Wild Coup Sucker in Africa
Some of the so called ‘motivational phrases’ don’t address the full picture. When going gets tough, sure, the tough gets going, but what about the rest of us? It’s not good tidings for the rest of us, but nobody talks about that, do they? We’re people too, you know. And while the tough gets going without so much as a blink, it’s people like us who are trampled on, punched in the stomach, kicked in the pants and shipped off to Africa.
It’s been slightly over a month now since I’ve been told to report to Africa on a project. It would be just for two weeks, but that’s actually the most I’d have spent in any country outside India. My company trips to UK, US, Malaysia, are usually in the order of one or two days. I remember one trip where I landed in Malaysia on a particular morning, finished my work and took my flight back to India the same evening, so that I could submit my report the next morning. In any case, two to three days is all I get on the countries where I can actually spend time sightseeing. But for my trip to Africa, my work is going to span across two whole weeks.
And it’s not even the hip tourist spots in Africa. This project originally required work across Nigeria and Ghana, where the major sight to see would be trees and houses uprooted and floating towards your head. Ghana has apparently been recently ravaged by the worst flood disaster in recent history – over two dozen dead and millions in damage over the course of a week. Not exactly the kind of news that you’d welcome when you’re in the process of applying for visa to the place.
The project met with some delays and logistical rearrangements, and now I’m set to go to Nigeria and Ivory Coast. So if the new plans stick, I don’t have to worry about floating houses and falling trees. But it’s still premature to take that long sigh of relief.
Whenever my friends and relatives – the savvy ones who have ‘seen the world’ hears about my upcoming trip, the responses seem to run through an eerily common thread. The first three statements are invariably the same…
Statement 1 – Congrats
Generic statements of obligatory applause, ranging from “Wowie. Way to go” to “Look who’s the high flyer here! Congrats”. It’s more of a reflex action than anything else. It’s an instinctive pre-scripted algorithm that gets activated by popular news snippets such as “I got a promotion”, “I’m getting married”, “I just became a father” and – apparently – “I’m being shipped to Africa.”
It’s one of those responses that bypasses the traditional red tape that is our brain… Of course, the scripts have to be tweaked to get the right response… You can’t follow up “I just became a father” with “Look who’s the high flyer now!” – It doesn’t feel appropriate. But these tweaks aside, I don’t believe the brain plays too high a role in these responses.
Thankfully, the valid reactions to these are also pre-scripted. You have choices from “Thank you” to “You’re too kind”, or “Shut up” told in a mellow, jokey voice. It’s your choice; you just have to make it quick, so that they can get to –
Statement 2 – The World Cup Soccer
Impassioned and spontaneous recommendations on attending the 2010 FIFA cup. After the protocol around statement 1 is completed, almost everyone suddenly thinks “Hey, wait a minute. Africa? He’s going to Africa. Why, isn’t that where…” and this is around the time when the vocal chords lose patience… “Oh, Jeez, braniac. Even I can think faster. It’s the World Cup, goddamn it!!”, and without further adieu, the vocal chords jump the gun…
“Hamish! You should definitely go watch the World Cup matches.”
“Book your tickets in advance!!”
“You’re so lucky. Make sure you’re there a few hours in advance, or you’re gonna lose the good seats”
“Bring me an official World Cup T shirt”
Of course, if they had waited for the brain to complete it’s thought process, it would have realized that
- I’m going to Nigeria and Ivory Coast. The World cup matches are in South Africa – an entirely different country.
- I’m going on work. On a tight schedule. I can’t just run off to see soccer.
- Hello? Have you forgotten who you’re talking to? This is Hamish. Trying to get me interested in sports is like getting the pope into gangster rap.
And once the brain gets these thoughts processed and the vocal chords feel pretty stupid about barging in without a warrant (“Jesus Christ! I TOLD you we should have waited!”), they’re all set for –
Statement 3 – Warning!
Invariable. The third thing that pops out is a string of warnings. Floods in Ghana, theft in Nigeria, dacoity, lootings, kidnappings, extortion, lack of medical care, shoddy infrastructure etc etc etc…
Ironically enough, this segment starts with “Hey, I don’t mean to scare you, but…” I think that’s probably the scariest sentence ever. It’s the harbinger of doom. Over the past month, I’ve collected various tips on how to survive in these countries. Mostly, I shouldn’t go outside without armed security personnel, eat sparingly and breathe as minimally as possible. Of course, by the time the “I don’t mean to scare you, but” tips were collated, my folks were plenty worried. I still brushed off most of the precautions as being extreme or exaggerated. In any case, I was keen on going to Ivory Coast. Not because of the views, the landscapes or shopping opportunities. No, the reasons were purely phonetic. The capital of Ivory Coast, in their language, sounds like “Yeah, I’m a sucker“, and that’s something a humorist simply cannot ignore. So I noted all the tips, but I was ready to take them with generous pinches of salt… until I got an anecdote from my colleague, Bharath.
Bharath had been to these countries last year. For the same client, for a similar project, with the same facilities and precautions that the company will provide me with. And that’s enough reason to expect that my experiences wouldn’t be drastically contrasting with his… He related an incident just a few days before my trip. And true to script, he started it off with “I don’t want to scare you, but…”
He had been dropped to his guest house by the company representative. After dropping him off, the rep went back the same way that they had come in. He was waylaid by a gang of hefty bandits. They took his laptop, his jeep, his mobile phone, his money, his watch, and – because they were thorough professionals who always see the job through – continued the operation by taking his clothes as well. They robbed the guy down to his undies before they decided that was enough. They then went off in their brand new jeep, presumably to enjoy their hard day’s night. This left our guy, the victim, stranded on the road with nothing but his undies for quite a while before being rescued.
Trust me, not the tale you want to hear when you’re scheduled to leave for the place in a few days. But it was a necessary tale… It gave strong, very important message. Don’t wander off alone in deserted locations. And IF at all, you have to – HAVE TO – go through a deserted location… make sure you have a nice pair of underwear.