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I Travelled 12 Hours Overnight, By Sea, In A Leaky Boat – From Cameroon To Nigeria – Without Money!
He decided to travel to Cameroon
It all started in June 1999 after I completed my 3-month intensive French language program at a language school in Benin City. I realized that even though I was quite comfortable reading and writing French, I still hadn’t reached the level of fluency I wanted. For example, I still found it difficult to answer simple questions easily or to carry on a conversation for short periods of time without having to pause and interrupt.
So I told my teacher that I wanted to travel to any French-speaking country and spend part of my annual vacation there to improve my fluency. After some deliberation, he decided that although Ivory Coast would have been the most favorable location, he would (for cost reasons) send him to his family in Cameroon (Yes, my teacher is Cameroonian). In this way, following the instructions in the letter written by his brother and sisters through me, many opportunities would open up in practicing the French language.
I went to Cameroon by road (via 2 border towns: Ikom in Nigeria and Ekok in Cameroon) for two reasons. Firstly, it was the only way that the N12,500.00 (about US$125 left over from my annual leave) would have been enough for the trip (I was told that a return flight was N30,000.00 – US$300 back then ). Second, it allowed me to mix with French-speaking people after crossing the border.
He can listen to the natives speaking French to themselves; Having the gendarmes ask for my passport and visa in French (I didn’t often meet an English speaker!) helped me consolidate my learning faster. With the money I saved on the road, I was able to buy a lot of novels and magazines published in French – including those written by authors who are well known for their work here, e.g. James Hadley Chase, Agatha Christie, etc. I read it regularly while he was there and took it back to Nigeria to continue using my studies.
Trying to get back to Nigeria – the drama begins!
But back to my traumatic homecoming. Let me give you a little picture of what it was like. That July morning in Douala, I asked my friend for the money, which he promised to return to me and said he had asked his boss for an advance payment. He went to work telling me to call him by 9am to give him directions to go over to his office and pick up the money on the way. I called a few minutes after 9 o’clock. To my astonishment, he told me that he could not have the money and started apologizing, begging me to leave without it!
I was almost speechless. Recovering a bit, I told him (in as dignified a tone as I could muster!) how disappointed I was that he had put me in such a dire situation, knowing that this was my first visit to the country (for which I received an even more profound apology). I hung up the phone in disgust and thought fast and very hard.
One thing was very clear in my mind. I had to return to Guinness Benin Brewery (Edo State, Nigeria) to continue the afternoon shift by 2:00pm the next day at the latest. I used up the remaining days of my leave and waited for my friend to come up with my money. It was about 10 in the morning. I cycled into the city center and inquired about alternative routes for cheap Nigeria travel.
When I met some Nigerian traders who lived in the town, I remembered that they had mentioned a small port where Nigerian traders often came to Douala with goods and agricultural products to sell. Finally, someone gave me directions to a place called “Idinao” port. The trip was not smooth for me, as I had to repeatedly listen to gendarmerie questions due to the various checkpoints. On occasions when passengers were asked to pay one fee or another, as there was no more than CFA left, I rather received a bit of harassment from the officers.
Saved by a “guardian angel”
Towards the end of the road, at the last checkpoint, I was rescued from a particularly aggressive gendarme, who, seeing my passport, questioned my intention to leave the country through the port of Idinao. A gentleman who had been quietly watching me go through the problems since the beginning of the trip, and who was apparently quite well known as a trader in Douala, spoke on my behalf and said that I was his younger brother (he was from Nigeria) who had come to visit and that he would take me back To Nigeria! I was more than grateful and told him so. At the same time, I was surprised that this person made such a gesture to an unknown person. But as I was to find out later, it didn’t even start!
After we got down to the harbor he said his name was “Sugarr” (a nickname and that’s exactly what he wrote in my journal). His accent gave away that he belonged to the Igbo tribe (I’m Yoruba). He asked me where I was going and I told him Benin City. He then explained that the ships from Idinao would arrive in Oron in twelve hours, after which I would have to travel a few more hours to get to Aba and then Benin. Then he took me to the owner of one of the large but aged ships, who was a personal friend of his. The boat owner – also known as “Delta” (another nickname) – agreed to let me board with the few CFAs I had left as payment at Sugarr’s request – and after I desperately offered him my Olympus Stylus camera to complete the salary!
Help! Me? Travel in a leaky, rickety old boat for 12 hours in torrential rain?
Only after she said yes did I take a good look at the ship I was to travel with so many people – and their countless bags of produce. The big ship creaked several times as the waves of the Atlantic crashed against the side and I could see water pooling in the bottom, suggesting it was leaking! I had never been to sea before and to make matters worse, a nearby man’s radio had just reported that many Nigerians had died in a boat bound for Oron a few days earlier!
Some of the prospective passengers next to me talked excitedly about the people they knew who were on that ship. I was starting to get really scared, but the thought of not being there on time to continue the tasks when I was supposed to (I never took my job lightly and always wanted to do what was expected of me) kept me from changing. my mind. I grabbed my bags and got into the boat. The drizzle soon turned into a downpour, and with several coins I found in my pocket, I had to buy one of the large plastic bags that people used as modified raincoats (rough holes cut in the bottom and sides of the head). and arms to pass).
We had to wait from about 4pm to 7pm before the ride could start. I hadn’t eaten since waking up, and I had no money to buy food.
Still, all I could think about was getting back to Benin City in time to take over as morning brewmaster. I was determined. As for the fear of the boat capsizing at sea, I quickly dismissed any excuse not to proceed when I saw about five elderly merchant women settled in the lower part of the boat with sacks of produce beside them. , and just fall asleep! “If they’re not worried, then I certainly shouldn’t be!” I said to myself.
The journey home begins
We traveled in heavy rain in Delta’s big rickety old speedboat for over 12 hours through the night (7:00pm to 7:30am). In the first four hours of the trip, I experienced for the first time what I read about in books about sea travel: seasickness. I felt dizzy and wanted to throw up many times. Fortunately, after a while my body seemed to get used to the rhythm of the sea boat and after that I got over it.
During the “journey” we ran into about 5 different water checkpoints with gendarmes, police, customs, navy and drug checks. Many times I had to pay some sort of “water charge” or fee to the passengers, and as you can imagine, since I had no money, I always got special attention – including some serious slaps. On one occasion, my friend Sugarr tried to intervene, like in the taxi, but this time he got a dirty slap for his efforts.
At approximately 7:30 a.m., the ship came ashore at Oron. After we got our passports stamped at customs, Sugarr asked how I intended to move. Since I couldn’t think of anything better, I offered him my camera in exchange for whatever it would cost to take it to Benin City. He refused and instead paid the fare to Aba where he then took me to his wife’s shop and gave me money to continue my journey to Benin City. I entered his address in my diary, thanked him gratefully, and headed to the parking lot he described.
I continue to work, on schedule, in Guinness Benin!
A few hours later I was in Benin City. I resumed work as Duty Brewer on the afternoon shift just before 2pm that day and no one I spoke to or met at work could tell (by looking) that I had just finished a sixteen (16) hour overnight journey across the Atlantic Ocean from Cameroon to Benin City, Nigeria. Yet I he didn’t believe it for a long time afterwards. Among other things, I wondered how it was that Sugarr appeared at the exact moment when I most needed help to reach my goal.
Two years later, in 2001, I returned to Cameroon (on corporate duty) but despite my best efforts, I was unable to find Sugarr.
To this day I have not been able to find it. However, I will never forget the amazing role he played in helping me reach my goal. Napoleon Hill said in his book “Think and Grow Rich” that when your wonderful obsession takes hold of you, you will find that people and events begin to come together in ways that will eventually help you achieve it. I think that is exactly what happened when I focused my mind on getting back to Benin at the appointed time so that I could continue the work as scheduled.
From the day I had this experience, I was convinced that Hill was right when he wrote that “whatever the human mind can conceive, it can achieve.”
But you may ask: How did learning to speak French, “the hard way,” help my career?
My answer is that not only has it helped me a lot in my career, but it has also opened up many opportunities for me outside of my workplace – new friends, etc. with three senior managers – out of the fourteen who attended the pilot course at the Sheraton Hotel, Lagos – to attend a 1-week international coaching conversation facilitator course in Douala, Cameroon (note that the company and most of the managers had no idea that I knew French speak, read and write).
Read my article with the title Achieve Your Goals Despite Adversity – Two Short But True Stories That Tell You HOW to learn how my ability to speak French helped me get noticed by my senior colleagues (including the expatriate managing director of Guinness Cameroon), even as I gained the admiration and respect/friendship of others I took the course with.
“If you’re weak in a crisis, you’re really weak!“- Anon
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