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I Travelled 12 Hours Overnight, By Sea, In A Leaky Boat – From Cameroon To Nigeria – Without Money!
Thinking of going to Cameroon
It all started in June 1999 when I finished my three-month French language program at a school in Benin City. I realized that although I was already comfortable reading and writing French, I was not able to speak it as fluently as I wanted to. For example, I still struggled to easily answer simple questions or hold a short conversation without pausing and blurting out the words “emem and hmms”!
So, I told my teacher that I want to go to any French-speaking country and spend my annual vacation to improve my speaking skills. After some thought, he decided that although Cote D’Ivoire would be a good place to go, (because of the cost) he would send me to live with his family in Cameroon (Yes, my teacher is from Cameroon). In this way, following his instructions in a letter to them through me, his brother and sisters would help me find more opportunities to learn French.
I went to Cameroon by road (via 2 border towns: Ikom in Nigeria and Ekok in Cameroon) for two reasons. First, it was the only way my N12, 500.00 (about $125 US Dollars left over from my annual leave) would be enough for the trip (I was told that a return air ticket is N30, 000.00 – $300 USD – at that time. ). Second, it gave me the opportunity to socialize with French speakers once I crossed the border.
Being able to listen to locals speaking French themselves; Having the gendarmes ask me for my passport and visa in French (it’s not often that I meet someone who can speak English!) helped me consolidate my learning quickly. Using the money I saved from traveling on the road, I was able to buy many books and magazines published in French – including those written by authors who are well known to us abroad because of their works such as James Hadley Chase, Agatha Christie and others. I studied extensively while there, and returned to Nigeria to continue my studies.
Attempting to Return to Nigeria – The Game Begins!
But back to my homecoming woes. Let me give you an idea of what it was like. That July morning in Douala, I asked my friend for the money he promised to pay me back, and he told me that he asked his boss to pay me my salary. He left for work and told me to call him at 9.00am so that he could give me directions to go to his office and collect the money. When it was 9.00am I called him. I was very disappointed when he told me that he would not take the money and started apologizing profusely, begging me to start my journey without the money!
I was so shocked that I couldn’t speak. When I got myself some more, I told him (as much as I could manage!) I was very upset that he put me in such a big trouble knowing that it was my first trip to this country (where I’ve been to a lot. I’m so sorry). I hung up the phone in disgust, thinking fast and hard.
One thing was clear in my mind. I had to return to the Guinness Benin factory (in Edo State, Nigeria) to resume the afternoon shift by 2.00pm the next day. I was tired for the rest of the days waiting for my friend to come with my money. It was around 10.00am in the morning. I rode my bike to the city center and asked about other cheap ways to get to Nigeria.
I remembered when I met Nigerian businessmen who lived in the city, that they mentioned a small port where Nigerian businessmen used to enter Douala with goods and agricultural produce to sell. Later someone gave me directions on how to take the transportation to a place called “Idinao port”. The journey was not easy for me as the various checkpoints meant that I had to face repeated questions from the gendarmes. Sometimes when the passengers were asked to pay one or the other amount, since I didn’t have a few CFAs left, I was getting a lot of trouble from the police.
Saved by the “Guardian Angel”
At the end of the trip, while checking the last place, I was saved from a very dangerous gendarme, who, seeing my passport, asked me about my intentions to leave the country through the port of Idinao. A young man who had silently watched me go through hardships since the beginning of the trip, and who was apparently well-known as a businessman in Douala, spoke to me, saying that I was his younger brother (he was from Nigeria). I came to see him, and that he was taking me back to Nigeria! I was very grateful and told him so. However, at the same time I was surprised that this person spoke like this to someone he did not know. But as I found out later, it hadn’t even started!
When we got to the port, he told me his name was “Sugarr” (a nickname, and that’s what he wrote in my book). His voice revealed that he belonged to the Igbo tribe (I am Yoruba). He asked me where I went, and I told him Benin City. He then explained that the boats from Idinao would arrive in Oron in twelve hours, after which I had to travel for several hours to reach Aba, and then Benin. Then he took me to the owner of a big but old boat who was his best friend. The owner of the boat – known as “Delta” (another name) – agreed to let me board with the few CFAs I left as payment following Sugarr’s request – and after I gave him my Olympus Stylus camera to complete the payment!
Help! Me? Sailing in an Old, Dirty Boat for 12 Hours in Heavy Rain?
It was when they said yes, that I looked closely at the boat that I was supposed to be traveling in with many other people—and their countless bags of produce. The big boat rocked again and again as the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashed against its sides, and I could see that the water was gathering at the bottom to show that it was coming out! I had never been on a boat before and to make matters worse, a local radio station had just announced that many Nigerians had died in a boat bound for Oron in the past few days!!
The few people who wanted to board next to me were excitedly talking about the people they knew who were on the boat. I started to panic, but the idea of not being able to start work again when I was supposed to (I didn’t take my job for granted, and I always wanted to do what I always expected), prevented me from changing. my thoughts. I picked up my bags and entered the boat. The rain soon turned into a downpour and I used the little money I found in my pockets to buy one of the big nylon bags that people use as modified raincoats (by cutting holes in the bottom and sides of the head. and arms through).
We had to wait from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm for the tour to start. I had no food since waking up, and I had no money to buy food.
However, all I could think about was getting back to Benin City in time to take up a job as a brewer in the morning. I was sure. As for the fear of the boat tossing about in the sea, I quickly gave up all excuses not to proceed, when I saw about five old merchants settled in the bottom of the boat, with their bags of produce near them. , I’m just sleeping! “If he’s not worried, then I shouldn’t be!” I told myself.
The Journey Home Begins
We traveled under the heavy rain in Delta’s large stationary motor boat for more than 12 hours at night (from 7.00pm to 7.30am). In the first four hours of the trip, for the first time I encountered what I had read in books about sea voyages: Seasickness. I started feeling dizzy and wanted to throw up many times. Fortunately, after a while, my body seemed to get used to the sound of a boat on the sea, and after that I won.
During the “journey” we came across about 5 water control points which are manned by Gendarmes, Police, Customs, Army and Drug Users respectively. Usually “water” or fines had to be paid by the passengers, and as you can imagine, since I had no money, I always got special attention – including heavy slaps. At one point my friend Sugarr tried to intervene as he does in the taxi, but this time he was slapped for his efforts.
Around 7.30am the boat left and went ashore in Oron. When we got our passports stamped at the Customs office, Sugarr asked me how to move. Thinking of nothing better, I gave him my camera in exchange for whatever was paid for the ride to Benin City. He refused and instead paid for my trip 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 went to the parking lot he described.
I resume work, on schedule, at Guinness Benin!
A few hours later I was in Benin City. Before 2pm that day, I was back on duty as a Duty Brewer for the evening, and none of the people I spoke to or met at work would have told me (by looking at me) that I had just completed a one night (16) hour journey across the Atlantic Ocean from Cameroon to in Benin City, Nigeria. Although Me He didn’t believe it for a long time after that. Among other things, I wondered how it was that Sugarr appeared at a time when I needed help to achieve my goal.
Two years later, in 2001, I returned to Cameroon (with a company job), but despite my efforts, I could not find Sugarr.
To this day I have not found him. However, I will never forget the good work he did in helping me achieve my goal. Napoleon Hill in his book “Think and Grow Rich” said, when your greatest passion overcomes you, you will find that people and events will begin to come together in a way that will help you achieve it. I believe that is what happened when I set my sights on returning to Benin at a certain time to continue the work as planned.
From the day I experienced this, I was convinced that Hill was right when he wrote that “whatever the human mind can imagine, it can achieve”.
But You May Ask: How Has Learning to Speak French “The Hard Way” Helped Me in My Career?
My answer is that it not only helped me a lot in my work, but also gave me a lot of opportunities outside of work – new friends and so on. For example, in April 2001 (almost 2 years later), I was selected together. and three senior managers – out of the fourteen who participated in the pilot training at the Sheraton Hotel, Lagos – to participate in the 1 week International Coaching Conversations Facilitators Course in Douala, Cameroon (note that the company and most of the managers did not know at the time that I can speak, read and write French).
Read my article titled Achieving Your Goals DESPITE PROBLEMS – Two Short But True Stories That Tell How to learn how my ability to speak French helped me to be recognized by my senior colleagues (including the Managing Director of Guinness Cameroon), even when I began to be appreciated and respected/friended by some of my fellow students.
“If you’re weak in trouble, you’re really weak!“-Amen
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