Today I have been sober for 7 days. (One week now completed).
Yesterday I spent the day at home, after dropping off my ‘lady of the night’.
I was planning to go to an AA meeting yesterday evening, but in the late afternoon I lay down for a rest and when I awoke, unfortunately it was too late to go.
I went out for a meal, and then met up with an old friend of mine in Jomtien who was on a bar crawl, ostensibly to check out the area as he wanted to buy a bar there. The guy and his wife have been very good to me over the years and although he is an alcoholic he is a good friend. I met him at 10.30 and we went to couple of bars and got up to date with news on mutual acquaintances, before his wife turned up from her bar in Walking Street and the three of us continued our chats.
I told him about my recent relapse and how I had drunk for two days straight. He said that although he drinks heavily every day and sometimes has blackouts’- i.e. doesn’t remember driving home, and so on, he has never drunk for two days straight. He said he didn’t think he would ever do something like that.
I said that I didn’t think would also, and my recent binge was the first time I had even done such a thing. It was only a couple of years ago that I started to have blackouts, and now I get them every time I drink. I warned him that he too would end up doing what I experienced. All alcoholics do – eventually. If they survive they invariably realise it is time to ask for help.
But many never survive. They kill themselves in their cars; they choke to death on their own vomit; they get beaten up and killed; they get run over; and so on.
I advised him to get his drinking under control before he ends up as a statistic.
He is not ready to do that yet, but at least I have planted the thought in his brain.
I went home quite late – after 1.a.m. and as a consequence, missed the morning meeting. I will make every effort to go tonight.
By the way – I slept alone.
This is the first of many true tales of events in my life which serve to expand on events already related in MOBI’S STORY.
These “VIGNETTES” are not necessary being written in the chronologic sequence that they occurred, but I will endeavour to pinpoint the period in my life during which they occurred.
So here we go with VIGNETTE NO.1.
AZZY – MY LOVE
‘Azzy’ is short for Azima, a beautiful, Nigerian woman who became my first wife.
I have related in MOBI’S STORY, (Part 1 ‘The early years’), how in 1969, I had just started a new life in Montreal, Canada, after being given the ‘heave-ho’ by my New York girl friend, when I received a call from my ex-employer, offering me a new job in Nigeria.
I actually did a ‘moonlight flit’ from my newly leased apartment in downtown Montreal and fled to the airport, and thence a flight back over the ‘pond’ to my parent’s home in east London.
Upon reporting back to my employers offices at Berkeley Square in the West End of London I soon discovered why they had called me all the way back from Canada to fill the position.
The late sixties were a time of relative boom in England and unemployment was low. The ‘swinging sixties’ were in full swing, and the world came to London.
Foreign holidays and working overseas were virtually unheard of in those days as everyone was quite content to stay at home and enjoy life in the UK. We had finally become sexually liberated, we were leading the world in music and fashion and life was fun, after the long, drab, cash- strapped post war years.
I well remember to this day a young colleague coming into the London office every day and recounting his experiences on his morning underground journey, where he would ogle all the countless women in their micro mini- skirts and mini dresses, most of which left nothing to the imagination. He used to claim he had an orgasm just looking at them.
So who in their right minds would want to leave all this behind to go and work in steamy, disease ridden, far off West Africa, in a third world country that was struggling to come to terms with the post colonial area and crucially, in the midst of a bloody civil war?
Mobi, of course. Who else?
Once I had signed the contract for a two year spell, I had to go through the ‘processing’ procedures, (visa, vaccinations, anti malarial medication and so on), which would take several weeks and in the meantime I was assigned to work back in the London office.
It was during this time that I was shown photographs that had just been received from the company’s General Manager in Lagos, which showed details of the damage that had been inflicted on the company’s property and equipment in Port Harcourt, east Nigeria.
Port Harcourt was in the heart of secessionist territory and been subject to some bloody fighting at the outbreak of the civil war, before the government troops were obliged to retreat. So now all the property in the eastern region was in the hands of the rebels.
As well as the photographs, the report from Lagos had provided details of he company’s Nigerian employees who had been killed or severely wounded in the fighting, and there even some gruesome photos of dead and mutilated bodies as supporting evidence – taken by an employee who was a member of the rebel, Ibo tribe and then smuggled out of Port Harcourt.
I started to realise what I was letting myself in for.
But I didn’t really care. It just sounded a whole lot more exciting than staying in London, for despite the fun and enjoyment going on around me, I still felt very lonely and shy in that huge city.
In the event, my departure was held up for a couple of months or so as the management in Lagos were unsure if the capital city would remain safe from attacks, so in the meantime I was sent on a temporary assignment to Abu Dhabi, of which, more will be written in a separate vignette.
Following completion of this assignment, I returned to London in August 1969, the flight was duly booked and on 12 August, I boarded a British Caledonian VC10 for the nonstop flight to Lagos.
Although I had already had a rude awakening when I had flown into Abu Dhabi airport a couple of months earlier, (a tin shack in the middle of the desert with temperatures hovering at forty degrees centigrade and the humidity so high that the minute you walked down the steps from the plane your whole body was drenched in sweat), nothing could have prepared me for the mad, filthy, stinking chaos that was Lagos International airport in those far off days.
The ramshackle, non air conditioned airport building was full of a mad sprawling mass of humanity. I was brought up in a predominantly white community in east London and had never seen so many black faces in one place in my entire life.
The place was full of Nigerians shouting at each other in unintelligible, ‘pidgin’ English, or in one the myriad tribal dialects, and the place was swarming with heavily armed, Nigerian military.
I looked around in vain for a representative of my company who should have been around somewhere to meet me, but then realised that I would have to go through immigration and baggage check before emerging into a public area where someone would undoubtedly be waiting.
It was like ‘running the gauntlet’. Along with my fellow passengers, I was pushed and hustled from desk to desk and at each place I was interrogated in barely intelligible English, was required to show my passport and other papers that I carried with me, before being ordered to move along to the next officer.
At length my passport was stamped and I went to the baggage collection area. I had a lot of baggage with me as I had planned for a two year stay. My numerous and motley collection of bags finally emerged. Then came the customs inspection, which if anything, was worse than the immigration process.
I was required to open every single bag and package and all were examined and turned over with a fine tooth comb. Quite what they were looking for I had no idea –but the country was at war (with itself) and maybe they were looking for enemy agents carrying secret weapons into the country.
It would have taken a massive stretch of the imagination to believe that a skinny, pimply faced, very white skinned, bespectacled, shy twenty three year old English man could be an agent for the brutal Ibo rebels.
The searching finally came to an end, the bags were repacked and my passport was stamped to show I had been through customs inspection and at long last I was in the public area, which once again was a mass of humanity, all shouting and screaming at each other.
I looked desperately for anyone who may be my company representative.
I looked and I waited, but no one came to greet me out of the crowd. An hour went by and still no sign of my ‘welcomer’ to Nigeria. I didn’t know what to do – I was stranded. Foolishly, I didn’t even have a contact phone number, or the address of the office.
I had total trust in the company’s standing for efficiency and their good reputation for looking after their staff. Everything had proceeded without a hitch when I had flown into Abu Dhabi a few months ago, where I was met and taken care of in fine style.
Just when I was starting to feel quite desperate a young Nigerian man approached me and asked me in pretty good English, where I was going. He seemed very friendly, so I told him I waiting to be picked up but that my greeters hadn’t arrived yet.
He said he could help me get a taxi and wanted to know where I wanted to go. I told him I didn’t have the address but told the name of my employer. He went over to where a number of men were standing and asked if anyone had heard of my company. One guy said he knew where my offices were located, and after some deliberation, it was agreed that he would drive me downtown to my company’s offices.
At this time I didn’t have any Nigerian currency and worried whether they would require some payment up front, but they didn’t even quote a price as they loaded all my stuff into the boot and on the back seat of a very ancient automobile. It didn’t occur to me for one moment that these guys may be criminals and that they may take me down the road, rob and even kill me. In those far of days I was still very naïve.
We set off and we hadn’t driven more than half a mile down a potholed, single track road, when we came to a military road block. The car was immediately surrounded by screaming soldiers carrying rifles who demanded that I get out.
They proceeded to body search me, took my passport, and instructed the driver to unload all my bags which were then opened up and the contents emptied all over the road.
I tried to tell them that my bags had already been searched thoroughly at the airport and I had the stamp in my passport to prove it, but they ignored my pleas, one of them escorting me to an area just off the road, where I was ordered to stand, with my back to the road.
Oh my God! Was this to be the shortest overseas assignment in the history of expatriate service?