Adonis Diaries

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Something about my stay in Lebanon from late 1979 to mid 1985

 

We had a large apartment in Beirut and it was almost vacant for the duration of the civil war. One day, I passed by for a couple of minutes, for no reason, and the phone was ringing. A secretary for a local company was summoning me to an interview the next morning. I had no recollection of submitting a resume to the CAT Company. Next morning, I was meeting a high level representative, who came from Cyprus for a couple of days, just to hire new engineers for their expanding business in Nigeria.

 

Nigeria

 

The hiring representative did not ask me questions. I did not ask him questions. I needed to be off and out of Lebanon. At the airport in the Capital Lagos, two agents from the company met me and facilitated my entrance. I flew the same day to headquarter in the district of Benin and was lodged temporarily at a motel. I met an American young man at the dining room and ended up sleeping with a very young girl, sort of she was sent to me in my room.  I stayed in this motel for maybe 10 days and I realized that my hidden money was dwindling everyday; the cleaning woman didn’t confirm or deny but I carried al my cash with me.  I gave ample details on my stay in Nigeria in my piece “I could break your eyeglasses”.

I spent four months in a field compound, out in the nowhere, at a poor town lacking television transmission, called Okitipupa, and at 5 hours from headquarter.  The engineers, I was one, were supposed to wear regulation tall brown boots for discrimination purposes. Within a week I had malaria, even though I was taking the quinine pills regularly; an Egyptian physician was sent for me; I had a harrowing four days.  I lived with a civil engineer and we had a “boy” to clean our boots and prepare the table. I think that we had no cafeteria for the compound; as far as I recall, the menu of the “boy” was roasted chicken; the “boy” had a peculiar smell that made feel like vomiting and I could never get used to that smell; I should have thought of offering him soap and discover the difference but I was not an imaginative person.

The golden rule, as a member of the higher staff, was never say to subordinates “I don’t know”.  That rule was whispered to me by an English mechanics foreman; I had many occasions to verify the rule. Our plant engineer in Okitipupa, a Palestinian by origin called Sami, never handled anything; somehow, he once was in the mood of showing off his dexterity; he ruined three expensive pairs of fitters without succeeding and then got up as if of nothing; I tried my gentle touch at it and did it from the first time; I think that this person didn’t forgive me for taking over the task.  The next day, Sami assigned me a heavy duty vehicle to “fix” all by myself; I had never before touched any mechanical tool; I am an industrial engineer and had nothing to do with mechanics or mechanical engineering; a notion that it is hard to dissipate due to the wrong connotation given to industrial engineering which is basically managerial and not into mechanical design by any long shot.

The Lebanese and Syrian mechanics used to bring me, in secrecy, voluminous maintenance books to read sections and explain details; I had this feeling that management was very reluctant to instruct workers through manuscripts; as if the engineers were assigned to be the sole “priests” for the interpretation of the written manuscripts.  A Syrian foreman mechanics had an objective of opening his own heavy duty maintenance shop after he ends his contract period and was eager to purchase the appropriate expensive tools of the trade and the precision processes.  Obviously, management was not happy with my smooching with the workers: I used to go out with them after work in town and meet girls.  There was nothing in town for entertainment and the compound was a vast prison camp where I had to wear long brown boots of the bosses in that blasted hot and humid country.

A few thugs entered the compound one night; they killed three guards and threatened the manager to open the safe. We were awakened at three in the morning by the Lebanese manager, from the district of Koura, and we lodged a complaint at the town police quarter.  We drove by the slaughtered watchmen.

 

I was recalled and ready to be shipped out to Cyprus, supposedly the mother maintenance headquarter or something of that nature. I was somewhat reluctant for this sudden transfer even after this harrowing experience. I had to stay for another month redundant at headquarter.  This old English “personality”, supposed to be the official writer of letters, and from whom I used to borrow books from his private library in his allocated rented house, enjoyed repeating “Are we redundant today?” thinking that I didn’t know this word and wanted to impress me with his flatulent language.

The company accommodated me at a house with a private driver and a house male servant.  At night, the Nigerian driver would take me to a dancing place in the open air that was surrounded by a few huts.  It is from there that I was introduced to paid girls. (I wrote about this experience in my file “songs for women” under the title “I could break your eye glasses”). We were paid in Sterling pounds to an account overseas, mine in Lebanon; they had a complex money mechanism that served two purposes of avoiding taxes and keeping us under strict control financially. I had to borrow cash from my manager which was offered as gifts.

 

During that month I had the opportunity for several “adventure” trips.  I recall one particular trip that was truly an adventure in the nowhere.  I drove with a Lebanese foreman at a very remote tiny project site; after four hours of land driving we had to board a canoe to cross a murky river where people lived on the river; I think National Geographic would have made me rich if I had a camera; I am pretty sure if I fell overboard I would have been eaten by an alligator or piranhas. Well, after seven hours of crossing lands and rivers we reached destination; I looked around and found nothing of a project.  We did nothing; I would like to believe that we left a piece of tool and we were back and arrived by midnight.  My friend had another well hidden project, somewhere in Alice Wonderland: I declined. Nigeria is a vast country and that adventure trip was an eye opener to the extent of miseries. 

 

My return trip to Lagos airport was not a happy one and I was not accompanied by any agent from the company.  I boarded a ten-seat small plane; I thought that they have mistaken me for a parachutist.  The rickety plane was noise of hell and we experienced several air pockets and free falls; I was not perturbed: I had seen Nigeria.  At the airport I was searched four times, my suitcases completely ramaged through, until all my little alcohol bottles were accepted as gifts.  You need company agents to go in and go out of Nigerian airports; it was true then and true even more so today.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

September 2020
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