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-Conflicted Destiny

Must Read: Conflicted Destiny… Part 22

A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part 21, read it Here

Journey to Guinea and Mali:

Once again I was ready to venture into the unknown. I was prepared, at least that’s what my mind told me at the time, but I also knew deep down that danger awaits me. All the same, a ranger is no stranger to danger. I was not afraid to die trying…

Here I go again reminiscing, sorry. please lets get back to the exciting story.

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Chapter Eleven

Georgie and I took a taxi from Monrovia to Gbarnga, and from there took another taxi to Ganta, then another to Sanniquelle. At Sanniquelle there were numerous dump trucks that carried traders and merchandise between Liberia and Guinea. We paid the fare and joined one of the trucks heading to Guinea. We left Sanniquelle at 6 p.m. and arrived at the border crossing point between Liberia and Guinea two hours later. It wasn’t such a long distance, but the roads were in terrible condition.

When we reached the border, everyone got off the truck and went through immigration to get stamped out of Liberia and into Guinea. Since the truck was loaded with goods, it had to pass through customs. The inspection took a while and, as usual, the driver bribed the customs officers and was allowed to proceed across with the truck while we walked across the border. At the Guinean side, our passports were stamped, and the truck driver and conductor did their normal routine with immigration.

One hour later, we were back on the road. Again, the journey was slow and excruciating because of the bumpy roads—the countless potholes kept us doing twenty miles an hour at best. To make matters worse, we didn’t have enough room to sit in the truck because it was loaded to the brim with goods. So we had to sit on top of the goods, and there were so many of us. We had to hold on tightly to one of the rails at the back of the truck so we wouldn’t fall off. Each time the truck went into a ditch, it would sway from one side to another and we would be thrown around.

An hour after we left Guinea immigration, we got stuck in a ditch. The conductor and driver tried to move the truck, but it wouldn’t budge. Eventually, the truck was offloaded while everyone dug around the ditch and piled up rocks and sticks to get the truck out. It wasn’t until the next morning that we were able to free the truck, load up again, and get back on our journey.

By the time we got to Gueckedou at 5 p.m., we had gotten stuck more than four times. We were able to have a good meal, after which Georgie and I went to find another truck going to Kankan. We spent the night in Kankan, and the next morning we got into another truck that took us to Siguiri, and then another that took us all the way to Bamako, where we arrived the next morning. Unfortunately, due to all the expenses along the way, we had completely run out of money, and yet we were not even halfway to our final destination. We didn’t know anybody in the city, and we were famished and tired. To make matters worse, we hadn’t gotten any sleep on the truck because of the condition of the road.

Bamako, the capital city of Mali, is a fairly large city. At that time, most of its streets weren’t paved, and everything was dusty, but it was bustling with activity. There were lots of street vendors. I took a particular interest in the people selling tea and the long French bread called baguettes. I was so starved at this point that I couldn’t focus on anything else. Georgie and I immediately decided to sell off some of our personal items to raise some money. We were able to sell all our belongings except for the clothes we had on, our passports, and my map.

Since we were desperate and hungry, we didn’t take time to understand the currency. The CFA is used across the Francophone countries in West Africa, and we weren’t familiar with the exchange rate, since we’d only had to exchange dollars in the past. In our desperation, we accepted one hundred CFA from the hustler who bought our belongings, believing it to be equivalent to two hundred US dollars. The negotiation wasn’t easy because neither Georgie nor I spoke French. We accepted the hundred CFA and proceeded to a food stand, where we each ordered a large cup of tea and a baguette. We gave the seller the hundred CFA, expecting to get a lot of change back, but instead he wanted more money. He tried to explain to us that the cash we gave him wasn’t enough for the food we had ordered. Since the difference wasn’t much, he let us have the food anyway.

Georgie and I were furious with the hustler. We had been counting on this money to take us on the next leg of our trip—to Algeria.

At least we finally had some food, and the tea we ordered was incredible. It was herbal tea boiled for a long time in a kettle. After it was poured into a cup, lots of sugar and condensed milk were added. The tea was so sweet and thick that we dipped the bread into it. After breakfast, we decided to walk around the city and figure out our next move.

We eventually conceived of a plan. We would go to a police station and file a false claim. When we reached the station, we gave them a story that we had been attacked and robbed—all our money and belongings were stolen, and as a result, we had no money to continue on our journey; therefore, we required some sort of compensation or assistance from the Malian authorities. The problem, though, was that we couldn’t speak French. All that we could say was “Le vuloi, le sac,” accompanying this with hand gestures signifying that our stuff was stolen and whoever had stolen it had run away. After what seemed liked hours of going back and forth, the police officers finally understood what we were saying, but they seemed a little confused as to what to do. They asked us to wait while they consulted with their superior officer. Their superior officer, in turn, consulted with someone else, and the decision was made to accommodate us in some kind of transit quarter until they could figure out what to do with us.

Georgie and I spent the night at the transit quarter, and the next morning some government officials came to see us with a translator. One of the officials said that he was sorry that we had been robbed. Our situation had been reported to the ministry of foreign affairs, since we weren’t Malians, and they were going to do everything possible to address the matter and see how best to assist us.

We ended up being fed and housed for two days. On the evening of the second day, we were told that they couldn’t help us and that we had to leave the premises immediately. They recommended that we go to our respective embassies and see how they could help to repatriate us.

Once again, we were back on the streets, disillusioned, hopeless, and hungry. It was getting dark and we had no idea what else to do, so we decided to sleep in the park. It was one of the worst experiences of my life. To start with, we had nothing to sleep on; all we had were the clothes on our backs. As we lay under a tree in the park, we were bitten by mosquitoes and other bugs. I couldn’t sleep. What had gotten myself into? My only consolation was that if I died there that night, no one would know who I was and no one would tell my family that I was dead, and my siblings and mother would go on with their lives thinking I was still alive. As long as they assumed I was alive, that was all that mattered to me.

Normally, it hardly rained in Bamako because of its close proximity to the Sahara, but unfortunately for us, that night there was a heavy downpour. I curled up where I was, praying that things wouldn’t get worse. Eventually, the rain stopped. Georgie and I found a bench to sit on, hoping the sun could come up soon so we could dry ourselves. At last, the sun rose, and we were dry by 9 a.m. I was grateful for the desert conditions that made Bamako warm up quickly.

Later that morning, after we had brainstormed for a while, I came up with a brilliant idea: to solicit help from both our countries’ diplomatic missions in Bamako. When we got to the embassies, we would claim that we had been robbed and needed financial support to return to our countries.

We spent the next few hours trying to locate the Liberian embassy, but unfortunately Liberia did not have a diplomatic mission in Mali. By the time we found this out, it was late in the day and we were starving. I told Georgie that we had to do something to get money or we would die of hunger. Fortunately for us, a few hundred meters away stood Hotel Sofitel, the biggest hotel in Bamako. We decided to go there and beg for money.

As we approached the entrance, a white man, who looked French, was exiting the hotel with his luggage. I moved toward him and called his attention. Fortunately, he spoke English and I narrated my story to him, telling him that my friend and I were tourists and were stranded because we had been mugged, and had lost everything, including our money. We had been sleeping on the streets for the last couple of days and had nowhere else to go for help. The man felt very sorry for us and immediately dipped into his wallet. To my shock, he handed us a five thousand CFA bill. I couldn’t believe his generosity, and I thanked him profoundly. He departed and we immediately left the hotel.

After buying a decent meal from the street vendors, Georgie and I spent the rest of the evening sitting at the park and thinking about our next move. We came to the conclusion that we had to go to the Nigerian embassy the next morning. We spent another terrible night sleeping at the park.

The next morning, we got up early, bought tea and bread, and headed to the Nigerian embassy. I requested to see the ambassador, but we were directed to another official instead. After waiting for an hour in the reception room, we were invited into the office. After introductions were made, I told our story to the Nigerian official and requested financial assistance from the embassy so we could continue our journey to Senegal. The official noted our request and told us to return the next day. I told him that we had nowhere else to go, and asked if they would allow us stay in the embassy’s compound. He told us that it wasn’t possible. But later that night, we returned to the embassy, and the security guard allowed us to spend the night at the guard shed.

The next morning, the official told us that it was the embassy’s policy to help stranded Nigerians return to their country. It was not their policy to provide assistance in continuing to a different destination. In order to assist any person claiming to be a Nigerian, that person must have proof of their Nigerian’s citizenship—that is, they had to provide a valid Nigerian passport or other form of identification. Therefore, the embassy was willing to facilitate my return to Nigeria, since I had a passport, but they couldn’t do anything for Georgie because he didn’t have a passport or any other proof of Nigerian citizenship. The embassy wouldn’t be flying me to Nigeria; rather, they would provide me with the transport fare to go by road from Bamako to the closest Nigerian town or city. I had no choice, so I grudgingly accepted the offer and was told to return to the embassy the next day. Once again, Georgie and I slept at the guard shed. The next morning, the official handed me twenty thousand CFA and wished both of us good luck.

We reevaluated our situation over breakfast. I realized at this point just how difficult the journey had become. The prospect of continuing looked bleak. I was already exhausted, and so was Georgie. The previous day we had inquired about how much it would cost us to go from Bamako to GAO in Algeria. The twenty thousand CFA that we now had wasn’t even close to the amount we needed to continue the trip. We decided it was best to return to Liberia and try the stowaway option again, which was cheaper and less complicated.

Later that morning, we began the journey back to Liberia. We found a truck to take us straight from Bamako to Kankan, but when we got to Kankan, we were arrested by the gendarmeries just because we were foreigners. They took what little money we had, and we were hauled off to a police detention cell. The cell was crowded with all sorts of misfits. We spent an entire day without food and water because the gendarmes had no provisions to feed detainees. Some family members brought food to their relatives in the cells, but the fortunate ones usually wouldn’t share their food. However, one of the lucky detainees had pity on Georgie and me, and invited us to share. It was the worst-looking meal I had ever seen—some kind of mashed potatoes and a dark, slimy soup—but I was so hungry, I forced myself. We used our fingers to break off a piece of the mashed potatoes, mold it into bite-size balls, dip it into the soup, and swallow.

We made several attempts to explain to the gendarmeries that we weren’t criminals; we were just passing through to Liberia. But all our efforts were to no avail because the language difference made it impossible for us to communicate. I pulled out my pocket Bible, which I still had with me, and read a few verses. Then I prayed to God and asked Him not to let me stay in detention for more than three days. After praying, I became more relaxed.

The next afternoon, I heard someone speaking English outside the cell. I immediately shouted to draw his attention and he responded. He came to the cell room entrance, and before I could say anything to him, he told me he used to live in Nigeria. He was from Kankan and spoke fluent English, which he had learned while living in Nigeria. I explained our predicament and begged him to ask the gendarme why we were being detained. A few minutes later, he came back with the gendarme and we were released. From what he said it was just a misunderstanding. The gendarme did not understand us and had detained us because they had assumed we were criminals. No apology was given, but we were happy to be free. We thanked the gentleman, and he even gave us a little money as we left.

We walked to a motor park and were lucky to find a truck heading to Zaniekore, a Guinean border town. Once aboard, we realized that we had very little money left and couldn’t afford to pay the fare from Zaniekore to the next border town in Liberia. We passed through Guinea immigration without any problem and proceeded to cross through Liberian immigration, but we didn’t have enough money to bribe the immigration officers. Unlike Georgie, I had no papers to identify me as Liberian, so I was detained. We concocted a story—Georgie pretended I was his brother, “Jake.” Since I hadn’t mastered speaking English with a Liberian accent, I spoke very little, leaving Georgie to talk on my behalf. After several hours, we had to give up our last bit of money to the immigration officers so they would release me. We managed to get a lift from the border to Sanniquelle, where we slept in an empty store. The next morning we went to the taxi park.

Since we had no money left, Georgie decided we had to go to Bong Mines, where some of his relatives lived and worked at the iron ore mining facility. We begged a taxi driver to take us, saying we would pay him when we got there. We arrived in Bong Mines two and a half hours later, and Georgie was able to borrow money from his relative to pay the driver. However, he didn’t get enough money for us to continue the journey back to Monrovia.

To Be Continued…

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