CHAPTER 2 : The Dark Journey
When I was on the plane.. I kept asking myself what to expect from Africa? I had never landed my foot there except for one transit at Johannesburg Airport.. when I was on my way to Peru. I asked myself, do they speak English too? or just french? or just their own language? Are they the same like everybody else? or are they different? Like most people in this world… I only saw Africa on the tv, the safari.. the tribes.. the scenery.. etc etc.. Malaria..? Oh scary!… My fear turned to excitement when I thought about my chances to see the safari and savana.. And there was only one thing that I was confident about.. that I would be a rare species there..
I finally arrived at Johannesburg.. It seemed that the airport shared many things in common like any other airport.. Then I called my superior who was based there.. Mr Abdul Kabur. He fetched me up and took me for a short drive around Johannesburg.. When I was in the car, my heart beat went faster and faster upon seeing some guys with guns right in the middle of town.. I asked Kabur.. “What’s going on here..?” He said “Shhhhh.. We need to pass by this road.. We can’t stay in Johannesburg.. You see all these shops in the middle of town..? They used to be operated by the whites.. now most of them have moved to Sandton.. for safety reasons!!” I said “Tell me more!!” Kabur said “Day light robbery and killings can happen even at the traffic light when your car stops!” By this time.. I started to keep quiet because the more I knew.. the more my legs trembled. I thought to myself.. let me ask him later.
As we reached Sandton, Kabur explained to me in details about how the arpatheid regime was thrown off and now South Africa practices Democracy.. however at that point of time.. the crime rate was far too high.. “Now I want to go home! to Malaysia!” I said to Kabur. “Relax Ray” Kabur said, “You won’t have to work here, you will be sent to Republic of Guinea. Within 2 days, you have a new responsibility to manage a newly bought hotel consession.. You will be the General Manager of Grand Unity Hotel! You should be excited, shouldn’t you?” I paused for a while… Then I drew a smile and said.. “Hmmm.. yea.. I’m excited.” I was 31 years of age at that time. I had been a General Manager of a small hotel in Langkawi 2 years before that.. but just for a few months before I got this job.. and that was the only experience that I had. I was anxious to know more about the hotel which I was going to manage. So I asked Kabur for more details, and he said “Why don’t you go there and find out for yourself?”
The next day, Kabur bought me a ticket to The Republic of Guinea. There was no direct flight. I had to transit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast for one day.. and expected to arrive in Republic of Guinea the day after. I was shocked to find out that the one way ticket to Conakry Guinea cost us USD 700 (about RM 1700 then), compared to RM2000 from Kuala Lumpur to Johannesburg return! I was wondering if the cost of living was higher in Africa than Malaysia? “Of course it is!” I answered that to myself. “Bye Kabur! See you soon!” Off I went.. by Air Afrike. I reached Abidjan.. queueing at the immigration check point. The airport was definitely different! There were so many people of all kinds.. There were many europeans and africans.. some in traditional clothes, some in modern clothes.. and here I am with my suit on!
And now it’s my turn at the check point. “Passeport s’il vous plait!” meaning passport please. I spoke very little French then.. even though I did the course at school when I was 15 and 16 years old.. I had forgotten so much and actually I hardly ever used it anyway. Then the man said again “Ou est votre VISA monsieur?” and I went..”haaaa…? VISA? VISA to Ivory Coast?” I was really shocked! I had never thought that I need a VISA to enter Ivory Coast! He said something in French among them which I really couldn’t figure out what they were saying. The next thing I knew.. one man said to me “Attendez ici s’il vout plait!” I understood that one.. it means “wait here please” So I waited for about more than half an hour. Then a man with a tie came to me and said “You need a Visa to come here, or someone must invite you to the country before you can come here.” Then I replied to him “I want to go to Conakry Guinea..not here!” Then he said again “There is no more plane to Conakry today. U must go tomorrow. Come. I take you to the hotel now.” He took me to the hotel which was within the airport itself. I knew that I only had USD300 in my pocket, that’s all. Even before he took me to the reception, I told him “I can’t afford to stay here.” He said “You must stay here because you don’t have a Visa. I will keep your passport and return it to you tomorrow.” So, I reluctantly paid USD200 just to stay for one night. I was hoping the remaining USD100 left will be sufficient for me to reach my destination…
That night.. someone came and knocked on my door. At first, I was afraid to open it. But he kept on knocking and called out my name. Then I felt safer to open the door. I wasn’t sure if he was the same officer, but definitely looked the same to me and he asked me “How are you?” “Fine” I said.. eventhough I knew I was not fine.. what a horrible day I thought. Then he told me.. “My family is very poor. My wife is very sick. I don’t have enough money to buy medicine. You must help me.” I said “How?” and he replied “Give me some money” At this point of time.. I was wondering whether he was telling the truth or just lying to me. Then I had my second thought, what if he is not lying, what if his wife dies tomorrow, shouldn’t I help my own muslim fellow? Then I made my decision, I’ll help him and I’ll leave it to the hands of God. I had a USD100 dollar note with me..then I said.. “Ok my friend.. I will give you 20 dollars only because I only have one hundred dollars. But I need to change this money first.” He replied with excitement, in french of course.. meaning “You are very kind.. may God help you always.. Thank you very much Sir” He said again ” I’ll go and change the money for you.. don’t go out because it is very dangerous at this hour.” Given him the benefit of the doubt, I let him went alone.. So he left the room…. and I waited.. waited.. and waited for more than 2 hours.. he didn’t come back. There I was.. trying to help someone.. but now with no money at all.. no food.. no drinks.. hungry.. dissappointed.. donno what to do… and donno what to expect tomorrow…
To be continued… DjRay