3 TIMES DEPORTEE
Departure to the unknown
By Alain Claude Bian Ebelle
Copyright © 2022 Alain Claude Bian Ebelle.
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
To my son and his lovely mom:
You are both my strength.
Without the support of the following persons, this project may have not been possible.
I would like to thank Mrs. Brigitte Nehring who despite the sea between us, keeps watching over me. Her spiritual presence in my life is vital.
My special gratitude to Abba Amssami whose infinite generosity has permitted me to experience extraordinary moments lately.
I am also grateful to all the people who have sustained me to the limits of their capabilities since the ascension of my parents to paradise.
Countless times I have thought about writing a book on my life but the time was never right. There was either not much going on or no trigger to type even a single word until I started my adventures abroad and faced tribulations.
After my first deportation, I convinced myself that it was just bad luck. So I rose back up and restarted as if nothing had ever happened. Then occurred the second deportation.
Like after the first one, I healed my wounds, reset my mind, and tried again a new life as there had never been a previous one. Despite all, deportation resurfaced for the third time. That was too much!
While meditating on my fate, it became more and more obvious to me that I was playing the role of a fictional book character. No real human would go through three deportations and survive but I survived. So I must be a character.
3 TIMES DEPORTEE is an autobiography, the true story of an African young man, originally of Christian faith and who has been deported not once or two but three times, converted to Islam and became a father.
How did it all start? Where did he go? And what happened? Find it out in a series of several books-episodes relating in both fun and intriguing style the events that preceded the fatal fate.
The present book is episode one. It describes with unquestionable honesty and faithfulness the beginning of the adventure of Alain from his home country …. (to discover) to his alleged promised land …. (to discover).
Palpitating, the reader is transported to the sky and delighted.
What are you waiting for again? Flip the page and start your journey toward the discovery of the mystery!
Remark: The names of some characters have intentionally been modified to protect them from public recognition. Nevertheless, the facts remain unchanged and faithful to the memory of the author.
On the 18th of march 2015, I graduated in banking and finance at the international relations institute of Cameroon by successfully defending a Master’s thesis on the efficiency of the financial rating system established by the banking committee of the zone CEMAC. I was awarded an honorable mention.
The event was held in Yaoundé on the Mount of olives in Obili, in a venue of about forty seats. Attended: some of my classmates, a handful of students from other fields, and the designated members of the jury which comprised two prominent teachers, and the very volcanic Dr. Eb, chief of the department of economics.
My lovely aunt Mimi from my paternal side was also there. She was my sole relative who had the guts to face the three hundred kilometers distance between our home city Douala and the capital Yaoundé.
I phoned my late mom’s junior brother, uncle Delors, and requested his physical presence as well as his financial support for the printing of the thesis defense copies but he let me down and cut short our conversation with a rough “good luck”.
His wife, a woman of strong character and imposing corpulence, whom I can not recall the maiden name, snatched the receiver and made sugary promises that she will send me some cash but I didn't fall for it. I knew it was all talk and the time proved that I was right.
I was excited to finally finish an incredible two-year cursus that I had started in October 2012. However, due to insufficient funds for the organization of the end-of-year festivities, my joy was diminished.
Over the years it had become a custom for the graduate to feed the large bellies of the guests and soak their dry throats with enormous quantities of drinks. The celebration was also an occasion for the host to show off his wealth or proudly display his family background.
In a moment of panic and great distress, my classmate, Abba, showed up. He had just ended his long tiring day at the ministry of finance where he worked as a finance inspector.
The gentleman was late for my thesis presentation before the panel of judges but on time enough for our student's party in the bakery Princesse nearby the school. He unexpectedly donated me a most-welcome sum of twenty thousand francs CFA.
His financial aid relieved me a lot. I had been worrying about how I would pay the bills. With now enough money in my pocket, we ordered snacks, bread, roasted chicken, boiled eggs, and dozens of bottles of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
I blushed with happiness when I saw genuine smiles gradually popping up on my classmates' faces. They were noisy, thrilled, and generous with compliments as they were having a good time by my side. Nonetheless, they also could not miss the chance to tease me.
Some like Melissa, a brilliant young lady and second best of our batch, joked that no one in the audience grasped the gist of my topic, except aliens. Others, like Viviane and Essoh, could not stop asking the whereabouts of my girlfriend - if I had one - and why she was not around if she existed.
The query about girlfriends had always instilled annoyance in me and my reaction was very often to remain either quiet or give evasive answers as I had always wanted to keep this area of my life a mystery.
Anyway, the fiesta was ultimately a success, though it was brief. The attendants rejoiced and frankly, that was all that mattered. I returned to my student accommodation and was accompanied by my aunt Mimi who saved my day. Her moral support lessened my stress as it was important to me that my friends didn't see me as an abandoned family member.
I wished my parents were still from this world and therefore had been part of the people who were sitting behind me. My mom Clarice in particular, deserved the whole praise for my achievement. She should have been the one standing proud amid the jury for the photo souvenir.
In the days following my graduation, I launched a ferocious job hunt across Yaoundé. I printed out a bunch of resumes and wandered across the bustling business streets of the city, wearing sometimes a suit - of black or grey color - or a long sleeves shirt with office trousers.
I knocked confidently at companies’ doors, backed by my good grades and by the high quality of my training. The institute of international relations of Cameroon was not only renowned for its rich tertiary education programs but also its professors of exquisite caliber such as Pr Pondi, an expert in political science. The spectrum of a glittering professional career was thus hovering upon my head and it was simply a matter of little patience for its visibility to human eyes.
A few months flew by and I still had no positive outcome from a recruiter. Not even from our professors of accounting and management control, the famous Essimi and Minala, who were both running auditing firms and had pledged internships to the bests of us. I can modestly claim that I was the top student in these subjects.
Life in Yaoundé was getting harder and harder as I had to deal with student accommodation rent, food, documents’ printing fees, and transportation fares to drop CVs at government and private enterprises’ premises. At that period, many firms were not exploiting modern communication tools. A lot of them had no functioning or up-to-date websites, neither emails nor social media platforms. The use of chat applications such as WhatsApp or Facebook messenger was extremely low, and the time of reply was too long.
I survived during my three years (2012 – 2015) in the capital with the seven hills thanks to the monthly allowance that my paternal aunt in France, Tata Daisy, engaged herself to wire me through Western Union. She had been of great assistance since my father and my mother passed away respectively in 2005 and 2007. Sometimes my memory tricks me about the exact dates of their last breath as the trauma had been deep.
Tata Daisy started to support me financially from my early years in university. I believe her first money transfer occurred in 2008 when I had to leave my late mom’s rented studio in Bonatone in our home city Douala.
It was a half-wooden and half-concrete house with two bedrooms, one parlor, one restroom, and one kitchen. In front of the door, outside, my mom had planted flowers which she watered every single day.
Growing roses was one of her passions as well as singing gospel music at home or in a choir during her days off. She had accumulated seventeen years of work experience as a tailor at her death. She began sewing training after my Don Juan daddy impregnated her. They were both aged eighteen when they conceived me. They parted ways after my birth and none of them had another child. For my mother, it’s reliable information. As for my father, I can only lean on his lips, which said that I was his sole descendant.
After completing my bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance at the university of Douala, I left my student accommodation situated around the establishment and moved to my uncle’s villa in Kotto, a beautiful residential neighborhood on the outskirts of the economic capital. Uncle Mar, as his nephews called him, was the firstborn of my father’s father. He took over the steering wheel of the extended Family after granddaddy died.
My first year in the villa was awesome and almost hitch-free. I was living there with Cyr, my uncle’s first son from outside marriage. His other three children - actually three boys - and his nephew Ingra - so my cousin - were staying in Yaoundé with his gorgeous ebony wife, Tata Id, an employee of the ministry of foreign affairs.
Cyr and I formed a marvelous duo in the house as only one year separated us. He was twenty-five and I was twenty-four. He grew up and followed his studies in the English-speaking province of Cameroon.
He spoke as well French and was fluent. Skillful orator and amazing projects writer and developer, he never whined about his innate crippled left hand and even opened with my guidance an ice-cream retail shop worth three million francs CFA on the main road of our neighborhood.
Unfortunately, less than six months after the inauguration, the young company went bankrupt, handicapped by Cyr’s penchant for mixing business and religion. He was a devoted Christian who prayed all day long, handing over the management of the company to the holy spirit. He inherited his profound faith from his mom who had immigrated to England and was frequently sending him important amounts of money to take care of himself and his two junior siblings that she conceived from another man - Cyr’s stepfather. It’s not sure whether my uncle Mar was aware of these secretive activities or had just deliberately decided to be blind to promote a peaceful father-son relationship.
In May 2012, I sat for the entrance examination of the national school of administration and magistracy, which I failed lamentably as I did not prepare it with the utmost seriousness it demanded. On the day of the publication of the results on national radio, I could not believe that my name was not read. I used to be a victor in the battles I was involved in but not this time. I had to reassess myself. Something was wrong.
Just a few hours after the national school of administration and magistracy was done rendering its results, the international relations institute of Cameroon opened applications for entry tests in various fields. Banking and Finance was one of them and my first and unique center of interest.
Uncle Mar came back home from his usually energy-consuming day of work. I went to his bedroom and let him know about my plan to travel to Yaoundé and register for the entrance competition, which he approved and told me that I would then stay under his wife’s roof in Nlongkak, a suburb of the capital.
Fully conscious that I was not accepted into the national school of administration and magistracy in big part for poor preparation, I decided to go to Yaoundé immediately, more than a month before the August scheduled admission exams at the international relations institute of Cameroon.
I was warmly welcomed by my uncle’s spouse, Tata Id, and by their eldest son Cary, barely an adult, their two teenage kids Chry and Ced, and their adoptive daughter, my cousin Ingra who was the same age as me, twenty-five years.
A few days later, Tata Id suggested joining a training camp led by former college graduates and bore the subscription fees. I was provided with intensive courses in general economics, newspaper follow-up, English, and constitutional law held in a protestant school near the then-brand-new Chinese sports complex on Warda street. By taxi, it was about twenty minutes away from our one-floor government house.
My efforts were at last rewarded. In early September 2012, I passed the written tests and was summoned to an oral exposé before a panel of three professors. The tumultuous Dr. Eb was one of the members. At the time, I had no idea who he was, neither of who were the two others.
A dozen folded sheets containing different topics were laid on a table. I sorted out one and unfolded it. The question which came up was the state budget. I was given ten minutes to first cogitate and then express myself whenever I felt ready.
To impress the jury I had planned to introduce the topic in English presuming that its respectable constituents were Francophones like the vast majority of teachers in Cameroon. Then I pursued my development in French. After I concluded and heard the feedback from the jury, I vanished away very hopeful. And a week later my hopes were met with cheers. I was selected and ranked nine among the thirty-something candidates. More than five hundred had initially applied.
Yaoundé was now my new hometown. In October 2012 I drove off my Master’s program in banking and finance at the international relations institute of Cameroon.
Every Monday to Friday and sometimes on Saturday, from 7.30 am to 5 pm and even above, I religiously listened to academicians of fame beyond Cameroon's frontiers in their respective realms. One of them stood out from his pairs and emphatically marked each of his appearances in the amphitheater 500 of the Mount of Olives. It was Pr. Pondi.
Wednesday mornings resembled Sunday’s masses in the Roman Catholic cathedrals in Africa. All seats were full. No student wanted to skip the meeting with the pope of international relations. Pr. Pondy's oratory mastery was unbelievably honeyed. What a motivational speaker he was! From the very first minute of the course, your dreams of grandeur suddenly seemed easily reachable. All obstacles faded away one after another. His teachings on African and worldwide leaders, past or present, were transmitted in a way so simple but so clear that we were each time in awe before his art. With him, the binding of theories and reality could not have been more evident.
At the international relations institute of Cameroon, everything was in contrast with what I was used to at the university of Douala such as the very limited number of students per level, around forty, and the dress code. For men, compulsory two or three pieces of a black or grey suit with a tie or a butterfly knot, or white long sleeves shirt with a tie and belted office trousers. Let alone covered leather shoes. For women, decent attire wrapping the bust and going below the knees. As for the shoes, like for men, covered and in leather.
Female students particularly struggled to comply with the clothing requirements. Frequently they glanced powerless at their outfits fall onto the scissors’ blade of the school director, the plenipotentiary minister, Sir Tab, who had taken the habit to stand in front of the main gate by 7 am, precisely thirty minutes before the first lessons of the day.
Dr. Eb was also fond of such practices. Resistance to his orders to remove the questionable uniform or ignorance of his warnings to dress properly next class could bring up a temporary or permanent school ban preceded by a street fight.
I believe he was a combat sports aficionado by his bodybuilder shape. With a constant nervous face, he secreted hostile humor to people of the same sex. However, his appearance was attractive to some ladies.
Once upon a time, he exchanged fists with the school accountant who could no longer stand his arrogance and publicly criticize his attitude. A fatal error that was. No one could hurt Dr. Eb's ego and get away. He was willing to risk all to defend his honor.
He told whoever listened that he feared nothing but his sole hierarchy: the chancellor of the university of Yaoundé 2. Thus neither the director of the international relations institute of Cameroon, which is a special faculty within the university of Yaoundé 2 nor any professor with a chair was able to control him.
For the whole first semester of the academic year, I lived with my uncle’s wife in Nlongkak without a major issue thanks to, I believe, my humility and ability to shut my mouth up.
In the second semester, the atmosphere deteriorated as Tata Id’s authoritarian behavior attained its paroxysm. It was her way or no way.
Even the breakfast, she dictated. I never fancied spreadable such as butter, marmalade, or chocolate. I liked to debut my morning with a pear salad omelet, which I could eat all weekdays. So, often, I disregarded the house breakfast and went out to buy whatever pleased me.
In the evenings, dinner was served and all the house dwellers had to gather at the eating table downstairs.
When I just moved in, I gladly participated in the voluminous feasts. Indeed, there was plenty of food every night, more than enough for only six persons and later four when the first two sons Cary and Chry went to Douala to pursue respectively marketing and finance studies at the St Jeremy catholic university. They stayed in the villa at Kotto with their father, my uncle Mar.
Once we were all together assembled in the dining room, Tata Id would then activate her Sherlock Homes mode by incessantly pressing each of us, her children, with inquiries ranging from privacy to general culture while revisiting daily news.
The sequence was usually a source of controversy due to diverging opinions from her. God was a witness to how fast she was vexed.
However, in the case one ignored something that was, according to her, elementary, she mocked in front of all and wondered over and over how come such a basic matter was unmastered.
One day, while we were in the parlor watching our old ailing nineteen ninety-something cubic model television, Tata Id, out of nowhere, recited part of a famous french proverb and asked me to finish the words.
First off, I was stunned as it looked like a primary school instructor in front of her pupil, and then I stared at her speechless. She turned to her audience, my cousin Ingra, and pointed out my alleged unawareness. Then with an air of superiority, she completed the rest of the maxim.
I can not assert if that was the very moment I made up my mind to henceforth avoid family gatherings by spending as much time as possible in my bedroom upstairs whenever my uncle’s wife was downstairs. Anyway, sure the incident impacted the aftermath of my life under her patronage.
On a Saturday morning, I was on campus reviewing lessons with my classmates for the next class exams. While doing so, I received a phone call. I picked it up and it was Tata Id on the line. She was so pissed off.
A problem had occurred at home and for her, I was undoubtedly responsible for it. She professed all sorts of ugly things about me. My memory is a little bit foggy about what she accused me of but the flash in my head relates the incident to the bread that had been bought for breakfast.
Whatever! This time she had exceeded the limits.
I could not cope with such rants anymore. I left my classmates and headed home to confront her. Right after, I made a phone call to my uncle Mar in Douala and confided to him that I wished we talked on his next visit to Yaoundé. Usually, he came on Fridays and drove back to Douala on Sundays.
Shortly after, I sent an electronic mail to my aunt Daisy in France and recounted to her the humiliation her sister-in-law had inflicted on me. She read my message and called me on my handset. She was upset with Tata Id and blamed her for her longtime mistreatment of certain members of her family-in-law. She ended the talk by enjoining me to move out of the house and that she would pay the rent for a student room.
A few days later, uncle Mar was finally in the capital. Once in our home, in aparté, we discussed as I had solicited. I shared with him my intention to leave and lodge near the school. I pointed my finger at no one but the strain of traffic jams that I had to go through on my way to school and home. He was not duped about the real motives for my moving out but pretended not to know anything.
Tata Id was informed of my decision to exit from her home and attempted to change my mind. She underlined the advantage of living with her at no cost and being surrounded by family. Still, her efforts were in vain as aunt Daisy’s engagement to financially sustain me for the rest of my time on the school benches was firm.
A couple of weeks passed by and she matched her words with action. She transferred to my name a significant amount of money which totaled a hundred thousand francs CFA. A portion of it helped rent and equip a student room in Obili behind the fuel station Total. From there I trekked about just five minutes to my school.
I occupied the accommodation even sometime after my graduation, seeking a job in Yaoundé but I never succeeded to grab one. Eventually, my aunt Daisy put an end to her financial assistance. With no money, I had no choice but to run away from the administrative capital’s ruthlessness. I returned to Douala, in my aunt Mimi’s under-construction villa in Bonamoussadi.
EPISODE 1: DEPARTURE TO THE UNKNOWN
I was back in Douala after three good and challenging years in Yaoundé. I rejoined the family cocoon after my solitary adventure in my student accommodation. My aunt Mimi sheltered me in her house whose construction works had been halted due to a shortage of funds.
We were located in Bonamoussadi, block K, one stone away from the mid-famous and mid-notorious privately funded high school IPPB.
I bore the same surname as her husband, Ebelle. So we got along very well. Her three children, two grown-up boys, and a little secondary school girl, quickly, embraced me like a senior brother. Betro the firstborn was six years younger than I while Sergo was eight years fresher. I was twenty-seven back then.
Aunt Mimi was a very hard-working and independent middle-aged woman. Like most locals, she ran many unlicensed enterprises. Her specializations encompassed utensils rental, chairs, table clothing, event venue decoration, catering, tailoring, real estate brokerage, and anything else lawful that was capable to generate income.
Thanks to her incredible dynamism she took care of the house expenditures and supported her retired husband, a former chief accountant of the bankrupt national airline Camair.
We were unofficially aunt Mimi’s work collaborators. Everyone in the house partook in one way or another in her business activities. Her husband, Tonton Ebelle, was her greatest relay. He would sometimes do what people of his age and stature normally don't, such as cleaning.
Sexagenerian, he washed with a baffling enthusiasm and force the hundreds of dishes, spoons, forks, and assimilated that had been hired and sent back by aunt Mimi's clients.
And while aunt Mimi was outside busy with other stuff, he helped her out by setting food orders from customers. He for instance ran to the quartier’s open-air market, about twenty minutes away from our government-funded villa, purchased charcoal for the smoked chicken, and delivered the package to the client.
I too lent a big hand to aunt Mimi but contrary to her husband I was ashamed to wash greasy cookware. I had just completed a Master’s degree in one of the most majestic tertiary education institutions of Cameroon and still could not get a decent job. Huge was thus my frustration to be aunt Mimi’s de facto kitchen helper.
I understood the importance to assist her with the house and business chores. It was very necessary to achieve a large net margin. We were not remunerated like salaried employees would be and were simply fed, outfitted, healed, tipped, and thanked as members of the family.
While carrying on my duties in the house I looked for job opportunities either on the web or through some relatives with good social stature. These foxes excelled in making empty promises to a desperate youth like me.
Neither my tubby uncle JP, the second son of my late father’s father, with his “long connections” nor my late mom’s friend, Tonton Giles, a financial executive for the Autonomous Port of Douala, nor aunt Mimi’s brother-in-law, a homonym (Ebelle) and senior accountant at the national company for electricity, could get me even a mere internship.
The job search-related sprints across Douala downtown, notably in the commercial zones of Akwa and Bonanjo, ended fruitlessly too.
No bank, no microfinance institution, no insurance firm, no telecommunications agency, etc, ever bothered to answer my motivation letters. The National Youth Funds, a public job-seeking agency, could not unlock the stalemate either. Their recommendation correspondence to SCB, a Moroccan commercial bank, did not draw attention to my candidacy for the then-ongoing recruitment.
So much energy, time, and money I wasted in the burning sun of Douala city. It reached a peak of forty degrees Celsius at times. The black leather shoes I had bought for school in Yaoundé cracked up. The heel was absorbed mercilessly by the tar and gravel on the roads.
Several months had passed since my graduation in February 2015 and still nothing. I received no phone call nor a single mail from a company to attend a job interview.
I survived thanks to aunt Mimi’s care until, in early November 2015, a married lady I had acquainted with during my studies in Yaoundé and who was aware of my critical life conditions contacted me. Her husband, a financial expert, needed a backup in his auditing cabinet in Akwa, situated on the perimeter of the AGIP roundabout.
Without prior negotiations over the terms of the employment I debuted. I started as a trainee, doing this and that. After a couple of weeks, a work contract was drafted for the position of junior auditor and I was offered a wage of seventy-five thousand francs CFA a month. It was way below my expectations, however, I did not refute it. To go back to sleep all day in aunt’s Mimi home was totally out of the question.
Meanwhile, there was a dilemma. Half of the salary was to be paid by the auditing firm and the other half by the National Youth Funds. That was a complex equation, given the heavy bureaucracy which characterized public entities. It took months before the National Youth Funds would execute the first payment.
The boss of the cabinet, my schoolmate’s spouse, was a tall and chubby man above fifty years of age who wrestled with fashion. His style was casual and contrasted with the generally classy one of successful entrepreneurs. He had abundant temper tantrums which were believed to be caused by a poor frequency of copulation.
Unsatisfied with my work and life conditions, I resumed my quest for new opportunities. End of November 2015, a non-profit organization in France emailed me regarding an invitation to a seminar on world finance that would take place in the city of Lyon. However, I possessed no travel documents, let alone financial means to cover the visa and flight ticket costs.
I accessed my phone and sought support from my friend Abba, inspector of finance in the ministry of finance. He invited me to his office in Yaoundé promising he would afford the passport-making fees. I went to my company’s boss's office, requested one day's leave of absence, and hopped into the next morning's train binding the capital.
By 10 am I was in Abba’s workplace. From the pocket of his black jacket, he took out an unsealed envelope endowed with a whooping stack of twelve freshly printed ten thousand francs CFA bank notes. Then he handed them over to me, made a call to a friend of his who was employed at the passport issuance service at the National surety in Nlongkak and directed me to him.
On my arrival, the waiting area was overcrowded and noisy. Hundreds of passport applicants from all over Cameroon queued from the entrance portal to the fingerprints recording bureau at the other edge of the compound. They were braving the set of steps put in place by the immigration police.
Yet, I did not go through the same struggle. Abba’s friend, a young northern policeman without a uniform, came up to my level, checked the pile of documents I carried with me, and escorted me to the improvised photo studio at the left corner of the yard, bypassing the rank of early comers. They murmured but did not rebel. Some of them had been lined up since daybreak.
While I was being pictured, Abba suddenly showed up. He also desired a new passport. Which, I had no idea of just an hour ago when we saw each other in his office at the ministry of finance. Like me, he was guided by his police officer mate and jumped over people ahead of him.
After he was through with the passport photograph shooting, he joined me at the application files verification section. From there we continued together to the passport issuance fees payment unit and lastly to the fingerprints scan cell. Always by skipping the lined-up and passive folks.
Within an hour all stages were accomplished, and I returned on the same day to Douala. I departed from Yaoundé in the afternoon and was back home before midnight.
Three days later, my mobile line rang. Abba was at the other end of the receiver. He stated that the passports were issued and that mine would be conveyed to me via a colleague of his I knew and who was about to set foot in the economic town.
The co-worker was a gentleman from the north of Cameroon, the same as Abba, who had just started his career in the ministry of finance as a finance inspector too. Once in Douala, he phoned me while I was working at the auditing firm. I interrupted my duty and rushed to meet him in New Bell, a neighborhood opposite Akwa. On my arrival we exchange civilities, I collected my passport and went back right away to the office, happy and dreaming of my travel abroad.
Back home in the evening, I showed my crispy green-colored passport to my aunt Mimi and her husband. They were sitting on their bedroom bed. Eyes wide open, they wondered how and why I got such a valuable and costly document. I told them about my generous friend Abba and the non-governmental organization’s invitation to France. They listened to me attentively and then wished me the best.
Inexperienced in foreign trips, I began to gather the required papers for the visa application. Big was my disappointment to discover that the electronic message I had acknowledged receipt of, alone, was not enough for visa approval. I needed a support letter from the host organization addressed to the Embassy of France in Yaoundé, plus other elements such as a meaningful bank statement, proof of will to exit the french territory before the expiration of the granted days of the visit, insurance, accommodation, medical certificate, etc.
In front of this mountain of insurmountable difficulties, I let down the project and refocused on my job at the auditing firm.
Thankfully, I did not completely waste my time. I had got at least a fully sponsored passport after years of failed attempts because money was so hard to find. From fifty to seventy-five thousand francs CFA ranged the official prices.
My work at the auditing company was leading me nowhere. My boss was a laughable financial expert. He pretended to be a Doctor of philosophy from a university based in England but could neither speak nor write basic English. His credentials could not be verified anywhere. Unable to edit his texts on Microsoft Word, he tasked either me or the secretary. He brought to the cabinet funny financial investigation contracts. Their purposes were unclear and I and a senior colleague, previously auditor for Ernst & Young, were obliged to follow to the letter his unstructured inquiry methods.
Bored and frustrated to learn nothing from our so-called audits, I started to browse the internet during working hours in search of study opportunities abroad. I inclined my laptop at an angle that made it impossible for anyone to glare at the screen. I speedily switched back to the opened windows of Microsoft Excel or Word whenever the boss, my supervisor, and other colleagues approached.
My loss of concentration in my work became very noticeable. My breaks were abusively long and my excuses not to show up at all increased. I even one day disappeared discreetly from the office two hours before the closure. I deliberately left my laptop turned on as if I went outside to breathe fresh air and would thus come back in but I did not.
Ultimately I was sacked. A deliverance and in the meantime a catastrophe. A deliverance because I could no longer stand the personal discomfort emanating from a toxic work environment and a catastrophe because I had no money to care for myself and would therefore be once more aunt Mimi’s de facto kitchen helper.
I was back to my previous social status. With no job I stayed the whole day at home, and what I feared inevitably happened. I resumed the washing of tons of dirty rented dishes and pots returned from wedlocks, funerals, and birthdays ceremonies as well as professional and family events.
Times were tough for all at home. Aunt Mimi opened a low-cost restaurant in front of the house fence. She sold bread with cooked beans and beef mixed in tomato stew. By 6.30 am, Tonton Ebelle her husband, placed the stall and anti-sun removable roof. By 7 am work and schoolgoers massively flocked, ordered, and sent the sales skyrocketing.
On a few occasions, I served customers but usually, my role was to carry inside the leftovers and tidy up the oily utensils. They were not as many as those that were borrowed for mass celebrations. So the task was less fastidious or ate up less time. And often I teamed up with my aunt’s first son Betro or her eleven-year-old daughter, Ros.
By the end of December 2015, I spotted online a job offer. The recruiter researched a junior auditor. I got in touch with him and he organized a job interview which I agreed to attend. To my great surprise, his cabinet was situated just in the opposite street to our home, in block M precisely. The office was within his residence, on the first floor near the parlor.
Sixty years old, my new boss, Dr. Bonny, was a retired banker and also a specialist in Law. Fair-skinned, round and of average height, he transmitted his traits to his first daughter and last son who were his spit portrait whereas his first son inherited his wife’s physique: black skin, svelte and tall.
I began work and was treated like a member of the family. Mrs. Bonny was instructed by her husband to bring me afternoon lunch as well regardless of whether he was around or not. She confected delicious red oiled bean paste popularly known as Koki with boiled unripe bananas. She served also white fried rice with bitter leaves named Ndolè blended with peanut sauce and beef.
I did not get a formal employment contract but did not complain. I was more interested in the big money I expected to make from my first auditing mission. Dr. Bonny hoped to sign an agreement with the council of a municipality in a nearby village over the examination of the trustworthiness of the financial accounts that the mayor had presented.
A couple of months passed by and the deal was still not concluded. I despaired as my financial troubles lingered. In exchange for my services which at times were not linked to work such as errands, house water, electricity bills payment, children’s school transcripts collection, etc, Dr. Bonny compensated me with a ridiculous amount of twenty francs CFA. And from time to time he gave me one to two thousand francs CFA so I would not stroll around with empty pockets.
In mid-June 2016, accurately the sixteenth, I was off duty and lying on my bed. I checked my electronic couriers on my cellular and was wowed by a bombastic message.
My application for the Master’s program entrance test at ESFAM, a tertiary management school in Sofia, Bulgaria was selected. I bounced from the bed overjoyed. I had just crossed the stage of a past university performance review but was already projecting myself on a plane, en route to Europe. It still though remained an oral test to subdue.
I went to share the news with my aunt Mimi who did not express much excitement. She apprehended my information doubtful as my past outside-the-country travel tries did not prosper. She even highlighted that I had no money and the sad thing about her remark is that she was right.
A trip to the old continent was perhaps a chance to have a better life however it was an expensive endeavor that I could not afford. Despite this fact, I refused to give up.
Determined, I decided to speak with my boss Dr. Bonny about my travel plan. He encouraged me to carry on and revealed that he was as well arranging for his oldest daughter a studies trip to Romania, a neighboring country to my destination Bulgaria.
A few days later, ESFAM deputy director, Mrs. Tocheva, in a new electronic note invited me and other candidates from Cameroon to take part in an oral exam that would be held on 29 June 2015 in the building of the organization of French-speaking countries in Yaoundé, next to the university of Ngoa-et-Nkellé.
I arrived in the capital from Douala a day before and booked a relatively cheap room in a hostel, five thousand francs CFA a night. It was located in Mini-Ferme, a street reputed for its twenty-four hours bars, hot nightclubs, roadside restaurants, and hookers. The place was not the best for exam preparation but it was the most economical.
Early in the morning, by 6 am, I got off bed, bathed, and dressed in my old but still nice-looking grey suit that I wore during my time at the international relations institute of Cameroon. I felt great and confident. I guessed in my head what type of questions would the jury ask and simulated how I would respond.
By 7.30 am I reached the oral test venue. Other candidates, men, and women attended too. Outside, on the main court, while waiting for the local organizers to establish the internet connection with the school administration in Sofia, we chatted about how life in Europe would be.
Then, the communication material was set, and the auditions started. Candidates were called one by one inside the building. Those that went in first, at their exit, betrayed the content of their face-to-face with the panel in Sofia.
After a little moment of patience, it was my turn. I entered the oral test room which was air-conditioned, neat and spacious, and equipped with brand-new and advanced computers. They featured high-definition images and stereo sound.
On the LCD screen in front of me appeared an imposing white and mature ginger woman with long combed hair that touched her shoulders. Without delay, she took the floor and introduced herself as Professor Maria, director of ESFAM.
She went on by naming the invisible other members of the panel who surrounded her then explained how our fifteen-minute interview would progress. Her development lasted about two minutes, then she shot a flurry of questions. She interrogated my educational background, my expectations for my future studies, and my plan after they were completed.
Very relaxed, I replied concisely and clearly to each of her queries to the extent that at the end of the interview, she was so curious about which field I was interested in. I interpreted her insistence as a sign of things evolving in my direction. I said business management. She objected and said public management was more suitable for my profile. I simply nodded and thanked her, then bid her farewell as my time was up.
Out of the oral test room extremely satisfied with how events turned out, I briefed the rest of the candidates about my experience with the jury. After a while, before noon, I headed to the interurban travel agency Garantie Express in Mvan and boarded the next bus to Douala city.
Back in Douala, I resumed my daily routine. From Monday to Friday, I worked at Dr. Bonny’s cabinet and on the weekend I relieved my aunt Mimi with her trade. I tried not to think much about the upcoming outcome of the ESFAM entrance competition. I had nothing to worry about knowing my performance captured the attention of the director, Professor Maria.
On 14 July 2016, the suspense came to an end. Mrs. Tocheva, the deputy director, though once again an electronic mail, communicated the definitive results of admission to ESFAM. I scrolled the list down and could not believe my name was among those of the one hundred and eighty-two chosen candidates.
This time things were more serious than ever. I had found the key to the door to Europe, great Europe. Just a few more steps and I would be there.
I announced the news to my aunt Mimi but her skepticism was still unbreakable. After all, why would she trust things that were only happening on my smartphone and were so far away from us? Had she even heard of Bulgaria before? It remained to be seen!
Dr. Bonny and his wife congratulated me and cheered with me. They had become like my parents. Their children were happy for me as well, especially their ten-year-oldest born, Junior, who even begged me not to forget about him once in Europe.
A few days following the publication of the admission results, Mrs. Tocheva sent a new digital text requesting future students a scanned copy of their passports. I forwarded mine and the next morning I received my letter of acceptance to ESFAM. The dream of Europe was getting more and more palpable. I had now to file a visa application at the nearest embassy of Bulgaria which unfortunately was in Abuja, Nigeria eight hundred kilometers away.
I had never traveled to a foreign land, so I was intimidated by the new challenge. Nonetheless, I coped to stand strong and sought the assistance of former students of the school. I logged into Facebook and typed the word ESFAM in the research bar. Several profiles were shown and I messaged two of them, a boy - Jerry - and a girl - Edwige - who seemed originally from Cameroon.
They both responded and provided me with vital advice such as the mandatory joint authentication of the criminal record by the ministry of foreign affairs in Yaoundé and the Cameroon high commission in Abuja. It would have been detrimental to arrive in Nigeria before getting this information. In the past, the Embassy of Bulgaria in Abuja rejected many student visa applications not fulfilling this criterion.
Bit by bit and rapidly I pieced up the required documents for the visa request but lacked the core stone: the proof of sufficient funds to cover my living expenses during the stay. The studies in Sofia were to last a year. For support, I, visited my maternal uncle, Rodal, at the premises of his own painting company in Bali. Tall, massive, and around fifty years of age he was a role model, notably for the albinos' community to which he belonged.
He had built a very profitable business in seigneury and serigraphy. He pledged to undersign an affidavit in which he engaged himself in sustaining me throughout my period of studies in Bulgaria, however as for his bank account statement which had to be attached to the affidavit he had some reserves. So I had to exercise little patience for him to check.
Delighted anyway I left uncle Rodal’s office. A couple of days later he called me on the phone and was very sorry. He apologized he would not be able to fulfill his promise. He told me that his personal and company bank accounts were twinned and he was not ready to disclose the sensitive data that they contained.
Disappointed but reasonable, I realized that my uncle Rodal would have had to share with me how wealthy or not he was. He was willing to assist me but in another way.
Without the affidavit, my student visa application was inarguably doomed to disapproval. Once again my friend Abba came to the rescue. He asked me to travel to Yaoundé to see him in his office and he would put his signature on an affidavit and go to his bank to request his account statement.
Without wasting much time, I stepped onto the next train to the capital city and met Abba who astonishingly signed with no reserve the affidavit model I had elaborated and printed out. Then we rolled together in his car to his bank headquarters downtown where he took from the clients' advisor his private account statement and gave it to me.
Finally, all the pieces of the student visa application were assembled. I was now geared up for an adventure in Nigeria. However, I needed extra funds as I had burned out a great portion of my savings.
I texted Mrs. Andrea, my former American English tutor in high school in Yabassi. I had lived with her for one year. She had come to Cameroon in 1998 to volunteer for Peace Corps, an American non-governmental organization, and had gone back to the United States of America in 1999.
In my message, I recounted what was up and how dear her assistance would be. She reacted excitedly for me and told me she would wire me some money as soon as possible. That was a breakthrough as she had helped me countless times in the past and never swallowed her words back.
I also solicited Hermann, a friend of mine who had immigrated to the United Kingdom several years ago for studies and was now working. Agreeably surprised was I to learn that he had passed through Nigeria to obtain his student visa from the British high commission in Abuja before flying to London.
So he was well experienced in the itinerary from Cameroon to the capital of the Super Eagles and knew people over there who could lodge and orient me. He put me in touch with Raoul, the president of Cameroonian students in Nigeria, who lived in Markudi in the Benue State and was writing a Ph.D. thesis in agricultural economics.
Lastly, he made a promise to transfer me some cash once in Nigeria so I would not have to lose a few bucks from the unnecessary exchange of francs CFA to naira. Which was full of sense. From the British pound to francs CFA, then from francs CFA to naira would have indeed been a much more costly transaction.
There was also an alternative way to reach Bulgaria which I was considering. It consisted of first applying for a visit visa at the Turkey embassy in Yaoundé, then flying to Turkey and from the capital Ankara requesting a student visa at the Bulgaria embassy, then embarking on a plane to Sofia.
I thus made a trip to Yaoundé from Douala to carry out this plan. I submitted my visit visa application at the Turkish embassy but it was simply discarded despite the letter of clemency that Mrs. Tocheva, the deputy director of ESFAM had addressed to the Ambassador.
Shocked and in a panic that my unique real chance to move to Europe would slip away, I dialed my aunt Mimi’s phone number and announced to her that I was on my way to Nigeria to get a visa directly from the Bulgarian embassy in Abuja as the attempt to transit through Turkey had just aborted. She did not protest and wished me a safe journey.
I headed to the West bus station in Obili and bought a ticket for Bamenda, the main city of the North West province of Cameroon which borders Nigeria. On my arrival by noon, the coaster was half full. I sat in the back seat and prayed to the Almighty for protection. Passengers came in in small numbers.
By 3 pm all seats were occupied and by 3.30 pm our vehicle drove off in the direction of Bamenda Up station, about four hundred kilometers away from our position.
With very little money remaining with me, I was deeply worried about how I would pay for the various expenses incurred by my trip. On the road, I texted Raoul, the president of Cameroonian students in Nigeria who indicated to me his address in Markudi and advised me about the purpose of the trip I should declare to Cameroon and Nigeria border patrols. He cautioned me to state that I was going to explore firsthand the university of Markudi and eventually enlist myself.
Revealing the true reason for my migration would have made me appear to the eyes of the frontiers police like a rich traveler and therefore be an occasion for them to extort as much money as possible from me as they do to Mediterranean sea adventurers.
Talking with Raoul was essential but I still had a big gap in my budget and that was what was on my mind to Bamenda. My friend Hermann had promised to give me some funds, on Nigeria's side. Mrs. Andrea’s money transfer was still pending. That was a very stressful situation but I continued the journey anyway.
By 10 pm our bus penetrated the esplanade of the Bamenda Uptown travel agency. We had had a relatively quiet itinerary except for the many potholes which littered the road at the city entrance. We disembarked from the car and zut! It was cold, extremely cold. Not being a fan of weather forecast news I was not aware at all that such a European-like climate existed in Cameroon.
During the trip, I acquainted with a nice young man who was originally from Bamenda. I confided to him about the fact I did not yet have a place to rest for the night. He asserted that it was not an issue and that he would take me somewhere. Which he did. We went to a hostel whose manager was a familiar face to him. He negotiated the night fare on my behalf and got the insignificant price of two thousand francs CFA which I paid.
With no heater, my room was frozen. I had neither a duvet cover. Before sleeping I decided to stroll around my lodging and enjoy the delicacies of the city. I stopped by a street restaurant and ordered pear salad spaghetti with an omelet, one of my favorite daily meals.
Done, I footed back to my hostel room and lay on the bed. I was thinking about my shortage of money and how to make it in the morning to Ekok, the border village with Nigeria. Stuck, I picked up my handset and composed a new text which I sent to Mrs. Andrea in America urging her to intervene swiftly given my critical situation. Exhausted from my long journey in the day, I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
The cold was devastating. Too much for the southern Cameroonian that I was, used to the tropical heat. Not being able to entirely abandon my body in the arms of Morpheus, I woke up and sought ways to warm myself up.
Around 4 o’clock I signed back into my electronic courier and discovered that not so long ago Mrs. Andrea had answered me. Indeed with the time difference between our two countries, it was barely sunset in the state of New Mexico when I mailed her. She had not wasted more time. She had ordained to her bank to transfer my name via MoneyGram a stunning amount of hundred and fifty US dollars.
In the morning by 8 am, I stepped inside MoneyGram Bamenda Up town and withdrew the equivalent amount in the local currency, which was about one hundred thousand francs CFA. A big change in the course of events.
With now enough money to attain my final destination and comforted by the promise of Hermann to bail me out once in Nigeria, I went back to my hostel room, packed my belongings, and headed to Bamenda Up town travel agency to take the next automobile to Ekok.
On my arrival by 9.30 am, the place was very calm. There was not much going on. I bumped into a man who turned out to be one of the drivers of the empty five-seat cars which were parked in the yard. I told him that I wanted to reach the Cameroon-Nigeria border in Ekok. He confirmed that was where he intended to drive to, however, the departure time was rather in the afternoon.
To kill the time, I went to eat in an open-air restaurant in the travel agency compound. I ordered Eru, a palm oil soup mixed with water leaves, cow skin, and smoked fish along with boiled cassava paste popularly known as Fufu. Through, I prattled for a while with the old lady who sold the food then I stood in the yard looking at the mechanics fixing the wheels of a vehicle. The clock kept on ticking until 2 pm and then like there was a scheduled meeting passengers flocked in.
Our car was full in a matter of minutes. Seven people in total for the five seats normally assigned. Three in the front row: the driver alone on the left seat and two passengers both sat in the right seat. Four in the back row: four other passengers among which myself. Two thousand francs CFA was the transportation fare for the three hundred kilometers we were on the verge to conquer.
Set, the journey started. The road was surprisingly undamaged. Of very high quality, the driver took himself for batman and transformed our four-wheeler into a batmobile. He defied constantly death. Unafraid, I admired the landscape of hills which paraded endlessly.
By 5 pm under showers, we got to the Cameroon western border village: Ekok. The driver stopped the car three hundred meters away from the police checkpoint and all passengers dropped out.
Barely outside the vehicle, another driver came up to me and inquired if I was planning to cross the border, to which I replied in the affirmative. He then conducted me to the Cameroon border police office but halted at the entrance. On my way inside he whispered the price of the exit pass. “Two thousand francs CFA,” he said and I simply nodded.
At the reception, I met a female police officer who was sitting behind her desk. I greeted her and asked for an exit stamp. She requested my passport, which I presented to her. While stamping my travel document she questioned my motives to leave the country and I told her exactly what Raoul had advised me. “For studies at the university of Markudi,” I retorted. I took back my passport and rejoined the driver outside waiting for me.
The stage of exit stamp was achieved with no trouble, I had now to convert my francs CFA against nairas. The driver proposed to do it on my behalf, which I did not oppose. He seemed to want to help and transpired an air of a trustworthy man. I entrusted him with fifty thousand francs CFA and he rushed to the bureau of change opposite us. A few minutes later he was back with around forty thousand nairas which I recuperated.
We then walked to his car which was parked on the right side of the road. Travelers were already inside. I hopped in and sat on the front passenger seat which a lady had already occupied. She shifted a little bit to her left to create some space for me. The driver started the car engine and advanced towards the Cameroon police checkpoint at a slow pace. The border security controlled our travel documents and then lifted the iron bar blocking the passage.
We were now in no man’s land. In front of us, was a high fence on which was hanging a sign inscribed with the words “Federal Republic of Nigeria border security”. Adjacent to it was a small building on top of which a floating green white green flag waved at us.
We progressed, still at turtle speed. A hundred meters away from the gate the driver cut off the motor contact, exited the car, and instructed me to shadow him. Which I did. The other passengers stayed in the car. They were all Nigerians.
I followed the driver who entered the Nigeria border security office and in a local tongue began to converse with the agents who were inside. Then one of them, a man, asked for my passport, which I extended to him. He flipped the pages and investigated the purpose of my visit. I repeated exactly what I said to their Cameroon counterparts: “For studies at the university of Markudi”. He claimed two thousand nairas for entry stamp fees, which I settled, then he granted me access to the territory of the federal republic of Nigeria.
Back in the car, the driver drove off in the direction of the fence. The Nigeria border security opened the gate. They inspected our vehicle, found nothing suspicious, and let us cross.
It was now real. I was abroad for the first time in my life. Moved, my eyes became red and in silence, I shed tears. The beauty of the greenery and the freshness of the wind removed all the strain from me. For a long moment, I felt invincible as we colonized the thirty-five kilometers distance between the border checkpoint and the principal town around, Ikom.
We tamed the forest and the few potholes on the way and in less than one hour we reached the lively commercial center of the city. The driver found a free slot, parked, and showed the palm of his hand to collect the transportation fare. One thousand nairas was it. We paid and got out of the vehicle.
Now I had two options: either spend the evening in Ikom and eventually sleep in a hostel and leave early in the morning for Markudi where Raoul the president of Cameroonian students in Nigeria was expecting me or continue the journey by taking the next car binding the capital of the Benue state and be there by dawn. After a moment of thinking, I retained the second option.
I toured the parking where a few travel cars were on the wait of passengers and got one that was set for Markudi. The night had completely fallen and the van was still empty. I reserved my seat for three thousand nairas.
A young pretty ebony lady with African braids showed up, purchased her ticket, and filled a seat next to me. She looked into her bag, brought out a pack of peanuts, and asked me to join her. It was just a polite way in the Nigerian culture to invite without really inviting anyone around when one was about to eat. Yet, I did not know it at the time so I joined the revolver-eyed maiden, and hungry that I was I devoured her peanuts.
Fortunately for me, she got amused by my attitude and fell for my Cameroonian accent. We sympathized like two old friends.
The car was now full, the driver switched on the motor and we departed from our location by 9 pm. A long, very long journey began. It was relatively dark. The road was not lit and was infested with elephant holes.
The driver pulled off one of the best performances I had ever witnessed. Like a snake, he zigged to the right then zagged to the left, zigged to the right again then zagged to the left once more. He repeated this maneuver ton of times as it was impossible to move straight like on a road with Olympic lanes.
Despite the pitiful state of the way, we finally stepped foot at Markudi central bus station. It was almost sunrise. I took my mobile phone and called Raoul to come to pick me up. An hour later he met me and we headed to his home on New Bank street. The accommodation was a modest concrete student room with a back window overlooking a piggery.
Squeezed by the overnight car shakings, I rested for a couple of hours and at my awakening, Raoul had concocted a yummy local dish: Egusi soup. A stew made of pounded white seeds drowned in palm oil and of bitter leaves and smoked fish. It was accompanied by balls of boiled yellow cassava grains named Tapioca. I swallowed the meal at light speed. I had not got a proper lunch since I left Bamenda in Cameroon.
The next day, a Thursday, I was fit and ready to go to Abuja, the federal capital city. By 6 am I was up and by 6.30 am I was at Markudi bus station where early drivers were running after customers. I embarked on one of the five-seat cars that was almost full and settled the two thousand five hundred naira transportation fees. By 7 am the driver started the engine and we began our two hundred and fifty kilometers journey.
By 11 am we crossed the federal town entrance checkpoints guarded by heavily armed soldiers. Thoroughly they screened all vehicles including ours. It was visible by their smileless faces that they were not outside to play. Any mistake could be lethal. Boko Haram, a terrorist group based in the North of the country and which had pledged allegiance to the notorious Islamist state “ISIS” had threatened to attack the federal capital territory.
By 11.30 am we arrived at a bus station on the outskirts of the city. The driver parked and we evacuated from the car. I hastened to grab a taxi for Wuse 2 downtown in the quartier of embassies, at Cameroon high commission headquarters, to proceed with the authentication of my criminal record.
By noon I reached the place, went through the security check, and was allowed inside the premises of the one-floor building. A lady member of the staff approached me in the hall and inquired about the reason for my visit, which I disclosed to her. We climbed the stairs to the first floor. I filled out an application form and handed it over to her along with the original of my criminal record which I had already made certified by the ministry of foreign affairs in Yaoundé.
I underscored the urgency to have the document authenticated quickly on the same day so I could go afterward drop off my student visa application at the Bulgarian embassy. The lady stated that I should stroll around the neighborhood and come back in two hours for collection. The document would be ready by then. I paid the charge fees, two thousand nairas, retreated from the compound and passed time at a street restaurant nearby where I savored noodles, nationwide called Indomie.
Barely had I digested my tasty lunch it was already 2 pm, the time which the employee of the Cameroon high commission said I should come back in. I left the street restaurant and returned there. Once again I was searched by the sentinel and like the first time, he admitted me inside. I headed straight upstairs and met the lady who had served me and indeed they were through with the authentication of my criminal record. I took back the document, gave my thanks, and vacated.
With all my files conformed, despite the relatively late time as the Bulgaria embassy closing time neared, I hopped in a taxi to get there. It was situated at 10 Euphrates Crescent street in Maitama, twelve minutes away. I tried to hide my ignorance of the address and to appear like a local so that the man at the steering wheel would not overcharge me. One thousand nairas were agreed for a “drop” as the driver would not have to slow down and entice other passengers on the sidewalk.
After going past just a few streets, we spotted the embassy. I recognized the building immediately as I had visualized it on many occasions in 3D dimensions on Google maps. I dropped out of the taxi and rushed to the entrance gate. I rang the bell and waited for a little moment then a guard opened the window overlooking the street and asked for the motive for my presence, which I revealed to him. He responded that I was unfortunately late because the consular section had ceased its activities since noon and would only resume the next day by 9 o’clock.
Disappointed and now with a problem as to where to stay till the following day, I gave a phone call to Raoul in Markudi and informed him about the situation. He requested some time so he could connect me with a few contacts in Abuja who could lodge me for the night. While awaiting his feedback, I walked down Euphrates Crescent street and visited a Turkish restaurant that sold Shawarma and ordered one.
While biting on the spicy chicken meat wrapped with a circular and flatbread, my phone rang and it was Raoul at the other end. He communicated to me the address and mobile number of a friend of his nicknamed Ambassador.
I dialed the number of my future host. He picked up and asserted that I was welcomed in his humble hideout and described to me how to get to him. He dwelt in Kwuba, a very quiet residential area where extravagant real estate projects were germinating.
I first walked back to my previous location Wuse 2. There I took a collective taxi to Gwarinpa Avenue for two hundred nairas, then switched to another vehicle. One hundred and fifty nairas I paid to the driver of the van for the main entrance of Kubwa.
Then against a fee of hundred nairas, a bike driver transported me inside the neighborhood speeding on the sandy lane and stopping at the main roundabout where were parked fellow drivers. I stepped down from the two-wheeler and phoned Ambassador to signal my arrival. Ten minutes later he came to pick me up and we trekked to the accommodation. It was lit with a petrol lamp and had several tenants who shared the ground space to nap. Ambassador offered to eat but I declined politely. We spent the evening joking until It was time to rest. I had to rise early to complete my mission.
Before the sun shone in the sky I was awake. I had to revisit the embassy of Bulgaria but this time within the range of 9 to 12 o’clock. I showered, dressed, and carried my backpack containing the visa folder then Ambassador saw me off to Kubwa's main entrance. From there I regained 10 Euphrates Cressent street through the same path I had passed through the day before.
Around 9 am I was back in front of the building of the Bulgaria diplomatic mission. I pressed the gate bell. The security agent opened the window of the sentry box and questioned about the purpose of the visit, which I exposed to him. He went inside the main building and resurfaced after a few minutes and moved towards the gate which he unlocked. He then invited me to step in and walked up to the open door in front of me, which I obeyed.
I stood at the doorstep and slightly knocked while leaning towards the front to peep at the interior. I looked to my left and remarked a counter covered with transparent bulletproof glass just leaving enough space to slip in and out documents. Amplified microphones were posed from either side.
A big and tall white man petting the back of a brown-colored dog as huge as him was sitting behind the desk. He pointed furtively to the empty chair in front of me and commanded me to sit down. Behind him, a blonde white lady occupied another desk on which was laid a computer, a printer, and heaps of documents.
The White man, that I had identified as the consul, interrogated me on the reason for my visit which of course he had already heard of from the gate man. I repeated myself and told him that I came to apply for a student visa. I added that I had been selected for a Master's degree program at ESFAM in Sofia.
He demanded that I slipped into the folder that I was holding along with my passport. Which I executed and one after another he scrutinized the documents. No discrepancy was discovered nor was missing a mandatory file. He passed on my travel document to the lady at his back who I believed was the consulate secretary and instructed her to save a scanned copy, which she did. Then he slid it back to me while claiming that I settled five thousand nairas for the criminal record legalization fees.
I paid the amount and we proceeded with the picturing of my face by using the high-tech camera that was hung on the head of a long stick standing on my right in a vertical position. Done, we carried on with the digitalization of the fingerprints of both of my hands, by utilizing the biometric scanner affixed to the counter desk.
After a few minutes, the somewhat stressful overall operation was over and I walked out a happy man.
Leaving the Euphrates Cressent street in slow motion, I already imagined myself returning, in the next three weeks, to the embassy for the collection of the visa. Done dreaming, I went back to Abuja travel cars park and boarded a vehicle for Markudi where Raoul was expecting me.
Back in Markudi, I had not had many nairas left in my pockets. Luckily for me Hermann, my friend in London, had in the meantime fulfilled his promise by wiring me a hundred thousand nairas through August, another friend of his, inhabiting the room next to that of Raoul. I took the money from August, deducted twenty thousand nairas that I kept with me, and gave the remaining amount to Raoul for him to hold for me.
All went on well. I stayed with the latter the whole time my visa application was being processed. We became very close friends. Eating, drinking, wandering across the neighborhood, and attending popular football viewing centers, together.
He was a diehard fan of Manchester United. He would cry when they lost and be in a very joy-killing mood. And when they were victorious instead, he would be like Neil Armstrong on the moon. Springing everywhere, commenting over and over again on the action leading to the goal while over-complimenting the players.
Almost three weeks had flown by. On a Thursday, I was lying on the bed, and my phone, which I had developed the habit to watch constantly since I submitted my visa application, began to ring. An unidentified number was displayed on the screen. My first thought was that it was surely from the Bulgarian consulate. The sim card that I was harnessing was from a local mobile telecommunications operator and I had no other friends except Raoul whose phone number was saved in the directory.
I picked up with excitement and a bit of nervosity. On the line, a female voice. The lady introduced herself as an employee of the Bulgarian consulate and announced to me that my student visa was ready for collection. Then without much courtesies, she hung up.
At the moment I managed to keep my calm and control the flow of joy that was exerting pressure on my heart. Raoul was sitting outside working on his laptop. I went up to him to share the news, and he reacted with a big smile on his face.
The day had considerably progressed, therefore it was impossible to take the road to Abuja right away. Raoul suggested that I wait until the next morning. Which I approved.
The night was incredibly long and I could not doze. In my head, the film of my visa collection and my flight to Europe was being projected. I was very impatient to have the sticker stamped on my passport.
Ultimately I got tired and by 4 am my eyelids were shut but just for two hours. I bathed and wore my clothes on. Then like during my previous trip to Abuja, I hurried to Markudi central bus station, took a five-seat car binding the federal capital city, reached Abuja travel cars park by 11 o'clock, then borrowed a taxi "drop" for 10 Euphrates Crescent, Wuse 2.
The cab driver raced as fast as possible to the address. I had alerted him about the consulate's time of closing which was at noon. While penetrating Euphrates Cressent street, I checked the clock on my handset and realized that I was ten minutes late. 12.10 pm it indicated.
Nonetheless, I did not back down. The car stopped almost at the level of the main entrance of the Bulgarian diplomatic mission. I dropped out, walked up to the gate, and rang the bell. The sentinel opened the window and asked about the nature of my coming, which I told him.
He answered back that the consular department was already closed, which I was aware of but pretended to be surprised. I implored an exception for my case, highlighting my long journey. The guard was categorical. I had to come back next week on Monday between 9 to 12 o'clock. Without much insistence, I left and hiked to Mataima in the area of the Cameroon high commission. I rested a while on the chair of a cyber café thoughtful.
Once again I had to adjust my plans. I was compelled to slumber in Abuja and this time, not for one night but two. Like the first time, Raoul whom I got on the phone intervened to assist me in finding accommodation. He pleaded with another friend of his, a certain Hermann, to nestle me for the weekend in respect to what had just happened.
The acquaintance who was a fellow Cameroonian resided in Mpape, a populated district in the opposite direction of Maitama. Without delay, I got in touch with him and he asserted that our friend in common had indeed talked to him about me and the issue I was facing. He then detailed to me the itinerary for his location.
I followed the path description with the help of the taxi driver and met the pal in Forest bar, a fancy pub under the branches of a handful of mangoes trees.
I arrived at the snack bar and found him there with some of his buddies drinking cold beer. He invited me to copy them, which I accepted against my will. I did not want to offend an unknown who had kindly consented that I would be his house guest for a few nights. Done enjoying the bitter and strong taste of local alcoholic beverages, we walked off and took the way to his accommodation. An endless trip.
We climbed on top of a bike, both of us sat on the passenger seat, footed the overhead pedestrian pathways of the city, hopped in a taxi, and leaped over the puddles and muddy parts of the roads of our suburb. And to top it all, it was dark all over. The electricity was shut down.
Raoul’s friend unlocked the door of his room and we got inside. It was tiny but well-arranged. A young lady came in as well. He introduced her as his little woman and supplicated her to cook something for us to dine. She agreed, disappeared for a while, then reappeared with a thick and well-seasoned omelet along with Cameroonian sticks of boiled cassava paste, namely Bobolos. We feasted, then slept.
By sunrise I got out of bed, showered, and looked at the time impatiently. It was too early to leave the house. My host who woke up in the meantime noticed that I was set to go and insisted we take breakfast, to which I unwillingly said yes.
We then directed ourselves to a nearby low-cost eatery and ordered both spicy beef broth with boiled white rice. Done filling our stomachs, it was slightly above 8.30 am. We walked off and went to the neighborhood's roundabout where we took a taxi "drop" for 10 Euphrates Crescent.
In less than thirty minutes, we had rolled to Wuse 2, the neighborhood of embassies. Not having a GPS device at his disposal, the cab driver began to whirl around the same streets over and over again, incapable to locate our destination. Neither I nor Hermann my host could help him. The area was unfamiliar to us as well. After a few turns here and there, the Bulgarian embassy finally popped up in front of our eyes. I was struck by a sudden joy as the car spiral adventure was at its epilogue.
The four-wheeler was stationed. Hermann and I descended from it while commanding the driver to wait for us. I began to move close to the entrance of the Bulgarian diplomatic mission. Hermann trailed me. I rang the bell. The vigil as usual opened the window and asked the reason for my presence, which I revealed to him. He required a moment and shortly after he unlocked the gate and invited me to step in, which I did. Then I walked up to the door in front of me. Hermann had wisely stepped back, knowing he would not be permitted to follow me.
At the doorstep, like on my previous visit, I knocked shyly at the open door while extending my neck inside the room and glanced to my left. Behind the bulletproof glass, the consul, without the secretary and his dog this time.
We exchanged greetings and he enjoined me to slide in my passport, which I did it. He picked it up, examined it, and asked me when I was planning to fly to Bulgaria. I was not expecting such a question, so I paused for a while, then I exclaimed "On the 15 October". He entered another room, leaving me alone under the surveillance of cameras.
I lifted my eyes to the ceiling, then looked down, strolled my spirit around the room, and then the consul came back, cutting short my moment of solitude. He slid out my passport and wished me a safe journey to Sofia. Just like that!
Wow! In a matter of seconds, I was a little Bulgarian. I took back my travel paper, without checking whatever had the consul done with it…or not, and left the room.
I exited the compound, Hermann was sitting on a big stone a few meters down the street. I trekked to his position. He stood up and by the glow on my face, he understood things had gone my way.
He asked me to show him the visa. I opened the passport and discovered at the same time with him a one-year valid sticker with a 4*4 picture of my head and inscriptions in both Latin and Cyrillic alphabet.
It was time to separate from Hermann who had been an awesome host. We exchanged customary civilities and I hopped back in the taxi, alone, for the direction of Abuja travel cars park where I intended to embark a vehicle to Markudi and from there continue to the south-east frontier of Nigeria-Cameroon.
On the way, I phoned Raoul to let him know that things were in order and that I was heading back to his place. I also added that I would pursue the journey to the southeast border of Nigeria-Cameroon the following day.
On my arrival in Markudi in the afternoon by 4 pm. Raoul was at home focused on his Ph.D. thesis. He congratulated me. I showed him the visa sticker and we went to a nearby bar to drink local beer and eat pepper soup with beef. The night was sweet. I slept by midnight.
Early in the morning before daybreak, I was up. I prepared myself and was set to depart to the frontier city, Ikom. Raul rose as well to accompany me. I took back from him the rest of the money that I had received from my friend Hermann in London and which I had entrusted to him to keep for me.
We left the house by 5:30 am and mounted both of us on the passenger seat of a bike to go to Markudi central bus station. When we reached there, the sun was pushing the crepuscule away. There was no car ready for Ikom yet, nor for other destinations. So we sat and waited.
Around 7 o'clock, passengers invaded the travel agency. The personnel was now active. I secured my ticket for Ikom, paid three thousand nairas, then joined the other passengers of the five-seat car assigned for the journey.
While on board, I expressed through the window my gratitude to Raoul who was waving at me outside. All settings made, the driver turned on the vehicle motor and took the road. It was around 8 o'clock.
We were riding in the direction opposite to the one that I had taken when I came…
I got emotional at the approach of the border. I suddenly had souvenirs of my three intense weeks. One particularly accentuated the flow of tears which were running down my jaws. It was about a thin and tall fair-skinned beauty of Benue state. She was a perfection of nature. Yes, Picasso was God's assistant when the flawless parts of her body were being drawn. Twenty years old she was. We shared quite a few nice moments but as it is said good things don't last.
The afternoon rubbed shoulders with the evening upon our arrival at Ikom travel cars station. Our driver parked and we hopped out. I sprinted around in the hope to find a car on the verge of moving in the direction of the border checkpoint. However, I got none.
I decided to see clearly what was going on and interrogated a resident. He made me understand that with the time on the clock, no car would move to the border unless I took a bike. He concluded by saying that I could also spend the night and leave early in the morning. And for me, that was out of the question.
I walked to the near roundabout where were stationed bikers. I gave my destination to one of them. He was willing to drive to the Nigeria border checkpoint for a fee of three thousand nairas, more than the regular one thousand nairas price. I was cooled off by his demands, nonetheless, I agreed to pay.
He droved the bike off and I climbed up. We began the ride. In the middle of the itinerary, he slowed a bit down and inquired about the type of travel document I owned. I told him "passport".
The bike driver shouted and complained about the amount of the transportation fare, which was suddenly not enough. He made up a reason to support his statement. He pretended that for a passport holder, the exit pass was complicated to obtain from the border police. I heard him but responded to him that I could not afford the extra fee. He retorted that I would in this case have to get off the bike and he would return to Ikom downtown. Obviously without me!
Baffled by the driver's words, I looked around and we were in the midst of nowhere. On our left and righthand sides were green bushes twice taller than the average human height. In front and behind us was the tar of a seemingly endless road. Like a drunk man who wakes up from a hangover, I came back to my senses. I consented to settle two thousand naira extra for the service. Going back to Cameroon was the most important.
I had made the mistake to let the driver know ahead of time that I was a passport holder. A signal for the sharks in the travel business to extort money from the supposed rich passenger. I had my national ID with me though. I could have just pretended that was the travel document I had used for entry into Nigeria. Would have this answer caused me trouble? I will never know.
Elated about his new deal, the motorcycle driver rolled wildly all the remaining fifteen kilometers to the border checkpoint. At the destination, he pulled over and requested the payment along with my travel document.
I removed from my backpack five banknotes of one thousand nairas each and my passport, which I put in the palm of his hand. He then went alone to the border control office. A few minutes later, he was back. He drove off the bike as the checkpoint security opened the fence gate and we crossed.
We were now in no man's land. In front of us, the Cameroon border police.
At a slow pace, the driver moved toward the barricade and stopped a few meters away. My passport with him, and he went inside the office near. Two minutes had barely elapsed he was already out. As the border patrol lifted the blockade bar, he handed my passport back over to me. He then started the bike engine, and we crossed. It was done! We were in Ekok, Cameroon.
I skimmed my passport and noticed two stamps: an exit stamp from the Nigeria immigration services and an entry stamp from the Cameroon frontier office. We were on the 08 October 2016.
Now it was time to go back to my hometown Douala to say goodbye to my family and take off from the city's international airport. However, I had a few things to finish off in Ekok…(to be continued…stay stunned for the next episode!)
TO BE CONTINUED
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