who lived in the town, who had mentioned a small port where traders from Nigeria often entered Douala with goods and agricultural products to sell. Eventually, someone gave me directions for transportation to a place called “Idinao” port. The journey was not smooth for me as various checkpoints meant that I had to face repeated questioning by the gendarmes. On the occasions when passengers were asked to pay one fee or another, since I didn’t have more than a few CFAs, I had a tendency to get more than a little hassle from the officials.
Saved by a “Guardian Angel”
Towards the end of the journey, at the last checkpoint, I was rescued by a particularly aggressive gendarme, who after seeing my passport asked my intentions to leave the country through the port of Idinao. A gentleman who had watched me calmly go through the trouble since the beginning of the trip, and who was obviously quite well known as a trader in Douala, spoke for me, saying that it was his younger brother (he was a Nigerian) who was came to visit him, and that he was taking me to Nigeria! I was more than grateful and told him so. However, at the same time, he was surprised that this man had made such a gesture to a person he did not know. But as I was to discover later, it hadn’t even started!
After we got to the port, he told me his name was “Sugarr” (a nickname, and that’s exactly what he wrote in my diary). His accent revealed that he was from the Igbo tribe (I am Yoruba). He asked me where I was going, and I told him Benin City. He then explained that the boats from Idinao would arrive in Oron in twelve hours, after having to travel a few hours to get to Aba, and then to Benin. He then took me to the owner of one of the large but aged boats, who was his personal friend. The owner of the boat – known as “Delta” (another nickname) – agreed to let me board with the few CFAs he had left as payment after Sugarr’s demands – and even after the I desperately offered my Olympus Stylus camera to complete the payment!
Help! me? Traveling in an old boat for 12 hours under heavy rain?
It was only after he said yes that I took a good look at the boat that I was to travel along with several other people – and their countless bags of produce. The big ship creaked repeatedly as the waves of the Atlantic Ocean beat against its sides, and I saw water pooling at the bottom suggesting that it was raging! I had never been at sea and what was worse, the radio carried by someone nearby had just announced that several Nigerians had died in a boat bound for Oron a few days earlier!!
A few of the intending passengers near me were talking excitedly about the people they knew were on that boat. I started to get really scared, but the thought of not being able to get back to work when I was supposed to (I never took my job lightly, and I always wanted to do what was expected of me at all times), I prevented it from changing. my mind I grabbed my bags and entered the boat. The drizzle quickly turned into a downpour and I had to use a few extra coins I found in my pockets to buy one of the large nylon bags that people used as modified raincoats (by cutting raw holes in the bottom and sides for the head. the arms to pass).
We had to wait from about 4.00pm to 7.00pm before we could start the journey. He had not taken anything to eat since waking up, and he had no money to buy anything to eat.
Still, all I could think about was getting back to Benin City in time to grab the morning brewer’s hand. I was determined. As for the fear of the boat bowing over the sea, I soon dispensed with all excuses for not going on, when I saw about five old women traders stationed themselves in the lower part of the boat, with their bags of products next to them. , and simply sleep! “If they’re not worried, then they certainly shouldn’t be!” I said to myself.
The journey back home begins
We traveled under heavy rain in Delta’s big old motor boat for over 12 hours through the night (from 7:00pm to 7:30am). During the first four hours of the trip, I experienced for the first time what I had read about in books about sea travel: Seasickness. I became dizzy and felt myself turning several times. Fortunately, after a while, my body seemed to adjust to the rhythm of the boat on the sea, and then I got over it.
During the “journey” we encountered about 5 different water control points, respectively by Gendarmes, Police, Customs, Navy and Drugs Law Enforcement. Many times some “water tax” or tax was required to be paid by the passengers, and as you can imagine, since I had no money, I always got special attention – including some heavy slaps. On one occasion, my friend Sugarr tried to intervene as he had done in the taxi, but this time he earned a nasty slap for his efforts.
Around 7.30 am, the boat pulled to the shore at Oron. After we got our passports stamped at the Customs post, Sugarr asked me how I intended to move. Unable to think of anything better, I offered him my room in exchange for whatever it cost to take him to Benin City. He refused and instead paid my fare to Aba, where he took me to his wife’s shop and gave me money to continue my journey to Benin City. I took his address in my diary, thanked him profusely and drove into the parking lot he had described.
Resume work, on schedule, in Guinness Benin!
A few hours later I was in Benin City. Before they were 14:00 the same day, I resumed work as Duty Brewer in the afternoon shift, and none of those I spoke to or met at work could have said (to look at me) that I just completed a sixteen (16) hour overnight journey across the Atlantic Ocean from Cameroon to Benin City, Nigeria. As well I I couldn’t believe it for a long time afterwards. Among other things, I kept wondering how it was that Sugarr had appeared at the exact moment when I most needed help to achieve my goal.
Two years later, in 2001, I returned to Cameroon (in the company’s work), but despite my efforts, I was unable to locate Sugarr.
Until today, I could not find it. However, I will never forget the wonderful role he played in helping me achieve my goal. Napoleon Hill in his book “Think and Grow Rich” said, when your magnificent obsession takes you completely, you will find that people and events begin to combine in a way that will eventually help you achieve. I believe that is exactly what happened when I focused my mind on returning to Benin at that definite time so that I could resume work as planned.
From the day I had that experience, I became convinced that Hill was right when he wrote that “whatever the human mind can conceive, it can achieve.”
But you might ask: How has my learning to speak French “The hard way” helped me in my career?
My answer is that not only has it helped me a lot in my career, but it has also opened many opportunities for me outside the workplace – new friends, etc. For example, in April 2001 (almost 2 years later), I was selected along with three senior managers – among the fourteen who attended the pilot course at the Sheraton Hotel, Lagos – to attend an International Coaching Conversation Facilitators Course of 1 week in Douala, Cameroon (note that the company and most of the managers have no idea at this time. that he could speak, read and write in French).
Read my article entitled Achieve Your Goals Despite Adversity – Two short but true stories that tell HOW to learn how my ability to speak French helped me to be noticed by senior colleagues (including the expatriate General Manager of Guinness Cameroon), even as I gained the admiration and respect/friendship of others with whom I attended the course.
“If you are weak in a crisis, you are really weak!“- Anon
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