Must Read: Conflicted Destiny… Part 55

A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part Fifty Four, read it HERE!!!

Afterword

My story continues in my next book, More Conflicted Destiny: A U.S. Marine Made in Africa, which chronicles my experiences in America and more than 40 other countries; how I joined the elite fighting force called the United States Marine Corps, went from the rank of private to major, and commanded troops in Iraq and many other places; the role I played before and during the January 12, 2010, Haiti earthquake disaster as the United Nations military spokesman/public information officer for the UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH); my interaction with prominent figures including President Bill Clinton, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Ambassador Susan Rice, General Chikadibia Obiakor, General Floriano Peixoto, General Peter Pace, General P.K. Keen, Academy Award-winning actor Sean Penn, and Academy Award-winning producer Fisher Stevens, with whom I collaborated on two documentaries; and my eventual return to Liberia as part of the U.S. military observer contingent for the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

Acknowledgments

First, my sincere appreciation goes to Oprah Winfrey, who, unbeknownst to her, has inspired me tremendously ever since my arrival in the United States. Her goodwill efforts through her Angel Network, as well as her other endeavors, have been a great source of motivation to me. While I was serving as chief military public information officer/spokesperson for the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, a group of children living in the slums of Cit? Soleil, Port Au Prince, handed me a bunch of handwritten notes to deliver to Oprah. A few weeks later, on January 12, 2010, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, killing most of those children. I was eventually able to mail their notes to Oprah’s production company in December 2011. I hope that Oprah received them.
I owe a lot to my good friend, Academy Award-winning producer (The Cove), actor, and director Fisher Stevens, who motivated me to start writing my memoir before it was too late. Fish, it was a great pleasure working with you on the Culture Project film The War Against War. The memory of our good friends who died in the plane crash and in the earthquake will live on.
To my beloved hero and grandmother Nwanyi Burunnu—you have a special place in my heart. May your soul rest in peace. To my father, Monday Amadi Onyechere, I wish you were here to assess whether I indeed lived up to your image of me; rest in peace “Dede.” Uncle Francis, rest in peace.
Special thanks to the entire families of Amadi, Onyechere, Ewurum, and Ihetu.
Last but not least, a very special thank you to my dear friend Liz Rooney, who has been in my corner for a while now, urging me to join forces with her in her showbiz operations (Orange County TV).

***THE END***

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Must Read: Conflicted Destiny… Part 54

A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part Fifty Three, read it HERE

Meanwhile, Maria Joana received bad news from her job: she had been posted to Mallorca, effective immediately. I was devastated and had no idea what this new situation would mean for our relationship. However, she allayed my concerns and promised to not only support my effort to go to the U.S., but also help pay my first semester of tuition and fees. She would also allow me to use her property document and bank account as evidence that she was my sponsor when I went for my interview at the U.S. embassy. I was very pleased by her unending kindness and knew that it was God using her to help me. Within a week I had obtained visas from Germany and three other European Union countries. I had no intention of traveling to any of these countries, except maybe Germany, to see Chibuike.
That same week Maria Joana moved to Mallorca. We agreed that I would rent out two of the extra rooms in our apartment to raise money to sustain myself, pending the outcome of my U.S. visa application. My plan B was to move to Sweden if my application was denied.
Maria Joana’s move to Mallorca completely changed the equation of our relationship. I couldn’t move there with her because of her racist family and her fear that if they found out about us, she would be disinherited. To me, this was the final play. I could either get it right and pursue my future in the U.S. or play it wrong and live in perpetual regret in Europe, which, to me, was an environment where black people had little or no meaningful chance of freely exploring their full potential.
On the day of my interview, I arrived at the U.S. embassy in Madrid full of anticipation and anxiety, knowing that my future would be determined by what happened there that day. I had prepped myself well for the interview; I had relaxed my hair and trimmed it nicely, and bought new clothes and shoes just so I could project responsibility. As I sat waiting to be called for my interview, pondering what the future held for me, I noticed the officer in a booth in front of me going through the passports dropped for him to process. At one point he picked up my passport, looked at it, and flipped through the pages. He then called the attention of the officer next to him. I knew that Nigerian passports always attracted attention, given our reputation. The officer showed my passport to his colleague, and I heard him say, “Another one.” His colleague looked at it and they both laughed, saying that Nigerians would stop at nothing in carrying out their fraud. They wondered why anyone who had recently gotten married would leave his wife to travel to another country to study. When they were done, they tossed my passport aside. My heart immediately sunk to my stomach, and I wondered if this was how the journey would end for me.
I prayed silently in my seat and waited. A strange calm and inexplicable confidence came over me when my name was called, and I walked up to the booth. Already knowing what the officer thought of me, I decided to take charge and do things my own way. He asked for my Form I-20 and other documents. As he looked them over, I started to explain how supportive my wife had been all the while, and as I spoke, I handed him the documents for our apartment, Maria Joana’s bank statements, and paperwork to prove that she worked in a bank. Suddenly, the officer looked up from checking my documents and asked if I could wait to pick up my visa that afternoon. I was a little startled by the question because I had expected to be probed and interrogated. Nevertheless, I decided to play it calm and with a little cockiness. I said that I would love to leave for Barcelona that afternoon, and that if it was okay, I would prefer that the embassy mail my passport to my house in Barcelona. The officer said that was fine. He congratulated me and asked me when I intended to depart for the United States, given that my school was scheduled to start on January 2, 1995. I told him I planned to travel on December 30. The officer said I should expect to receive my passport in a few days.
I thanked him and strolled out of the embassy, thinking that I was a crazy fool to walk away instead of waiting to collect my visa. What if something happened or they changed their minds? All the same, I walked away from the embassy, counting my blessings and thinking that day was the best one of my life.
Indeed, a few days later, I received my passport—and lo and behold, I had been granted an F-1 student visa to study in the United States of America. I was in seventh heaven. I spent the next few months traveling and getting ready. I went to Düsseldorf, Germany, and stayed with Chibuike for a few days. I traveled by road through France, and the trip brought back a lot of bad memories, but all of that was behind me now. I would soon be going to the land of freedom.
I left the shores of Europe on December 30, 1994, for New York City. I went through immigration and customs at JFK Airport without incident. Ike, my old friend from secondary school, was waiting to pick me up.
It was a whole new world for me—indeed, the beginning of a new life.

To Be Continued…

Must Read: Conflicted Destiny… Part 53

A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part Fifty Two, read it HERE

My worries turned out to be baseless. A few days after my ordeal, the Spanish authorities granted my request and issued me a permanent resident’s permit. I was happy and willing to ignore the reason they had chosen to expedite the process for me. Obviously, their actions were a bit self-serving—to make themselves look good after the incident with the municipal police, which had brought about a potentially high-profile lawsuit—but it worked for me all the same. The authorities didn’t stop their manipulations at just issuing me a resident’s permit; they made sure that no stone was left unturned in manipulating the organization that was representing me.
After my release from detention, I kept visiting the organization’s office to find out the status of the lawsuit. At first, everyone seemed highly motivated and convinced that our case against the authorities was very strong, especially with all the evidence and the witnesses willing to testify on my behalf. However, as time passed, their enthusiasm started wearing thin. This started right about the same time the government issued my permit. Somehow, the organization became less straightforward with me and, once again, my hope for justice was dashed.
Meanwhile, the prospect of traveling to the U.S. for my education had never looked better now that I had my resident’s permit, and I wasted no time in getting the process started. First, I visited the American Institute in Barcelona, which was run by the U.S. consulate. I spent many hours in their library researching viable, affordable two-year colleges in the U.S. Finally, my efforts paid off: I found the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia. It was a two-year college that offered associate degrees in many fields. Annual tuition and fees came to $7,500, much cheaper than every other school I looked at. I took down the address and other necessary information, and the next day I placed a crucial call to the dean of students. He seemed very kind and was pleased to help me enroll in the school. He told me the exact requirements and everything else I needed to facilitate the process. Apart from completing the enrollment application, I had to show proof that I had the money to finance my studies for one year. This basically meant I had to obtain a bank statement showing that I had at least $7,500 in my account.
I knew that this was it—my last opportunity to reach the Promised Land—and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me. I put on all my charm with Maria Joana. It took me several days to get her to deposit $20,000 into my account, and when she grudgingly did, she made it very clear that she would take the money back as soon as I had completed my enrollment process. However, she later agreed to let the money stay until after I obtained my student visa. I mailed the completed application and the bank statement to the school, and within a couple of weeks I received a copy of Form I-20, which showed that I was eligible to apply through the U.S. embassy for an F-1 student visa. A duplicate copy of the form was sent to the embassy to let them know that the school had accepted my application.
Having Form I-20 did not, by any means, guarantee me a visa. I still had to go through the interview and would be granted a visa only if I passed. I wasn’t willing to leave anything to fate at this point; I had to work extra hard to make sure I had covered all my bases before going for my interview. The best thing I had going for me was that I had been smart enough to return to Nigeria and get my own passport, with my legitimate name and information. It would have been a great tragedy for me to have finally gotten into the U.S. bearing somebody else’s name and living their life. The issue that might pose a challenge was that I now had a virgin passport. Apart from the Spanish visa, the exit stamp from Nigeria, and the entry stamp to Spain, there was no proof that I was a regular traveler. It was widely believed that most embassies, especially the U.S., tended to refuse visas to people who had no proof of being frequent travelers. With that in mind, I embarked on a quest to obtain as many visas as possible from European Union countries. The task wouldn’t be difficult, given that the resident’s permit issued to me by the Spanish authorities was the new European Union permit.

To Be Continued…

Must Read: Conflicted Destiny… Part 52

A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part Fifty One, read it HERE

An Igbo proverb says that the cow that does not have a tail relies on the almighty God to fend off flies for it. I hadn’t realized that the people who had witnessed my beating with seeming nonchalance had indeed been concerned. I later found out that some of them had reported the incident to an anti-racism and civil liberties organization that had an office a block from the plaza. The organization immediately set a campaign in motion against the municipal police, but I was completely unaware of what was going on outside of the detention center. The only things going through my mind were when the humiliation would end, what Maria Joana’s reaction would be, and if this incident would stop me from getting my immigrant status.
I was abruptly released from custody right before my court hearing, and this baffled more than pleased me. Perhaps some other person would have accepted the news and gone on his merry way, but not me. I had to know what had happened. As I started questioning the authorities, I saw her—a slim brunette of average height. She flashed a smile of satisfaction as she walked up to me and introduced herself as a representative of the anti-racism and civil liberties organization that was fighting on my behalf. She explained what they had been doing behind the scenes, and also that Maria Joana had been very worried about me, but they had assured her that everything would be fine. I thanked her for their effort, but I couldn’t leave the court until I found out the implications of what had happened. I had the lady confirm from the authorities that I was indeed innocent and that the record would reflect the truth. She also received assurance that the incident would not in any way affect my pending application for a resident’s permit. She also explained that her organization had already taken my case a step further by filing a legal suit against the municipal police authority.
I followed her to her office, where she took down my statement. She advised me to stop by from time to time to check on the case, and also to be available when the court started hearing my case.
Maria Joana was really happy to have me back and, as fate would have it, a Good Samaritan found Quis, managed to locate Maria Joana, and returned her dog to her. But I was uneasy. Even though I had been assured that the incident was not my fault and would have no negative effect on my application, I wasn’t completely convinced. There were still a few months left before the final adjudication for my permit, and until then, my nerves could not be calmed….
*********************

To Be Continued…

Must Read: Conflicted Destiny… Part 51

A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part Fifty, read it HERE

After what seemed like the longest week of my life, Maria Joana informed me that she had obtained and sent the required documents to the Spanish embassy. I was immensely relieved, but I knew it would be premature to start popping the Champagne just yet. I still needed to return to the embassy to be interviewed, after which they would decide whether or not to issue the immigrant visa to me. I prayed and fasted, asking God to make them grant me the visa. I was at my cousin’s house in Ikeja, and when I left her house the morning of my interview, no one thought I had a chance. But their doubt and underestimation only spurred me on. Fortunately, just as I had prayed, my interview went very smoothly. I was issued an immigrant visa, which would allow me to apply for the European Union resident’s permit when I arrived Spain. I was overjoyed. When I returned to my cousin’s house and showed everyone my visa, they were all shocked.
I traveled back to my state to bid farewell to my family and friends. It was amazing to see the change in people’s attitude toward me once they realized I would indeed be returning to Europe—they suddenly became very nice again. I didn’t care, though. I had seen them all for what they were and didn’t want to be associated with them. This was easier said than done; it would be very difficult to untangle the web of extended family tradition that had been enshrined in Igbo culture for centuries. But I knew the most important thing was to chart a course for myself and not worry about anybody but my immediate family.
I spent a few days with them and my grandmother Eunice, leaving enough cash to sustain them for a while. Most importantly, I let them know that it would be a while before I would be able to send them money, and that I would not be returning to Nigeria anytime soon. I also gave them the bus I had bought for the transportation business. I reckoned that the money it would bring would be more than enough to take care of all their daily needs, including my siblings’ school fees, in the absence of regular financial help from me. My family was happy with this arrangement, and I was pleased to know that I could focus on myself and not worry about how they would survive while I struggled to make my way in Europe or America.
At the beginning of May 1994, I returned to Barcelona. I had never thought I would be so thrilled to return to Spain after trying unsuccessfully several times to run away. But after my stressful experience in Nigeria, I was more than happy to be back, despite the challenges ahead. Not much had changed since I had left. However, there was a notable change in Maria Joana’s attitude toward me. She wasn’t mean, but there was a certain coldness in her demeanor. I asked her about it and she eventually revealed that her bank was poised to transfer her to Las Palmas, Canary Island, or her hometown, Palma de Mallorca. She loved Barcelona and wasn’t eager to move, but she was willing to choose Las Palmas if I would move there with her. This certainly wasn’t part of my plan. I had already submitted my application for the resident’s permit and was hoping that as soon as I got it, I would start the process of migrating to the USA. At the time, though, she was still my meal ticket and I couldn’t have her think of me as ungrateful. After deliberating on the issue, I started to think it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to live in Las Palmas. After all, that was where I had started and I was still very fond of the beautiful island.
I told Maria Joana that I liked the idea of Las Palmas, as long as I could travel to the U.S. and get my education first. She was very pleased, and from then on, it seemed like fate had once again aligned our future.
What had started as a marriage of convenience gradually turned into something of a real marriage. Maria Joana, who previously had no inclination toward childbearing, suddenly agreed to try having a child with me after we moved to Las Palmas. I had no idea why she changed her mind; maybe she suddenly realized how much she loved me, or had grown very familiar with me and was terrified of not having me around. For my part, I was obsessed with having children while I was still young and able, and as Maria Joana had suddenly changed her mind, I felt inclined to reciprocate. The idea of spending the rest of my life with Maria Joana had suddenly become very appealing to me, as long as I could go to school in America. Our plan seemed good and reasonable, and we were both very pleased with it. It was settled: I would go to the U.S. to study while she moved to Las Palmas, and during every vacation I would join her there. I would move back to Las Palmas permanently after obtaining my degree. With that decided, I waited patiently for my resident’s permit to be issued. The process usually took three months.
Life was great for a while. Everything was going according to plan, and there were no major misadventures or indiscretions on my part. I was even beginning to enjoy married life and had been faithful. Then, one afternoon in July when I was on my daily walk with Quis, he managed to break away from his leash and took off, with me running after him. Understandably, Quis got even more excited. He had been cooped up in the house all day and exploited the opportunity of being outside for a few hours. At some point I couldn’t see him, so I sped up, worried that I would lose him and that Maria Joana would be furious with me.
I made my way into the plaza, still running. Right in the center of the plaza, two municipal police officers were approaching from the opposite direction, and as I tried to run past them, they rudely ordered me to stop. The municipal police was supposed to be the friendliest organization in Cataluña. They had no power to enforce immigration law, and their job was mainly to patrol and guard municipal infrastructure and enforce parking laws. I obeyed them and stopped. They were heavily built and had an unusually menacing demeanor for municipal police officers. I was about to tell them that I was running after my dog, but before I could open my mouth, they started shouting at me: “Negro son of a Dam, what are you doing here?” They violently grabbed me and started to punch me, and I was completely stunned. I begged them to stop, all the while thinking it couldn’t be happening. I had done everything possible to avoid breaking the law, knowing that my getting a resident’s permit was contingent upon me having a clean record. It would be their word against mine. Usually, I wouldn’t fold my arms and let anyone, irrespective of who they were, to use me as punching bag. But on this occasion I let them. They threw me on the ground, stomped on me, and continued to punch me in the face and all over my body while I lay there, helpless, in anguish and riddled with pain. Within minutes a crowd gathered, but no one made any attempt to rescue me. Even if they had wanted to help, I don’t know how they could have. They were indeed as helpless as I was because the two men committing this atrocity were the authorities—the ones who were supposed to protect people and property.
After twenty minutes of beating, my limp body was dragged two hundred meters to Guardia Civil Station. I was later transferred to the central police station, and was processed and fingerprinted for a crime I was unaware of and that no one had explained to me. I was thrown in jail, awaiting trial. I remained confused throughout the entire ordeal because I didn’t understand why I was being detained; nonetheless, I remained calm and hopeful. I had no one to fight for me and wasn’t sure Maria Joana would know what had happened or where I was. Worst of all, I didn’t know what had happened to her precious dog. I eventually made peace with myself, knowing that I had done nothing wrong, and as usual I prayed, asking God not to let me spend more than three days there. The next day I was transferred to another detention center, where I was to remain until my court hearing.

To Be Continued…

Must Read: Conflicted Destiny… Part 50

A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part Forty Nine, read it HERE

After a while I calmed down and went back into the guest room with Maria Joana, and we gathered all our belongings. As we were leaving, my cousins were devastated and started to cry, begging us not to go, but we were determined not to stay there another minute. My cousin Uzochi helped us carry our bags, since it was late and there were no taxis. We walked about a mile to a hotel, where we found a room.
The following day, I took Maria Joana to my Aunt Comfort’s house and we spent a few hours there, after which I gave her a tour of the city. I showed her my secondary school, the house where I used to live with my uncle, St. Michael’s Primary School, the waterside, and the motor park where I used to hustle. Later that evening, we took an overnight bus ride to Jos; I had promised to take Maria Joana to the Yankari Game Reserve in Bauchi, not too far from there.
Jos is a very beautiful city, and many Europeans living in Nigeria prefer to live there because of its mild and pleasant climate. It’s a unique city situated on a plateau about four thousand feet above sea level, with beautiful vegetation and streets adorned with palm and date trees. We decided we would spend a day in Jos, so we booked a hotel room and took a tour of the city. We ended up at the local market, where we bought local jewelry and ointments. Maria Joana was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in Nigeria—its culture and people as well as the vegetation and climate. She seemed pleased with Jos and everything else she had seen.
Early the next day, we checked out of our hotel room and took a taxi to the motor park, where we were directed to the taxis heading to Bauchi State. We paid our fare and had to wait for other passengers to fill up the taxi before we could start the journey. The motor park was very large and was almost like a big market because of the many vendors, hawkers, and shops. There were more hawkers in the motor park than passengers, and everyone tried to sell us all kinds of things. It didn’t help that Maria Joana was white; she attracted a lot of attention. She was completely overwhelmed and exhausted, and people would not stop pestering her to buy things. The beggars were just as aggressive as the hawkers; they would send off their little children to specific targets, and the children would hang on to the person’s leg or clothes and wouldn’t let go until the person gave them some money. Maria Joana was horrified and I was about to lose my mind, but I remained calm and did my best to fend them all off. I gave money to the beggars and bought Maria Joana some dates from the vendors. After waiting at the park for about two hours, our taxi finally filled up and we started our journey to Bauchi. We arrived two and a half hours later.
Bauchi was not as beautiful as Jos, but it was a big city in any case. I had expected that there would be other vehicles going to the game reserve, but there were none. The reserve is far from the city in a remote location that covers about five hundred square kilometers, reaching up to Cameroon, and this allows the animals to roam free and unhindered by artificial borders or boundaries. We were eventually able to charter a taxi to the game reserve for an exorbitant amount of money. The road from Bauchi to Yankari was lonely and desolate. I thought I would see more tourists going to the reserve, which was one of the biggest in Africa. After several hours on the winding, dusty roads, we finally arrived at the gate of the reserve. Two hungry-looking security guards drinking tea in the shade welcomed us, and we paid the entrance fee. As I signed the visitors’ book, I noted the number of people that had come before us. We were about number forty thousand, and it amazed me that most of the visitors were foreigners. We got back in the taxi and drove inside the park to the housing area, about thirty kilometers away. Driving through the park, we were very excited; we saw lots of birds and some fresh elephant excrement. Getting closer to the accommodation area, we saw thousands of baboons milling around. There was a clear area like a football field where hundreds of baboons kicked around a round object, and we had to slow down to avoid running over some of them. I thought the name of the housing area should have been Baboon Camp.
The accommodation area was indeed very beautiful. There seemed to be more than five hundred cabana houses surrounded by trees. The houses were round and in African style, with thatched roofs. From the look of it, the cabanas had different categories; some seemed bigger than others. We went into the reception area to check in, and the receptionist told us about the types of accommodations. They had regular rooms, which were less expensive and located within the least beautiful cabanas. There were luxury rooms that were more expensive, and there were VIP rooms, which had air conditioning, were much larger, and were located in the prettiest cluster of cabanas. We paid for a VIP suite for five days, picked up brochures, and scheduled a safari. There was a restaurant that served continental and local dishes, and a museum with a gift shop. But the biggest attraction for us was the Wikki Warm Spring. As soon as we had checked into our room, we grabbed our towels and headed there. There were baboons all over the place, and signs warning visitors not to feed them. We ignored the signs and gave a few cookies to the baboons.
When we got to the edge of the hill, we had to climb down about five hundred feet to get to the warm springs. There were steps on the side of the hill, but it still wasn’t easy going down. As we got closer, we could see the clear blue water flowing below, starting from one end of the hill and flowing in the other direction. Amazingly, the bottom of the spring had clear white sand and you could see vapor rising from the water. The water flowed from a cave under the hill, and people stood by the side of the cave above the entrance and jumped into the water. Both sides were lined with trees, their branches leaning gracefully forward. We saw people climb up the trees and jump from them into the spring. All around, there were monkeys and baboons in the trees watching people swim.
We finally got to the bottom and put down our things by the pavement. We took off our clothes, folded them neatly, and laid them on our bags. After we had spread out our towels, we jumped into the water. It was so hot, it felt like fifty degrees Celsius. I was jolted as soon as I hit the water. I relaxed and tried to allow my body to adjust to the temperature, but after a few minutes I couldn’t take the burning anymore and I climbed out of the water. But I couldn’t stay out of the spring for long because there were blood-sucking tsetse flies everywhere and they stung like crazy—and unfortunately, they seemed immune to the insect repellant I was wearing. I jumped back into the water to prevent the flies from biting me, but even there, they would bite any exposed part of my skin. I decided to mentally block the inconvenience from the flies and proceeded to enjoy myself in the water.
Maria Joana and I had fun swimming and playing in the spring for quite a while. At one point, when we were the only ones left, something unexpected happened. A big baboon got down from the tree, nonchalantly grabbed all our clothes, and climbed back up. We spent more than half an hour begging the creature and making all kinds of expressions to get it to drop our clothes. After what seemed like ages, the baboon climbed onto a branch leaning directly over the spring, and as we watched, it dramatically let go of our clothes, which landed in the water. We weren’t upset, though; it was actually the highlight of our evening. Still marveling at how smart and mischievous the baboons were, we returned to our room, showered, and then went to have dinner.
The next morning, we were ready for our safari. We finished our breakfast before eight and were the first ones on the truck. A tour guide explained things as we drove along. First, we went to areas where the wild pigs were, and then on to the buffaloes and antelopes. After that, we went in search of elephants and before long ran into some herds. It was my first time seeing elephants, and there seemed to be a thousand of the giant creatures. They were eating up tree stumps as they moved, and some of them would not give way for our vehicle. One even got close to our truck, but never attacked us. It was beautiful observing the animals in their natural habitat. After three hours, we returned to the base camp, showered, and had our lunch. We went on the afternoon safari as well, and spent the rest of the evening at the Wikki Warm Spring.
Maria Joana and I did not adhere to the rules of the camp. Even inside the cabanas it was clearly written that visitors should not try to befriend the baboons or feed them. But in our naiveté, we felt we knew better than the camp keepers. Every morning before we left the cabana, we would leave food on the porch for the baboons, and by the time we got back, the food would be gone.
On the third day, we went on a trail with a tour guide and visited several ancient caves with what looked like rooms carved into their sides. The guide explained that people used to live in those rooms in ancient times, and there were still relics within them of the way the occupants had lived. There was writing on the walls and floors, and there were calabashes and broken pieces of objects that looked like cooking pots. We saw rocks of different shapes; I presumed the flat ones were used for grinding and the bigger ones for sitting. Though the rooms were primitive, I was fascinated by them and wouldn’t have minded spending a night or two in them. We later went deep into the bush and visited other places where people used to live. Around mid-day we went back to the camp, exhausted. Later that afternoon we went on another safari, and when we returned, we spent the rest of the evening by the warm spring. Fortunately for us, we didn’t have any encounters with the baboons this time, even though they followed us the entire time. We kept our eyes on our belongings all the while.
By the morning of the fourth day, we had no more cookies to put on the porch for the baboons, but we didn’t think too much of it as we left the cabana. To our greatest surprise, we returned to our room at the end of the day to find that the refrigerator had been ransacked and all our food eaten. Apparently, the baboons were upset that we didn’t leave any snacks for them and decided to take matters into their own hands. They had climbed up our roof and managed to squeeze in through an opening. Fortunately, they hadn’t destroyed our other belongings; they had only wanted the food. We thought it was hilarious, and besides, it was completely our fault. We hadn’t followed the rules and had ended up paying for it.
Early in the morning on the fifth day, we were lucky to catch a ride with other tourists who were leaving the reserve. They dropped us off at Bauchi, where we went to the motor park and got into a vehicle going to Kano. We arrived late and spent the night at a hotel. The next morning, we got up early to start our tour of the big and beautiful city. Even though Kano was predominantly Hausa and Fulani, there were many Igbos and people from other tribes. We visited the emir’s palace, toured old Kano, and ended up at the big Kano market, where I bought some traditional Fulani dresses for Maria Joana and other gift items. From Kano we went to Kaduna and spent a day there, with the intention of continuing to Maiduguri the next day. But we realized we didn’t have much time left because Maria Joana’s leave time was running out. We traveled back to Owerri and spent two days visiting my family, after which we returned to Lagos.
We spent the next few days in Lagos relaxing and going to the beach. By the time Maria Joana was ready to return to Spain, I was satisfied with myself, knowing that I had entertained and taken very good care of her so she would have no reason to change her mind about getting the police report to the Spanish embassy. Maria Joana left Lagos for Barcelona and I stayed behind, waiting patiently for my fate. It was the most agonizing period of my life. I was truly overwhelmed by anticipation and uncertainty. There was no guarantee that Maria Joana would send the required information, especially as I was broke and would once again be dependent on her if I returned to Spain. My relatives and friends weren’t helping my state of mind, either—they all thought I wouldn’t be able to return to Europe, that there was simply no way the Spanish embassy would give me a visa. Anxiety completely took over me and I started to wonder if I had made my biggest blunder yet by returning to Nigeria. I had literally passed through hell to get to Europe, only to turn around and squander my gains simply because I wanted to legalize my stay there. Nonetheless, I tried to persevere and keep a positive mental attitude….

To Be Continued…

Must Read: Conflicted Destiny… Part 49

A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part Forty Eight, read it HERE

The next day, with the marriage ceremony out of the way, I hired a taxi and we went to the famous Lekki Beach. Maria Joana and I spent a few hours there, walking along the beach, drinking the juice from fresh coconuts. We later relaxed in a bar and had a few drinks and some lunch. We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying different attractions at the beach. The next day, I rented a boat for two hours and we cruised around Victoria Island lagoon, all the way to Lagos Island. Maria Joana marveled at the scenic view and the many skyscrapers dotting the Lagos skyline. She hadn’t imagined Lagos to be that modern and beautiful. We went to an exotic, secluded beach at Tarkwa Bay, where we swam and took a quick tour of a nearby fishing village. After the boat ride, we walked around the crowded Lagos City. By evening Maria Joana was exhausted and we returned to my cousin’s house.
The next morning, Maria Joana and I went to the Spanish embassy and registered our marriage. We were issued a libra de familia (family book), which was typically issued to married couples in Spain. As the family expanded, names would be added to the book. At the embassy, we also tried to get a Spanish immigrant visa for me. Of course, we had to explain that I had been living in Spain and my passport had gotten lost there. I showed them the emergency traveling document I had gotten from Spain, as well as the police report indicating that I had a clean record in Spain. However, the embassy wasn’t completely satisfied with everything I had presented; they accepted everything but the police report. They wanted a fresh report to the embassy directly from Spain. I was completely disappointed. I had thought the process would be a lot easier. But all hope was not lost; this just meant I would have to work extra hard to keep Maria Joana happy so she wouldn’t change her mind. It was decided before we left the embassy that, upon her return to Spain, Maria Joana would process another police report that she would send directly to the embassy, after which, depending on the contents of the report, I would be issued an immigrant visa.
We left the embassy and went to an Indian restaurant in Ikoyi. As we ate, Maria Joana reassured me that as soon as she got back, she would hurry with the process and make sure the police report got to the embassy as soon as possible. After eating, we took a tour of Ikoyi and returned to my cousin’s house.
The following day, we started on our journey to the east to see my family. We arrived at Owerri late in the evening and spent the night at a hotel. Early the next morning, we continued on to my village. As soon as we arrived, everybody in the village rushed out to see us. They were all pleased that I brought a white lady home, and everyone, young and old, came to shake her hand. Some of the children touched her skin and wanted to touch her hair, too; they were quite fascinated. For me, it was a strange situation. There were a lot of similarities to my personal experience living in Europe. The behavior of my village people upon seeing a strange white person was similar to that of white Europeans when they saw a black person in their community. The difference was that the people in my village were genuinely curious about someone who was unlike them; they had no malice toward her at all. But in Europe, it was quite the opposite most times. For her part, Maria Joana seemed really pleased with the way the people treated her—like some kind of goddess. I felt like a king because my family, and the entire village, was very proud of me.
I introduced my family to Maria Joana. I wasn’t sure how my mother would feel about her, but I could see that my younger brothers and sister were proud. Maria Joana took a particular interest in my brother, James, and she gave out gifts to the endless troops of visitors. After a while, I took Maria Joana to the place where we used to live. My father’s house was no longer there because I had torn it down and sold the zinc and blocks to raise the money for my initial trip to Liberia. I also showed her where my father was buried, after which we walked around the village. Later, my mother made traditional food and we all ate. That evening, on our way back to Owerri, we stopped at Orji and spent some time with my grandmother, Eunice, and a few other relatives.
The next morning we traveled to Aba and went to my uncle’s house. I didn’t anticipate any problems because my uncle and I had made peace since I came back. I had told him that my girlfriend was coming to visit and would be staying with me at his house, and he had said it was okay with him. When we got to my uncle’s house, his wife had already fixed up the guest room for us. Everybody was happy and received us well. I gave a large sum of money to my uncle’s wife and asked her to prepare a good meal for the whole house. Maria Joana gave out gifts to my cousins and we were all merry. But the happiness did not last long.
As usual, my uncle returned home very late that night, close to midnight. I didn’t know what had gotten into him that night, but I suspected he was either intoxicated or suffered a momentary memory loss, because as soon as he learned that Maria Joana was staying with me in the guest room, he went ballistic. He screamed at his wife, questioning her judgment for allowing me to bring a prostitute into his house. I went out to confront him and told him I had heard everything he said. I insisted that he had crossed the line, and that this trumped everything he had done to me in the past. He had known full well that I would be staying at his house with my girlfriend and had already consented. For several minutes we exchanged harsh words until Maria Joana finally came out of the room. She did not need to speak English to understand what was going on. She tried to calm me down, but I refused to listen. I wanted to deal with my uncle, and if Maria Joana hadn’t been holding me back, I would have beaten the living daylights out of him. She insisted that we leave the house that night.

To Be Continued…

Must Read: Conflicted Destiny… Part 48

A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part Forty Seven, read it HERE

By the end of February, I had finally collected all my money from my vendors, but I had spent most of it. Around the same time, I received the long-awaited good news: Maria Joana had finally gotten her leave and had bought her ticket to Nigeria; she would arrive in early March. This news made up for all the misfortune I’d had on my trip to Sierra Leone. A few days later, I packed my bags, bade farewell to all my friends, and headed back to Nigeria. As I waited to board my flight, I noticed some commotion in a corner of the departure hall. I went to investigate, and to my surprise, it was her “royal highness” Ngozi, in the company of Prince Y. Johnson, who was also heading to Nigeria. Apparently, he had accepted the offer by ECOWAS to go to Nigeria on exile. Ngozi was just as surprised to see me. We chatted briefly and she introduced me to Prince Johnson. I took a picture with him and then they headed off to the VIP section.
When I got to Lagos, I went to Joy and asked if she and her husband would allow Maria Joana and me spend a few days at their house when she arrived. I also asked Joy to accompany us to the marriage registry to witness our marriage, which would take place as soon as Maria Joana arrived. I had no intention of waiting any longer than necessary to make the marriage a reality—before she could change her mind. Joy was happy to oblige. While I waited for Maria Joana’s arrival, I perfected all the plans and the arrangements for the marriage, and thought about places she might be interested in visiting while in Nigeria. By the end of that week, everything had been arranged and all that was left was the arrival of the bride herself.
Maria Joana arrived Lagos in mid-March, 1994. I was waiting for her at the airport with Obinna, Joy’s husband’s nephew. Obinna had always been my trusted friend; he understood how important this marriage was to me and was willing do everything possible to help, starting by driving me to the airport. Maria Joana’s plane landed around 5 p.m., and by six, she had passed through immigrations and proceeded to baggage claim. I had already educated her on the process of going through the airport in Nigeria. At that time, there were scam artists all over the airport, and the last thing I needed was for some miscreant to jeopardize my opportunity with Maria Joana by duping her on arrival. I had never been happier to see her face again and she seemed delighted to see me, too, though she looked exhausted. We hugged and kissed, and joined Obinna, who was waiting for us outside.
Maria Joana was warmly welcomed by everyone at Joy’s house. We settled into our room and spent hours reminiscing about Barcelona. Later that night, I told her what I had planned for us for the rest of her visit. I informed her that we had to get married the next day since we didn’t have much time to stay in Lagos. She grudgingly accepted this and we went to bed.
The next morning we went to the registry at Victoria Island with Obinna and Joy. Within an hour of our arrival, Maria Joana and I had become husband and wife. We filled out the necessary documents and were issued a marriage license. It was one of the happiest days of my life—not because of the marriage itself, which was clearly one of convenience, but because the marriage certificate would legitimize my relationship with Maria Joana and enable me to obtain a Spanish visa easily. After the ceremony we all drove to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate. I took a slow, deep breath and was flooded with joy. I was closer than ever to achieving my lifelong dream.

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To Be Continued…

Must Read: Conflicted Destiny… Part 47

A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part Forty Six, read it HERE

until Maria Joana came to Nigeria and we got married. I received news from her that she wouldn’t be coming the next month as we had planned. Her leave had been pushed back to February, which was three months away. I had to think fast because I was spending my money quickly and not making any. I decided in the interim to go back to my old business of buying shoes and bags and selling them in Sierra Leone. That way, I could make a little money while waiting for Maria Joana. I took the money I had left and went to my old suppliers. Some of them remembered me. I ordered my special designs, mostly of women’s shoes and handbags. I bought my ticket to Sierra Leone, and within a week, all my orders were ready.
Before leaving for Sierra Leone, I went back to my village and gave a substantial amount of money to my mother for the family’s upkeep. I also instructed my uncle to deposit money from the transport business into my checking account. I hoped that by the time I got back, there would be enough money from the transport business. I called my friend Ricky and informed him that I would be coming to Sierra Leone, and that I intended to stay at his place.
I departed for Sierra Leone at the beginning of December. It was mostly business as usual; I had no trouble transporting my goods from Nigeria to Sierra Leone. When I arrived, Ricky was waiting for me, and he lent me some money to clear my goods the same day. We left the airport and took the ferry across to Freetown. Nothing much had changed; the only noticeable difference was the sense of insecurity that gripped the entire population. At this time, the civil war in Liberia and the rebel activities were spilling over into Sierra Leone. Rumor had it that some Sierra Leonean rebel faction, affiliated with Charles Taylor, had taken over Kenema and had started pushing toward Freetown. There was great unease among the people, especially in the business community. I wasn’t flustered because I had been through similar situations before, and besides, I would only be there for a short period of time. I also noticed that at the airport there were many ECOMOG contingents—the Nigerian Army and Air Force among them. Before I had left Sierra Leone, the ECOMOG soldiers had been using part of the Lungi airport as a staging ground for their operations and intervention in Liberia. However, their increased presence signified that they anticipated potential instability in Sierra Leone as well.
Ricky now lived with other Nigerian businesspeople in a house located in an affluent neighborhood in Freetown. He even owned a car. I was very proud of his accomplishments, but mostly satisfied that I had helped him, even though he never thanked me nor showed any appreciation for all I did for him, picking him up from the gutter when I could barely take care of myself and using half of my business money to send him to Sierra Leone. Nonetheless, he was my best friend. The next few days we reminisced and tried to catch up. I was also able to visit old friends, and I found out that my two monkeys had died. Apparently, the one I had given to a female friend missed me so much that it committed suicide. The girl told me that one morning they had woken up to find the monkey with a rope tightly wound around its neck, and there was nothing they could do to revive it. The other monkey, I was told, had died a few weeks after I left. It had refused to eat and had died of starvation. It was hard for anyone to understand my relationship with my monkeys. They were my trusted companions when I was in Sierra Leone and I had taken care of them as if they were my babies. Leaving them behind was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make before my departure to Las Palmas. I would have taken them with me if I could have. I mourned their loss, after which I consoled myself with the thought that they must be in a better place.
The following day, I supplied my shoes to the same Lebanese guy I used to deal with and distributed the ladies’ handbags to other vendors. While waiting to collect my money, I tried to occupy myself with other things. I couldn’t wait for Maria Joana to get to Nigeria so I could get back to Spain. I would wake up in the morning, go for a run, and then sit down and read some books—my old routine. Other times, I would go to Ricky’s shop and hang out with him. I learned that Pascal and a few of the guys also owned shops as well. As for Ernest Brown’s shop, it was no more. I learned that he finally moved back to Nigeria, but that after a short time there, he had died of a mysterious illness. His death saddened me. In my opinion, Ernest and his shop were highly significant, particularly for the Igbo businesspeople in Freetown. He had a good heart, and his genuine love and kindness for his fellow human beings would never be forgotten. Uneasiness gradually started to creep into my stay in Sierra Leone as I started getting nervous about Maria Joana. Since returning to Nigeria I had maintained regular contact with her, but after my arrival in Sierra Leone, there had been a significant gap in our communication. Our occasional telephone conversations had become lackluster and she seemed reluctant and distant. I couldn’t understand her changing attitude and I became petrified that she might change her mind about coming to Nigeria. All my hope of returning to Europe was hinged on her coming to Nigeria and marrying me. I realized that I had to step up my game if I was to maintain a hold on her. The distance between us made it a lot harder for me to convince her to do things she wouldn’t normally want to do. I resorted to my old trick and started telling her how horrible Africa was. I cried and professed my undying love to her, telling her I never realized how much she meant to me and how much I missed her. I told her I couldn’t imagine myself living without her. I did this until she became remorseful and started to comfort me.
The uncertainty surrounding Maria Joana started to affect me emotionally and I needed a way to alleviate my distress. I returned to my wayward ways and started socializing heavily with Sierra Leonean girls. There were three or four in particular who kept me busy. I made sure I didn’t spend my days alone—the few moments I was by myself, I was petrified and couldn’t stop thinking about “what ifs.” There was absolutely no guarantee that Maria Joana would stick to the plan, and if she didn’t, my whole world would come crashing down and I would have to start all over again. Meanwhile, some of the guys had started a rumor that I hadn’t returned to Africa of my own free will, but had been repatriated from Spain. I tried to squash the rumor, and explained that I had come back on vacation and soon my fiancée would join me. They didn’t seem convinced, though, and I knew that deep down, some of them wished I had truly been repatriated and were gloating inside about my presumed misfortune.
Sadly, by the end of December, I had yet to collect all my money from my vendors. I had anticipated being able to collect all of it within two weeks of my arrival in Sierra Leone. This would have allowed me to possibly make two or more trips and bring in more goods before the Christmas season. The vendors kept giving me the money in very small installments, and whatever they gave me, I used for my feeding and entertainment. I had collected only half of my money and had spent it all. When January ended, I was still in Sierra Leone, frustrated, dejected, and completely disillusioned, but I kept hanging on to the hope that Maria Joana would come. Eventually, I gave up on the idea of making another return trip to Nigeria. I decided that once I had collected all my money, I would just go back to Nigeria and wait for Maria Joana. I hoped the transport business in Nigeria would have made me a substantial amount of money by the time I returned, and with that in mind, I decided to relax and pretend I was in Sierra Leone on vacation.

To Be Continued…

Must Read: Conflicted Destiny… Part 46

A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part Forty Five, read it HERE

In November 1993, I bought a ticket to Nigeria with the money I had made at Olympic Village. When I got to Lagos, I went to my cousin Joy and her family in Ikeja. Everyone was happy to see me. My cousin Ike was there too, and it didn’t take him long to start planning how to rip me off. The first thing he asked me was how much money I had brought home with me, and I told him. He started talking about all kinds of business ideas that he claimed would double my money. He also informed me that our childhood friend Chibuike, who we used to gamble with while I was living at Aunt Comfort’s house in Aba, was also in town. Chibuike had left Nigeria two years before me and was based in Germany.
Ike and I went to visit our old friend. I was happy to see him; he looked well groomed and was hanging out with a couple of friends when we arrived at his place. It was really fun talking about our different experiences in Europe, especially with other people who were aspiring to be like us.
After two days in Lagos, I couldn’t wait to travel to the east to see my family and share my stories with them. I was also looking forward to hanging out with Okey De Boy. Before leaving, however, I allowed Ike to convince me to buy a minibus for a transportation business. He insisted that it was the most profitable business in town at the time. So we bought a bus and headed for the east. On the roads, the police extorted a lot of money from us for all sorts of reasons, as usual. Eventually we got to my village. Everyone was elated, most of all my mother and siblings. My entire village came out to see me. I handed out some of the gifts that I had brought with me, and then took the rest into the house for my family.
My happiness was short-lived because I got to the house to find that my grandmother was really dead. For some reason, part of me refused to believe that she was actually gone, and I had expected to see her when I got home. I tried hard to hold back my tears.
The most painful thing about losing my grandmother was knowing that she hadn’t lived long enough to enjoy the fruits of her labor. I wished I had done more for her when I was in Spain. One time I had sent her twenty dollars, but I should have sent her more on a regular basis. She deserved more for all she had done for me, but how could I have known she wouldn’t to live to see my return? I convinced myself that she must have been happy with me. Being the strong woman she was, there was no way she would have let herself die if she didn’t think everything would be okay. She must have concluded when I got to Spain that all would be well, because she had full confidence in my ability to succeed and she knew she had taught me well.
It was really nice being around my siblings again. They all seemed so grown-up. My brother John and my sister, Joy, were doing well. John was in secondary school, and Joy was just finishing primary school. My brother James had already started his own small shoe-repair business, and I was very proud of him. I gave him a lot of the shoes and clothes I had brought back with me. James was a special child and had always been sickly. He had a bulging tumor in his stomach that had impaired his growth, and his leg was badly twisted so he could not walk normal. He was also slow academically, but was phenomenal with common sense. Because of our religious beliefs he was never taken to the hospital and never received a diagnosis of his ailments. It wasn’t until much later in life, after all my travels, that I got to know what he was suffering from, as well as the fact that we could have had him cured or at least tried to help him with all the modern medical treatments available.
After spending two days in my village, I went to Orji Uratta to see my other grandmother, Eunice. Everyone was equally delighted to see me there. I gave my grandmother the gift I had bought for her, and handed out more presents to my other relatives. After spending a couple of nights there, I drove the minibus to Aba to do some work on its body and to paint it the right city transport color. After that, I went to Aunt Comfort’s house. She was overjoyed to see her beloved brother’s son back in Nigeria, and I was likewise thrilled to see my favorite aunt again. I gave her all the gifts I had brought for her. Her husband was happy to see me, too. While staying with them over the next few days, I noticed that my aunt gave me equal or greater portions of food than she served to Ike, and on better dishes. I loved my aunt very much, but I never thought she would deliberately treat me differently from her kids. I was uncomfortable with the extra nicety and asked her to stop; I hadn’t changed, and I preferred the way things were before I traveled overseas. She commended me for my wisdom, hugged me, and told me how much she loved me.
As usual, Ike helped me with most of the things I wanted to accomplish in Aba, not because he was being a good cousin, but because he wanted every possible opportunity to make money off of me. I didn’t mind too much.
While in Aba, I couldn’t hold back my excitement about reuniting with all my friends. My eagerness was fleeting, though. I found out that Okey De Boy had passed away just two weeks before I returned to Nigeria. He was his normal self during the day and had gone to sleep as usual on that fateful evening. But in the middle of the night, he had woken up yelling that someone wanted to kill him. He died minutes later. It was indeed a very sad way to die, and his family strongly believed that his death was not natural. They suspected that a relative had killed Okey through witchcraft. The news of his death dealt me a devastating blow. But it wasn’t just Okey; some mutual friends of ours had also died in similar mysterious ways. I couldn’t help but be grateful to God that I hadn’t been in Nigeria all this time or I might have died, too.
A few days later, I returned to my village and my mother reminded me that I still had unfinished business: my uncle John. She wanted me to make peace with him and insisted that I repay him for the property I had stolen. I was reluctant because I had already offered him the money once before, but I gave in after she continued to plead with me.
Surprisingly, everyone at my uncle’s house in Aba was happy to see me, even my uncle. I gave him a large sum of money as a “gift”—that was my way of returning what I owed him—and he accepted it this time. But I was shocked by what happened next. The whole family turned into leeches. They were all so demanding. I gave money and gifts to everybody, and I gave money to my uncle’s wife daily to cook for the entire family. Despite the large sum I had given my uncle, he still asked me for money every morning. After two weeks staying with them, I was practically running out of money. My uncle offered to manage my transport business and I accepted, just so we could maintain our newfound friendship. He employed a driver for the minibus and it was agreed that he would render account to me on a monthly basis.
Meanwhile, I had obtained my legitimate international passport. Passports were easy to get in Nigeria during this time. The normal process could take up to three months, but there were many immigration officers who specialized in fast-tracking the process with the right bribe, so I paid and got my passport in two days. However, I still couldn’t go to the embassy..

To Be Continued…