A true story of Kevin and I, when Europe met Africa *9 min read*
Osuofia in London. If Osuofia wasn’t yelling his order – pounded yams and egusi soup – to a clearly bewildered McDonald’s chef, he was lost for words why his late brother who lived in London, bothered marrying a white girl who couldn’t cook. No wonder, he argued, his brother must have died of starvation from this fetish doll.
If you’ve never gotten a chance to watch a scene or two in that Nigeria’s civilization – meets – Africa comedy, then you’ve no idea what mystery and confusion can engulf a son of Africa in those well – it, orderly, fully functional streets of Europe.
The order and sanity of that place prepares no African child, born and bred in confusion, the nightmare he shall be served upon setting foot there.
But we are trying. We, the colonized. We are trying to catch up, and it’s no secret that in some artifices of life we have matched the white man or surpassed his imaginations with our neck – breaking excellence.
Like a baby who longs to walk must first put up with series of tumbles, we have had to put up with some missteps, awkward and occasionally obviously dead – on – arrival missions.
Kevin and I were tellingly the very definition of first timers in this flying business. If there were an amateur class of fliers, we were at the very tail end; newbies. To some, this thing of flying had been common to them like the common flu.
They had learned the tricks and invented new ways to glide past any flight bureaucracies. Kevin and I had to first navigate our paths through our local airport, after the taxi dropped us at the international departures. This sort of hopping from security desks, to luggage drop, to immigration stands weren’t that heftier.
Where we failed to correctly comprehend the many signs and LED displays in the flights processing halls, our local citizens came in handy. A little Kiswahili thrown in, ‘wapi luggage drop point ya Emirates’, would get us the necessary information which in most cases proved how clueless we were; for the sought points would be right before our eyes.
Then the moment came, when we finally planted our soles inside the flying machine they call airbus.
I remember back in my younger days when my fascination with planes once settled on how, if ever the planes would run out of fuel, as do buses on the roads, will refuel midair and thereafter proceed with their flight. I had wondered if they could be parked, suspended in the air, and who would supply the fuel.
I had wondered if they could be parked, suspended in the air, and who would supply the fuel.
These thoughts obviously sound foolish but if you put yourself in the foot of a village boy whose only proximity to planes then were the ones flying over their village thousand kilometers ‘buoyancying’ in the air you’d buy him a little wine of pardon for such idiocy.
“Welcome ladies and gentlemen aboard Emirates. Your captain this evening is Stunted Quest. Our destination will be Amsterdam International Airport…”
No sooner had I eased comfortably into my seat, 37F, than I heard one bellow from what I later learned were overhead speakers strategically hooked and tuned to ensure that everyone, including those doing flushing businesses in the plane’s toilets, got the messages loud and clear. The TV screens before us, mounted at the back of each seat, read, ‘announcement in progress’.
You who live in the air already know that these sorts of announcements usually come in after all passengers have settled down, but yours truly here got messed up at the start. I had been amazed at the glam inside the giant airbus. And since some habits once developed are hard to exorcise, I had sat on a seat, any seat.
It must have been something 13B next to the aisle. I was comfortably watching others troop in, tuck away their hand luggage in the overhead compartments, when a slim lady, face heavily painted, delicately arrayed in Latin – themed coiffure and neatly donned in a beige uniform gently tapped me on the shoulder, “excuse me. You’re sitting on that gentleman’s seat.”
She was pointing at some tall blue – eyed Caucasian who stationed his mean look over my forehead clearly irritated at my audacity to occupy his seat! But how was I to know that those seats, unlike the Otange bus am used to, had marked owners?
Soon, we glided past the vast dense of cream – white clouds that had obnubilated the plane on both sides. The air outside seemed serene and the sky looked dazzlingly blue; over the yonder the last rays of the setting sun could be seen intermittently.
Kevin and I were heading to Brussels. This trip had materialized thanks to some training we had to undergo in order to operate German presses our firm traded in.
Like a market place full of merchants selling all manner of wares and services, this plane was jammed with souls on vacation trips, drug deals chasers, money laundering, noble statesmen and us of course.
The training would span over four weeks. Our firm had glossed us with cash, well enough to see us through the training. Eating, sleeping, local travel in the foreign land – this cash was for these. But there was a problem. We had all these monies in cash, Euros.
Hard notes, contrary to what those who know the dicey ways of travel would advise. The monies were slightly over a million shillings. So we spread the risk. Split the notes in half and each carried a split portion.
When you come from a continent, a city where fraud and theft seem to be the norm, you get twitchy everywhere you go.
When you come from a continent, a city where fraud and theft seem to be the norm, you get twitchy everywhere you go. I had, the previous night, nursed almost agonized over this weighty matter of carrying actual notes on me.
If I place them inside my trouser pockets, some thief, if not on my way to the airport or inside the airport, will with their wittiness easily unbeknown to me separate me from my cash.
If I placed them inside my laptop bag, which someone had assured me the airport officials won’t confiscate, some itchy fingers may still find their way and snatch the millions. But a man must make up his mind.
Ruing notes bulging from my trousers front pockets would automatically draw suspicion of gold presence from watching thieves, I settled on stuffing the whole cash in the laptop bag. I reserved fifty euros in my wallet, just in case, despite my precautions some cleverer thief manages to run away with the loads of cash.
My uneasiness was aroused further when during the many security checks, I had to remove my laptop from the bag, place the laptop and bag in different trays for scanning as I got marched to be scanned in another stand altogether.
You must have seen my face as I struggled necking my head to avoid missing a bit the movement of the bag over the belt. For some reasons your valuables on their belt usually end up on the other side fully scanned while you’re still stranded in some human queue waiting for your turn before you can be cleared to be reunited with your wares.
This was one of the very of many torments on my journey to Europe, the land of possibilities. Kevin seemed calm and collected. He acted unfazed by the many steps we had to go through. Perhaps he was convinced that in my restless state, I must have been watching over my wares and his too.
Kevin was always collected. He had been collected a year ago before he joined our firm when I had informed him of an opening. I had struggled to have him consider.
Apparently he was waiting for some feedback over an interview he had undertaken a week before elsewhere. He had been assured that the interviews were mere formalities, he was the man they had picked for hiring.
To date, he is still waiting
You know those kinds of jobs where your very ‘connected uncle’ tells you, ‘ah usijali. Hiyo job ushapata. They’re just sorting the paperwork then you’ll be called to report to work.’ He resisted my urge, waiting on that deeply toned assurance. He’s still waiting to date.
Maybe they lost his mobile number, or they misspelled his email and the offer got lost. Whatever it was, days later, he showed up at our firm. It must have dawned on him that promises are sweet but one can’t eat on them to a fill when real food is being offered around in plenty.
I had, following others’ cue and having wrestled with the counter thoughts, placed my laptop with the loads of cash in the overhead compartment. My eyes never let go of the very cabin that housed my bag.
I had fixed my gaze on it as a collector, with formalin, does to his insect. It had worried me, when before takeoff, after the airhostesses neatly locked the cabin into place, another passenger then another stood up, opened the cabin again to remove a sweater or a book to read.
I had struggled with even more puzzling scenarios, what if, a big if, while asleep, as it may well happen considering the flight was a startling eight – hour one, some character who had studied my fidgetiness decided to open the bag and snip off a few notes!
What if he carried the notes in whole; a clean sweep heist? Yes, it is true the pilot had mumbled something to do with fastening seats at all times in taxi, takeoff, turbulence and landing, but what happens in the in – between? The devil is always in the details.
Behold, it was no less than fifteen minutes since we left, passengers started moving about the plane like they would inside a slow moving Easy Coach bus. Some were chatting.
Some exchanged seats while others were deeply buried in tiny screens before them watching various movies. It had worried me; the movements.
But what broke the camel’s back was when I noticed, they stretched it further. They were now opening cabins searching for an item or two. Who put you there? To make it worse, some were neatly moving the luggage from the cabins to their seats!
It was at that moment that I knew that a fool, if he doesn’t make any stricter urgent adjustments, would soon be parted from his money. I stayed awake the whole eight – hour flight.
It is one thing to stay awake, but it is another altogether to be awake all that long glued to one spot. At some point I had thought of lifting the bag from the cabin and placing it on my lap, then I quickly killed the thought.
What if, some even shrewder thief, slipped the zip open and stole a note under my very knees! Needless to say, the many beautiful toilets in the plane, I only made use of them during our return flight; when the money was drained.
This story is based on our true story, Kevin and I. I must add too, the very first time too we boarded a plane😆
Europe was beautiful, when we saw it having finally navigated the last hurdle of clearances at the Brussels airport. Winter was fully underway and chunks of snow were visible on the sides of the road from the airport to our hotel.
You should have seen it, the shock on the faces of the hotel’s receptionists after they recorded our details off the passports and asked us, ‘five thousand euros and sixty cents. How would you like to pay?”
We opened the laptop bags and splashed in their faces bundles and bundles of euro notes. No one does that. Not it Europe, definitely not the white man.
They must have concluded in their minds, that these ones, like their political masters have joined the train of swindling their country’s coffers dry and since they cannot account for their monies, have preferred to walk with and pay in cash.
Kevin had not always been indifferent, sometimes his gaffes and wittiness bordered on clashing with friends and classmates. But what stood out most about him was his confidence even when we sometimes knew he was clueless over what he said he could do.
If the lizard of the homestead should neglect to do the things for which its kind is known, it will be mistaken for the lizard of the farmland. Not so the case with Kevin.
He could only fool for a while, but just like the fool and his money were soon parted, Kevin’s aloofness and belonging to darkness was unearthed and he, poor African son, was placed in his right wavelength.
After settling in our hotel rooms, we decided to take a stroll. Winter was our new norm and if you have ever noticed, cold weather creates overeaters. Somehow one just feel hungry sooner and more frequent than normal. Amidst the gentle breeze and dense cold air that speckled our faces with mists of frozen ice bits, we sought a restaurant to binge.
For a better part of the journey Kevin had managed to hide his cluelessness, his greenness until the restaurant happened. He had a firm understanding on how to swipe flight ticket barcodes on the machine to let you through a controlled area in the airport.
He had come to my rescue at Amsterdam airport when during boarding the next plane to Brussels I had gravely fumbled with getting the machine to read my flight ticket.
Clicks and grumbles were resonating down the line behind me from passengers who were not too amused by the jam caused by the clueless Osuofia ahead of them. He had tapped my shoulder and correctly placed my ticked over the machine. Phew!
“Bonjour messieurs,” throbbed a waiter who swung by our table the moment we cordoned a table.
“English? Do you speak English?” Kevin inquired after the waiter’s greetings hit us with gibberish meanings.
The waiter went over and brought us menu, the English version. He then left us on our devices pouring over the menu jammed with alien delicacies. I saw spaghetti and something about eggs, and that very moment decided that when a stranger in Jerusalem, test the river with the tip of your feet before taking a plunge.
Kevin was studiously quiet, unmoved by my great breakthrough. He kept digging the menu, studying it keenly as a doctor mending nerves of a patient during a ruptured spinal cord operation. Dropping his gloves on the table, he summoned the waiter to come take our orders. Kevin was ready.
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The waiter quickly noted my order in his little book, then whispered, ‘and you’, his forked smile exposing partly broken brown teeth; a clear product of overindulgence in chewing hat and toking weed.
“I’d go for this,” Kevin bellowed his thump pointing at his choice.
“Beef tartar dipped in lemon?” The puzzled waiter asked as to ascertain. Kevin nodded in approval. The bemused waiter slowly walked back to the counter where I saw him engage his colleague in a tense chat.
The waiter soon came back, his colleague in tow. The waiter stood aside, his fist clenching the order paper, allowing his colleague whose English was smoother to do the talking.
“Excuse me Sir. Are you familiar with what you’ve just ordered?” he swapped glances between Kevin and I before he rested his gaze firmly on Kevin and stirred the waters further, “this beef tartar is a plate of slices of raw beef and a piece of lemon appetizer. Are you comfortable with that?”
Kevin was rattled to the core. The shock on his face when uncooked raw meet was mentioned exposed his under belly. It dawned on him that this time round, he had stretched his imaginations thin.
For someone who only hours ago in Amsterdam had ordered ‘hamburger meat’, whatever that was, for a snack only to be served some strange tasteless block of beef (which he said tasted like saw dust), you’d think he could have been a little more careful with his selection.
He shook his head in denial of the order and asked, albeit embarrassingly, to be allowed to ‘reselect’ after the waiter’s colleague assured him that he can be helped with menu selection.
As the waiters walked away back to the counter, Kevin flipped through the menu pages in silence before settling on fried rice with egg stew. Once bitten, familiar faces he went for.
Later that evening as we recalled the drama amid bouquets of laughter, I told him that they should have served him his order without intervention. That way he’d learn to swim close in foreign waters.
Nevertheless, it seemed like that near fatal menu disaster worked magic, for over the rest of the days in Europe, never once did I see him order stuff he couldn’t figure out. He learned the crude ways of the shrewd. Unlike Osuofia who stuck to his African roots, Kevin tried to blend in, and in the process ended up gonged.
Dedicated to my kitchen cabinet member Kevin Kwoba. To many days and success in life. Cheers!