Chapter 11 : The Church

Chapter 11 : The Church

Having the experience of setting up a company in Rep of Guinea had helped me a lot. I was more careful in Kinshasa. First of all I appointed a lawyer named Camara. Whatever I wanted to do, I consulted him for advice. My assistant admins was appointed by Dato.. and his name was Mr Benjamin… strange enough he also spoke Mandarin. I found out later that he used to study in Beijing. In the first 3 months I was there, I was busy trying to get the contract for the road re-construction project. Bloody Hell I couldn’t get it! I learnt that somebody in the Ministry wanted USD 2 million in order for us to get the project! I tried to get in touch with the President through various people who claimed to have a relationship with Laurent Kabila… They lied! All of them were after some money!

In the midst of trying to get the project, Dato gave me another reponsible to look after 5 different areas of 1 million hectares each of forest concessions for his logging project.. ie 5 million hectares.. I had to deal with the Ministry of Forestry and also the Ministry of Public Works at the same time.. busy like hell.. surrounded by greedy people who thought that I was just a little ‘Ray’ that they could push around.. While waiting for the road project to come to some degree of certainty.. I worked myself through the forest concessions.. As my investigation went on.. I found out that Dato was offered something like USD 1.00 per hectare of forest concession.. the total sales would be USD 5 million.. Then I found out that at least 3 areas of the concessions didn’t have any log!! It was just full of savana bush.. Somebody wanted to cheat Dato.. selling savana for millions of dollars.. OK.. I decided to fight! I briefed Dato on my discovery.. So, the first 3 concessions were cancelled! Now what? Of course somebody would be angry with me.. I was visited by various people trying to threaten me… I even received a letter from the Interpole accusing me of doing something wrong in Kinshasa.. OK, I just sent my lawyer there… I had no idea what my lawyer did but the letter was immediately withdrawn!!

One fine day…. I was visited by one of Dato’s friend.. he said “Ray my dear.. listen to me.. we must get Dato to buy the concessions.. and I will reserve your share!! Hundreds of Thousands Ray… You think about it my Dear…” Of Course I thought about it.. and I thought about being sincere to my boss, and I thought about being afraid of GOD! To hell with his friend.. I wouldn’t do it! What if Dato kill me one day??? NEVER!!!!!!!!!!! I stuck to my plan of continuing the investigation.. At the end of it.. there was only 1 forest concession worth buying.. located by Congo River.. easy transportation using the river to Kinshasa… I guess.. I had saved Dato USD 4 million there.. Now.. this was the reason of reconstructing the road.. so that the logs can be transported to Port Matadi by road for export..

And how the hell were we going to export the logs using the road right now? Five months had gone by now and there was no sign of getting the contract signed by the Minister.. Meanwhile.. Dato had already transported the machinery for the project to Port Matadi.. I received a call from Singapore Ship operator saying that the ship contained 30 units of Machinery worth USD 30 million.. As far as I was concerned.. we had already arranged a waive for the tax.. There shouldn’t be any tax imposed now as it was part of the memorandum of understanding between Dato and the government.. I had to receive many visitors from the Diesel companies offering me from USD 0.05 to USD 0.10 per litre as my share if I decided to buy diesel from them.. I had calculated that we would be using around 350,000 litres per day for the road construction! I would be very rich!!!!!! But as usual I had my own principle.. That is illegal or HARAM in Islam! I re-directed all offers to Dato.. he could take the commission as the money belonged to him..

About 3 days before the ship birthed in Matadi.. I went there with my road construction consultant-to-be.. his name was Mr Valero.. a French guy.. We expected to reach there within 12 hours.. but we were wrong.. We only managed to reach half way the journey due to bad weather and flood.. I was caught this time as I was not well prepared.. I didn’t bring enough food.. just a few bottles of drinking water.. You can’t drink water from the restaurant there fearing of food borne disease.. We had to put up the night in a small town.. I can’t remember the name though.. All I remembered was that.. they didn’t have any hotel.. And at night.. you just don’t want to be bitten by mosquitos.. they carry malaria.. Mr Valero said to me..”Voulez vous rester la nuit a l’eglise?” meaning do you want to stay the night at the church? “No way.. I said.. I’m a muslim!!” Then he said again..”Mais.. il y a du pain la bas.. et aussi des chambres a dormir..” meaning but there is some bread there.. and some rooms to sleep.. I was thinking to myself.. was it wrong for me to do this? At the end.. I agreed, considering the danger of sleeping in the car.. perhaps due to robbers and mosquitos.. besides, I was very hungry!  I just couldn’t beleive it! First time in my live I entered a church.. just to sleep and eat.. The Father of the church respected my religion and didn’t say anything about religion at all… I am a Muslim… GOD Please forgive me………   I was just looking for a shelter in a foreign land..

to be continued.. DjRay

Chapter 10 : Land of The Gorilla

Chapter 10 : Land of The Gorilla

Upon arrival in Malaysia, I went to see Dato Wong. Well…. after a good negotiation, I accepted his offer and quit Petit Palais.. One month later, I was on Dato Wong’s private jet.. on the way back to Rep of Guinea. That was on my 700th day in africa.. ie in early 1998. We stopped at Maldives, Madagascar and Mozambique. I was on a mission of refurbishing a formerly bombarded Parliament House of Guinea to a 5 star hotel. As I was explaining more and more of the viability of the project, Dato finally changed his mind about doing the hotel. “We change plan!!” he said. I was astonished! “What am I going to do now Dato?” and he said “You are going to Kinshasa with me.. in Republique Democratique of Congo!!” Wow! That as a quick decision. He said “You will handle the road construction project from Matadi to Kinshasa.. about 350km long” “You will also look after 5 logging concessions of 250 000 hectares each”. “Shit” I said. “What knowledge do I have to do all this?” I only had experience in the hospitality industry, not logging neither road construction! But I had been appointed, so there was no turning back now. I had sleepless nights until we reached Kinshasa one week later.. after staying a few miserable days in Madagascar and Mozambique. I said miserable coz we had to stay in the hotel in Madagascar as early as 10pm, as there was no security after midnight. Robbery was everywhere especially targetting the foreigners like us. More misery when I was thinking about Petit Palais, my car there, my belongings, what would my adopted father say blah blah blah.. It was even more tiring when the ministerial people in Madagascar and Mozambique tried to convince Dato to stay there for investment.. so there was on-going discussion, waiting period and so forth.. really tiring with false hope.. I sort of could tell already by then whether they were sincere or not, or whether they just wanted to cheat.. as I had stayed for a couple of years in Africa.. good enough to notice things.. and Dato kinda followed my advices..

The first thing Dato said when I reached Kinshasa in Republique of Congo was “Let’s play Golf!!” Bloody hell!! What knowledge do I have about playing golf? I still had to play though.. and after the game he said “Don’t play with me next time!! You too slow!!” hahaha.. Thanks for not inviting me anymore coz I hate that game! We stayed about 2 weeks looking for an office in Kinshasa.. strange enough Dato used his compass to determine the “Fungsui” of the office. We finally decided on a bungalow of 7 rooms.. and I was to stay there alone. Can you imagine the rental was USD 2000 a month.. I kept saying to Dato the rent was too high.. but he insisted that the Fungsui was good. Actually he even employed me using my birthdate and fungsui.. In the Chinese zodiac I was told that I was born in the year of the Dragon, and my birthdate suggests that I am a fiery fighter.. therefore I should be a lucky person.. and can bring wealth.. Well, it is just a belief that is forbidden in Islam!! I also learnt from working with corporate figures that you may have to follow many things against your will.. Once during dinner Dato took me to a Chinese restaurant and ordered the menu while speaking Mandarin.. once the meal was served.. he said “Go ahead.. eat!!” Assuming he knew that I was a Muslim, I expected the food was halal.. After dinner I asked him what was it? And he said.. “The bulky looking thing was crocodile meat and the fried wings were frog legs!!!!!!!!!!” It was too late for me.. Next time I will ask first.. Celaka betol la…. (common swearing in Malay meaning how unfortunate!)

My first mission was to get a 4×4 jeep and to travel throughout the 350km road for a first survey.. Just imagine, it took us 24 solid hours to get from Kinshasa to Matadi.. Kinshasa, the capital is located by the Congo river, a black watered river full of crocodile which span about 5km broad.. separating Rep Democratique of Congo on the south and Republique of Congo on the other side. Matadi is the main port of Rep Democratique of Congo, located at the Souh West facing the Atlantic Ocean. The road condition was horrible.. there was absolutely no maintenance done for years due to economic problem that the country had. The former President, Mobutu was ousted by Laurent Kabila 2 years before that, a military rebel that took over from Mobutu (who runs the country for more than 30 years).. My first impression of the project was…”TOUGH!!” I had to start from scratch.. learning all the know-how to construct a road.. Once I made Dato laughed when I said the road was going to look like a hotel.. with beautiful marble here and there… “hahaha” he said.. “I like your humour”

To be continued.. DjRay

Chapter 9 : Le Petit Palais 2

Chapter 9 : Le Petit Palais Part 2

Even though the restaurant was running incredibly well.. my heart was not there anymore. The reason being.. I felt that all the effort that I had put in would soon be wasted as there was someone who was eyeing on my post. How I wish I could just give up the post and let the lady from the bank took it!

Basically I didn’t have friends there. But there were a few people who seemed to care for me.. particularly the head security guard Gibril. He was the person whom I knew from day one I was in Republique of Guinea. He came from Liberia, a country shattered due to 7 years of civil war. He lost his wife and 2 children. At times.. he told me the story of how he managed to flee from the civil war.. and how he nearly died a few times during the battle.. For humanity reason, I promised him that I would make sure he had a job there.. as long as I was in command. He even guarded me when I went for shopping, lunch, dinner etc etc.. most of the time I was really impressed how he blocked the people who tried to approach me to sell something or to tell me something.. He even caught the thief who stole my little turtle that I had in the garden, also the thief who tried to steal my little pet monkey. To be frank.. I trusted Gibril.. I even accepted a friend of his, who came from Liberia and who was looking for a job.

One day Gibril and his friend came to me and said that he had to go to Liberia as the war was easing then. He wanted to pick up a few blocks of gold worth a fortune which he hid somewhere in Liberia. He said to me that he needed to borrow USD 1000 for the trip. Hmmm…. at that point of time.. I didn’t want to distrust him.. I just said.. “I’ll see what I can do” From that moment.. he kept coming to me with the same story.. even his friend had the same story and wanted to borrow USD 1000. At this point of time.. I said “Stop the rubbish! Don’t try to fool me!!”

The restaurant closed at 3 am so I often slept in my office looking after the cash to be banked in the day after. That night.. as I was sleeping on the couch in the dark.. suddenly I felt someone was hitting me on the neck really hard. I thought I had a dream.. I just moved a little bit.. then a second hit on my neck.. I still moved a little bit.. Then the third!!! Now that was not a dream!! Someone was in the room trying to kill me.. God must had given me the strength and protection.. the hit that I received didn’t make me faint neither kill me but rather woke me up instead.. I don’t remember what I did then.. I was fighting in the dark.. just couldn’t remember what kind of movement I was doing.. The next thing I knew.. I was chasing after someone.. He opened the door wide and ran through the corridoor on the first floor and jumped onto the street and kept on running away.. I saw who it was!! It was Gibril!!!! “God Almighty!!” I said.. “How could you do that! Damn!” I was wondering how the hell did he come in when all the security guards were supposed to be outside the building.. and my room was even locked!! Then I went downstairs.. there I saw Gibril’s friend in the restaurant and I asked him “How did you get in?” He just said.. “The door was opened!” Then I said.. “Oh… I.. see” “Nevermind.. go back to your work.. let me lock this door!!”

It was 5 o’clock in the morning.. I couldn’t sleep anymore.. I was so frustrated that the person whom I trusted the most had made a nasty plan with his friend, whom I just gave a job a week before.. perhaps they wanted to steal the cash money that we collected from our daily sales. And perhaps they were dissappointed with me because I didn’t want to help them.  I knew that I would never see Gibril again after that.. If I had reported the case to the military.. They would have asked for money to look for Gibril. Well, that’s the way the military are in Guinea. No cash don’t talk!! If they caught him.. they would shoot him to death.. I didn’t want Gibril to die.. and I certainly didn’t want a favour from the military.. neither a relationship! Somehow I had quite a good understanding with Gibril until his friend came over.. I knew the master mind was his friend.. I reported the incidence to my adopted father the next day.. and I requested him not to get the military to search for him.. as I still had some good thoughts about Gibril. My adopted father gave order to remove all non-Guineans from any post! Anyway in the morning I told his friend that the military would come at 7 am to investigate and take away all non-Guineans working there. Of course I lied.. within 1 hour Gibril’s friend was no longer around. He had fled. Meanwhile the restaurants staff were spreading news that I had somekind of blackmagic power in order to defeat Gibril, who was a karate expert.This incidence and the black magic rumours made me soooo sick that I decided to take one month leave.. I needed a break.

The week after, I just packed up my things and went off for a holiday.. back to Malaysia.. In the plane.. I recalled the voices of many people that I met in Guinea… “Don’t trust anyone!”.. “Rule number one..Don’t trust anyone!”… “Leave after you have made your money in the first year”.. “Don’t stay or you will die..!!” … All those words were singing in my head… And the faces of the spies.. the good spy and the bad spy.. And also what Dato Wong said “Come and visit me when you are in Malaysia..”

To be continued.. DjRay

Chapter 8 : Le Petit Palais

Chapter 8 : Le Petit Palais Part1

Le Petit Palais means the small palace. Once upon a time, it was the palace of the 1st Guinean President Sekou Toure who died about 14 years before I was ordered to arrange a renovation of the place into a restaurant. This event took place in 1997, by which time I was on my 500th days in Africa. It was simply huge for a resident. A double storey building with large garden around it. I tried to scout around for information on why was the palace left untouched for 14 years. I didn’t get any logical explanation except that the people said it was haunted!! Haunted or not, it was my duty then to turn it around to become a restaurant. From the schedule that I had, I was given 6 months to complete the job. So, in the first month, the interior designer was brought in, renovation was started, 2 chefs from Malaysia were brought in etc etc.. I took some of my favourite staff from The Unity Hotel to work for me there.. including a black belt karate guy as the chief security guard, named Gibril. I started the training session as usual. I didn’t change the name of the place coz I thought Le Petit Palais itself sounded great. The new name of the place was Le Petit Palais Malaysian Restaurant. I arranged Karaoke on the first floor, restaurant and bar on the ground floor.

In the second month of renovation.. I received a shocking news that our big boss Tun Daim Zainuddin would officiate the restaurant in another 30 days!! WHATTTTT???? Instead of having 4 months before it was opened.. now I only had 30 days! So I spent 30 sleepless days and night trying to get the place ready.  Having a lot of luck going my way.. yes.. I managed to get the job done within the targetted time. So… Le Petit Palais was officially opened after 3 months of renovation..

Within 6 months of operations.. the restaurant had created quite a pleasant name around town. I was very pleased that Malaysian food had a place in Africa. Most of the customers were western and african businessmen. The karaoke was filled up by the Labenese businessmen almost everynight. I still remember their favorite song was ‘Azizah’ sung by late Tan Sri P.Ramlee. Strange enough.. many of them who later become friends told me that I should leave after one year of making money or I will die!! They said.. in many business there.. people make money in the first year.. but in the following years they will be trapped by the local authorities.. The most popular words from them was “Don’t trust anyone here!!”

The most regular person to visit the restaurant was my adopted father. He used to come in every evening to have dinner with me and he would tell me the political scenario of the country and also in Malaysia.. One day he asked me to go and fetch a bilionaire from Malaysia at the airport. His name is Dato Wong. So, I grabbed the military men with me to pick him up right in front of his private jet. Dato Wong was very surprised how I managed to park my car right in front of his jet at the airport.. I just smiled hehe.. of course my adopted father gave me the facilities..

I was briefed about Dato Wong’s arrival by my adopted father and the project ahead that he would do in Guinea. I was assigned by my adopted father to look after him well. He was meant to renovate the previous parliament house which was bombed during an unsuccessful cout d’etat a year earlier. During his lunch at Le Petit Palais, he called me up and said “When you go back for a holiday, please come and visit me at my office in KL”. Wow! That’s an offer for a job! A few months before that I had turned down a job offer by another Dato.. so, this one I just kept in mind coz I was happy where I was then.

Things started to get sour when a Malaysian lady who was working for a Malaysian bank there started to interfere with the restaurant affair. I learnt later that she was assigned as a spy to report what was going on in the restaurant.  Irritating enough, she reported mostly the false news to the headquarters. Then I received an order to stay away from my adopted father. But what was I supposed to do if he comes to the restaurant everyday for lunch? To stay away? So ridiculous!  I also found out later that she was the one who informed the headquarters that we would be ready for the opening after 3 months of renovation. Hmmm.. I guess she had an intention to run the show! So, I confronted her. I told her that she was most welcomed to take over my post if she could prove to me that she could do a better job!

One day as I was sitting alone in the garden.. thinking about what was I going to do.. suddenly the first lady spy who was protecting me in the hotel appeared!! “Hi Mr Ray!” I turned around and almost screamed with joy to see her there. I asked her where she had been.. and she said that she had been in London. Then she confessed to me that she is the wife of my adopted father. She looks after his business in London.. OIC.. now that explains everything.. Of course she would be on my side.. We had a drink together.. had a long long chat about the situation of the politics there.. she told me many things that I will just keep for myself until today.. I just won’t discuss about it here.. Because.. almost all the political things that she informed me… scaringly became reallity… Something that scared me the most was when she said “Don’t trust anyone here!!” That was the last time I saw her.. Never met her again after that and I had no idea whether she was alive  or not!!

To be continued.. DjRay

Chapter 7 : The Adoption

Chapter 7 : The Adoption

After the first day at the reception, she came to my room. Her first comment was “They like you!” Then I asked “Who?” and she said “Your staff!” I was kinda confused for a while.. Then I asked again what it was all about. She said “I have been sent here by someone, just to find out what is going on.. that’s all. Whatever it is.. I am working for you.. I am on your side” Once again I felt like I was in somekind of a drama movie. Then she said again “Frankly, someone is playing dirty on you. Let me find out who is plotting against you and we’ll take it from there ok?” I wanted to reject her idea in the first place.. but after having a second thought.. I said to myself what if she was right? Then I said “Ok, tell me everything” She immediately responded “Not yet! You will soon find out”. “I’ll be at the reception as a trainee.. but will keep my eyes and ears open for you”.

7 days gone by.. every end of the day, she would visit me as usual and told me what she found out. My feeling was quite mixed at the time. I thought that I was doing a good job but why would anybody wanted to throw me out. On the 7th day, she asked me to follow her. I was shocked when a Mercedez Benz was at the lobby waiting for both of us. I was taken to a huge villa. The villa was well guarded by military personnels.. and everyone of them bowed at her. I was getting really nervous about the whole thing.. Then she took me to the lobby and asked me to wait there. A large sized man came out later and said to me “Welcome son!” Wow! Immediately I knew that I was in a safe place. He then explained to me that he was the advisor to the President. He was the man behind the Malaysian investment. He wanted to make sure that I was in a good hand, that’s why he sent a spy to protect me. Hmmm.. now I realised that not everyone favoured our presence there.. that’s why there was an opposing force somewhere.. He even adopted me as his “son” in the Republique. Of course I was so delighted to have such a powerful “father” in a foreign land..

Since that moment.. I could enter his villa in and out at any time that I wished. What a wonderful treatment. Since that moment also, I used to inform him about all the problems that I faced and he would do something to assist me. Working there was really tough. Each day you are surrounded by unexpected problems whether they are real or fabricated.. Once I received a false letter claiming to be from the Interpol. It was quite shocking.. but some people fabricate things for money purpose… If you are weak.. you may fall into traps.. which can be solved by money.. that’s it.. money money money.. makes people commit crimes and conspiracy..  Once I was threatened by one of the military guard asking me for money.. then I reported this to my father. The next day, the man was transfered 400km away from Conakry.. away from his family as a punishment.. I regretted his punishment.. but at the same time.. I was getting more matured in handling myself. If I was given a problem, then I stopped being nice and forgiving.. I took action accordingly before I fell into any trap. I had turned an African.. coz I needed to survive in Africa..

I didn’t see the ‘lady spy’ anymore since she brought me to the adoption. For the following 3 months, I had great knowledge of how to survive in Africa and interesting information given by my father. He used to take me to other parts of the country with the President, for visiting purpose or even for showing me the future development areas.. until one fine day.. I received a letter from the HQ asking me to return home. But why? Having a little bit of spying experience, I used the same tactic to find out why did they want me to come back. I found out that they didn’t approve of certain things that I did, including having a relationship with my adopted father. I had to report this matter to him.. He didn’t allow me to go. He said “I want you to be here!” I really respected what he said coz he really meant it. He made an appointment for me to meet Tun Daim Zainuddin, the Finance Minister of Malaysia at the time.. I was amused how a meeting with such a big man made so simple.. We didn’t even sit around a table.. I was interviewed as we were walking along together when I showed him around the hotel.. 2 days later, I received a call from Malaysia.. asking me to report duty for another project called “The Small Palace” or in French Le Petit Palais…

To be continued… DjRay

Chapter 6 : Surprise of the Day

Chapter 6 : Surprise of The Day!

Republic of Guinea is the most stable West African country based on the fact that the President remains the same for years. However it lacks of population. As a result, many mega investors felt inconfident to invest for a long term. Nevertheless.. a few of the delegates from Malaysia took their courage to invest there… leaving sadly to say… many suffering Malaysians behind.. They suffered probably because they were living in Africa in Malaysian style!! It doesn’t work bro!! Things that you found back home definitely would’t be the same in a foreign land. It was difficult enough to learn French, the African culture of working blah blah blah.. plus Malaria attacks!! One thing that I found so surprising was that the standard of living is about 4 times higher than Malaysia…

Everyday in my life there.. I would receive at least 1 surprise of the day.. One day, one of my worker said he couldn’t come to work because his father died. The following month, he came to see me again and said “Pardon patron, je ne suis pas venu hier parce que mon pere etait mort!!” meaning I didn’t come yesterday because my father died! “But your father died last month?”  Later I understood that all uncles in the family are fathers, all aunties are mothers and all cousins are brothers! In an avergae house there could be as many as 40 people living there! And one working person has to feed all of them. The longer I stayed there.. the more human I became.. Now I understood what the stealings were all about! Survival!!! I started to close one eye when I knew taking ‘things’ were happening in groups and well-done cover ups.. just for survival. I had to take actions for obvious offence though because I had to balance up between sentiments and principle. I learnt that greed is something that people should leave behind as there are people in this world who eat once every 2 days instead of twice a day.. I also understood.. why some europeans would just bulid a house and let some of them live there for free.. Also why Annie Lenox left singing for a while just to help the “House with no steps”..

Why is the continent suffering so much..? For hundreds of years.. even after their independence.. things look the same. To certain extent.. it was so much better during the colonisation period.. Then I learnt another thing. When it comes to money.. nobody would trust anyone else even between a father and a son. Some of my African friends said they were scared to tell their children that they had some money. Some even prefered to keep it in europe, fearing that their money could be stolen back home. Of course their action didn’t help their country’s economy in the long run.. but rather it helped europe. I kept in getting advice “Don’t trust anybody!” I thought.. how could I live without any trust? I needed to trust somebody when I do things. After 1 year of experiencing living there.. YES… I finally agreed to the statement.. Couldn’t trust anyone anymore now.. coz.. even my lawyer chipped in his name in contracts.. my translator translated many things the way advantageous to him.. my most trusted housekeeper picnhed dollar notes by dollar notes everytime my room was cleaned.. and what more..? It’s kinda exhausting to tell… I wonder if it was true that Mr Lipin was ordered to buzz off just like that.. even though there was an agreement for his investment.. Often.. I wondered why I was caught up in such a chaotic part of the world.. I wanted to leave so desperately!! I had enough with everything that I experienced..

As I had prepared my resignation letter.. something happened that made me changed my mind about leaving.. There was a coup d’etat in our neighbouring country Sierre Leonne.. The people had to flee Sierra Leonne and looked for a shelter in Republique of Guinea.. The were more than 300 people in front of the Hotel’s entrance begging to come in.. Without thinking any further.. I ordered to stop the discotheque business for the hotel temporarily and allowed the refugees to stay in the night club which could accommodate about 300 people.. My life started to become more complicated now.. having to help.. worked.. at the same time not trusting anyone..

Once the drama was over.. I received a visit by a very pretty lady.. She said “Don’t worry! I am on your side.. I am here for you.. for your safety.. your your interest..” Of course the first thing that came in my mind was.. “I don’t trust you!!” However I asked her “What is this all about?” She smiled and said “Just put me as a trainee at the reception, at the end of each day.. I will report to you.. don’t pay me salary.. soon you will know why I do this..” I felt like I was in a James Bond movie for a while.. so I looked at her… so pretty.. just wanna be a trainee..? and had something that she wanted to tell me..? For curiosity and the benefit of the doubt.. I arranged as she wished..

To be continued… DjRay

Chapter 5 : The Visit

Chapter 5 : The Visit

During Dr Mahathir’s visit, there were already 4 Malaysian companies who had invested and were operating business already. Telekom Malaysia had joint-ventured Sotelgui, being the largest Malaysian investor at the time. The others were Bernas, International Commercial Bank and also Business Focus whom I was working for.

I can’t explain what happened at the other place during Dr Mahathir’s visit, but I can certainly tell you what happened during Dr Mahathir’s visit to our hotel. Busy, busy, busy 3 months prior his arrival. I didn’t sleep the night before his arrival. After all the efforts that I had put in during the 3 months… For the first time in my life, I learnt that politic is dirty. My superior just put me aside the morning when Dr Mahathir due to arrive. I was not allowed to receive our Prime Minister. Instead, he placed himself to greet our PM. The table was turned around when our big boss, Dato’ Amin Shah came. He looked for me and asked me to stand by the door to receive Dr Mahathir. He made a short rehearsal on what I had to do… I truly admired what he did for me.. I had the chance to walk side by side with Dr Mahathir, the man I admire the most in this world.. It was a Great Experience!! The staff were partying like a festival.. everyone seemed so happy..

Unfortunately.. among the 300 businessmen.. not even a single company decided to invest. I had no idea why. So, the original 4 remained in The Republique of Guinea. During Dr Mahathir’s visit, strangely I was invited by a Malaysian Minister to his Villa. Hmm.. and I thought.. wow.. I wouldn’t get this kind of treatment back home. It was just a normal visit.. of course, that’s what I thought. Little that I knew, I was surrounded by a few intelligents  who questioned me about many things.. The way they asked me was so innocent that I just gave innocent answers too!! Oooopsss.. My big boss got angry with me after that.. perhaps some of the answers given reflected back to him.. I had no idea until today.. what I had done. Perhaps the joke that I made. I was asked how much profit can the hotel make a year. So, I said.. at this moment.. about 1 million USD. Then I was asked how much did the company want to invest? And I said.. Our boss made an announcement during his speech infront of our Prime Minister that he would spend 100 Million USD to refurbish the hotel. The following Q&A perhaps got me into trouble. “So, how long would the company recover the money?” And I said “Hmmmmm….100 years!” A lot of laughters then.. but a lot of trouble thereafter too!!!

To be continued… DjRay

Chapter 4 : The clever Businessmen

Chapter 4 : The Clever Businessmen

The next day, I visited the chimpanzee owned by Mr Lipin.. perhaps to get a little clue if there was any.. He was sadly chained to a tree.. I was told that he was rather unpredictable since the departure of Mr Lipin.  As usual he became aggressive upon my presence.. perhaps because I took over his owner’s place. The security guard knew what to do to calm him down. He gave him a can of beer… and later a stick of cigarette.. and the chimpanzee put on his show.. drinking and smoking calmly while other visitors around him laugh.. sure it was funny at first but later it turned out sad for me thinking and knowing now that Mr Lipin drinks too much perhaps.. a sign of under pressure..

The Grand Unity hotel is spread out by one-storey building across a large piece of land. Surely it uses far too many light bulbs to illuminate it’s walkways and corridors. Each day the maintenance guys requested budget for buying new light bulbs which blew overnight. It cost us like 100 units of light bulb per day.. mainly due to the instability of power supply. Most houses and buildings have their own generator to overcome power problem.. One night.. I caught them by surprise! What happened was.. they changed the light bulbs at night.. putting some bad ones throughout the corridors and keeping away the good ones.. The next day they asked for money to buy new bulbs. Imagine if 1 unit cost USD1.00, one month it could easily reach USD3000!! Upon receiving the money.. they kept it.. there was no such thing as buying new light bulbs when they just simply replace the good ones they kept overnight back to their place.. Ahah!! good businessmen ha..? So.. this process had been going on for quite sometimes.. Then the kitchen.. I asked them to buy food for the restaurant.. but they dropped by their houses to supply food to their family too.. the food which belonged to the hotel!! more businessmen.. Then the front office.. guests were given rooms without receipts!!… The night Club was a little different.. The manager got me occupied showing his correct and perfect billings at the end of the night while his staff were busy removing drinks from the bar into some hiding places.. to be taken away later…  As day went by.. I met more and more businessmen around the hotel.. To a certain point.. I thought I was going crazy..

I tried to figure out why wasn’t there any sense of belonging in anyone there.. I simply cound’t find the answer.. Many of them tried to tell me the nasty things about others.. All the way through.. I was a listener.. One thing for sure.. I couldn’t sack anyone because that was an order! After all I didn’t intend to do so.. coz I was there to help them..right? Yeah right.. What I did was.. to exchange their positions regularly.. always putting the guys who didn’t get along with each other to work together coz I thought that would help them keeping an eye on each other.. That strategy worked well for me.. I managed to cut losses.. repair damages.. paid bills.. and keep money for the hotel..

One year went passed.. I had to work 16 hours a day.. just to keep an eye on every department.. catching businessmen.. moving their positions.. teaching them some basic things blah blah blah.. They really made me worked my butts off!! I didn’t give up making programs to make them work as a team.. the happiest moment for them was when they were told that our parent company would pump in money.. to upgrade the hotel to a 5 star.. so.. our architect and interior designers were called in to prepare for the upgrading works.. which would be officiated by the Prime Minister of Malaysia then.. Dr Mahathir Mohamed..

The exciting day finally arrived.. The hotel wasn’t refurbished yet.. however the announcement of the refurbishment would soon be made during Dr Mahathir’s visit to the hotel!! There were people everywhere at the airport.. waiting for the largest aircraft that would land at Conakry airport.. and that was Boeing 777 owned by Malaysian Airline.. carrying Dr Mahathir and over 300 numbers of businessmen planning to invest in The Republic of Guinea..!!

To be continued… DjRay

Chapter 3 : Land of The Ladies

Chapter 3 : Land of The Ladies

I couldn’t close my eyes that night though it had been exhausting dealing with these guys. I couldn’t remember when, but I still passed out. Another loud knock on my door! I woke up. I screamed at the door. “C’est quiiiiii????” And a man replied “Bonjour Mr Ray.. C’est votre passeport!!” I heard the word passport, and straight away ran to the door. I opened it up.. and there.. a tall man with a suit standing in front of me and smiled.. He spoke English with an accent to me “Here is your passport Sir, there is a plane going to Conakry in about 2 hours time” I got all my things packed, and was really excited that I will leave Abidjan behind me. Going through the check point was very strange.. I expected some drama to happen but it didn’t… I didn’t  have anymore trouble as I was leaving for Conakry. The flight to Conakry was rather short.. within less than 2 hours, I was already at Conakry Airport. Here we go! I expect that they will not let me in.. and they will ask for my Visa and I must be invited to the country in order to get in.. right?

Of course they didn’t let me in.. I had already rehearsed what I was going to say. I screamed at them “I want to see the Minister of Tourism of Republic of Guinea!!!!!!!” Then they asked me more question.. I continued to scream “I don’t wanna bloody talk to you asshole!!!!” “I just want to talk to THE MINISTER OF TOURISM!!! Do you understand? He invited me here!!!! Do you UNDERSTAND????” Wow!! Fiuhhh!!… most people were just looking at me.. Perhaps they were wondering who is this guy speaking English.. I purposedly didn’t want to speak any french word.. because I wanted to catch someone and take him to justice if he ever tried to cheat me again. I learnt rather quickly that this is not Malaysia.. I am in a land where perhaps who speaks better will survive better.. I knew what I was doing then.. and after waiting for about an hour, a military man came and called up my name. Raising his gun in the air.. he was ordering everyone there to give way for me.. Great!! Now I can walk through this messy airport with huge numbers of people. Nobody even dare to ask for my passport by this time. I followed this man to a white car.. he opened up the door and spoke to the driver to look after me and take me straight to the hotel. The driver introduced himself to me “My name is Camara. I am the driver for Business Focus” The moment I heard that word.. I felt relief. So, this man is in the company.. so, he should be trusted…

When I reached the hotel.. my room was already prepared.. I straight away went in there and had a long long sleep.. I didn’t care about anything else.. What I knew was.. tomorrow, I will meet someone from the ministry of tourism. I met my assistant Mr Sylla, who represented the government.. and I represented Business Focus. The company had been given the mandate to manage Grand Unity Hotel for the next 30 years, with 70% share while the government of Guinea still holds 30% share. Mr Sylla took me to the ministry. A man by the name Toure introduced himself to me. Since my french was rather little.. Mr Sylla was my interpreter then.. I was briefed that the hotel has 75 rooms, with only 5 rooms rentable.. another 70 damaged of some sort etc etc.. and the hotel still owes about USD 60,000 to the workers. Then I gave a long sigh to Mr Sylla..”How can we survive..?” He said to me..”That’s why we called you here to help us!” Help them..? Oh yes.. now I remember what my mission is all about. I need to help them.. The Malaysian Government has called up corporates to invest in The Republic of Guinea. Telekom Malaysia came in a few months before. The national paddy operator Bernas will also step their foot in. Business Focus was the second one to step in.

The next day, I made the initial plan of getting the rooms repaired bit by bit.. and for the time being.. the restaurant needed to be the saviour.. coz we need money.. we were lucky to be able to arrange the UNICEF to hold a Dinner Gala by the swimming pool for about 300 people or so.. and best of all.. I met another Mr Camara, who was the Radio Announcer of the republic.. He promised to do some promotions for our hotel via the radio..  He even told me.. “Welcome to the land of the Ladies!!” and I said why? He said “Guinea means ladies… hahaha..”

Guinea had a ‘coup d’etats’ – (sounds ku-day-tah..) not long before I arrived. But it didn’t get through. It was said that Malaysia did something to assist the situation.. and it was successful without any bloodshed. Since that moment.. the President of Guinea had invited Malaysian investments and also said that all Malaysians must be treated nicely in this country. For safety reason, he also imposed a curfew after midnight. One night, thinking that I was safe in our hotel area… as I was standing in front of the hotel around about 1 am.. sudenly a military jeep drove straight to the entrance and 2 military came out and just about to take me into the jeep. The guys around me explained to them that I was the General Manager there. The military refused to listen and started to grab me.. Then I yelled at them “Hey wait!!” I took out my passport and showed them “Je suis Malaisienne!!” To my surprise.. they said “Pardon Patron! Pardon Patron!”  They went back into their jeep and drove off..

After that short ordeal.. I decided to spend a little time at the night club that we have within the hotel area. I was nicely attended by the manager named Mr Traore.. He was rather talkative and funny.. Hmmm.. I fished many information from this guy.. I asked him what happened to the former General Manager? He said, they had to send him back to his country.. the reason being.. he lost himself after 5 years managing the place.. he said “someone did voodoo to Mr Lipin!!.. he became crazy!!! that’s why he was sent back to Italy!!”  At this point of time.. I was wondering to myself.. who am I? am I supposed to be better than Mr Lipin? or… will I become crazy like him? will someone do voodoo to me too? Then……. I knew it!! I was in a messy place.. No way to turn back!! I promised myself.. no matter what happens.. I will give my best shot to manage this place.. And I have to find out why… after 4 brilliant years of managing this hotel.. Mr Lipin collapsed in his 5th year… I wonder.. he also left 3 guns in his office.. which are scaringly under my care now.. but why? will anybody give me the right answer..?

To be continued… DjRay

Chapter 2 : The Dark Journey

CHAPTER 2 : The Dark Journey

When I was on the plane.. I kept asking myself what to expect from Africa? I had never landed my foot there except for one transit at Johannesburg Airport.. when  I was on my way to Peru. I asked myself, do they speak English too? or just french? or just their own language? Are they the same like everybody else? or are they different? Like most people in this world… I only saw Africa on the tv, the safari.. the tribes.. the scenery.. etc etc.. Malaria..? Oh scary!… My fear turned to excitement when I thought about my chances to see the safari and savana.. And there was only one thing that I was confident about.. that I would be a rare species there..

I finally arrived at Johannesburg.. It seemed that the airport shared many things in common like any other airport.. Then I called my superior who was based there.. Mr Abdul Kabur. He fetched me up and took me for a short drive around Johannesburg.. When I was in the car, my heart beat went faster and faster upon seeing some guys with guns right in the middle of town.. I asked Kabur.. “What’s going on here..?” He said “Shhhhh.. We need to pass by this road.. We can’t stay in Johannesburg.. You see all these shops in the middle of town..? They used to be operated by the whites.. now most of them have moved to Sandton.. for safety reasons!!” I said “Tell me more!!” Kabur said “Day light robbery and killings can happen even at the traffic light when your car stops!” By this time.. I started to keep quiet because the more I knew.. the more my legs trembled. I thought to myself.. let me ask him later.

As we reached Sandton, Kabur explained to me in details about how the arpatheid regime was thrown off and now South Africa practices Democracy.. however at that point of time.. the crime rate was far too high.. “Now I want to go home! to Malaysia!” I said to Kabur. “Relax Ray” Kabur said, “You won’t have to work here, you will be sent to Republic of Guinea. Within 2 days, you have a new responsibility to manage a newly bought hotel consession.. You will be the General Manager of Grand Unity Hotel! You should be excited, shouldn’t you?” I paused for a while… Then I drew a smile and said.. “Hmmm.. yea.. I’m excited.” I was 31 years of age at that time. I had been a General Manager of a small hotel in Langkawi 2 years before that.. but just for a few months before I got this job.. and that was the only experience that I had. I was anxious to know more about the hotel which I was going to manage. So I asked Kabur for more details, and he said “Why don’t you go there and find out for yourself?”

The next day, Kabur bought me a ticket to The Republic of Guinea. There was no direct flight. I had to transit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast for one day.. and expected to arrive in Republic of Guinea the day after. I was shocked to find out that the one way ticket to Conakry Guinea cost us USD 700 (about RM 1700 then), compared to RM2000 from Kuala Lumpur to Johannesburg return! I was wondering if the cost of living was higher in Africa than Malaysia? “Of course it is!” I answered that to myself. “Bye Kabur! See you soon!” Off I went.. by Air Afrike. I reached Abidjan.. queueing at the immigration check point. The airport was definitely different! There were so many people of all kinds.. There were many europeans and africans.. some in traditional clothes, some in modern clothes.. and here I am with my suit on!

And now it’s my turn at the check point. “Passeport s’il vous plait!” meaning passport please. I spoke very little French then.. even though I did the course at school when I was 15 and 16 years old.. I had forgotten so much and actually I hardly ever used it anyway. Then the man said again “Ou est votre VISA monsieur?” and I went..”haaaa…? VISA? VISA to Ivory Coast?” I was really shocked! I had never thought that I need a VISA to enter Ivory Coast! He said something in French among them which I really couldn’t figure out what they were saying. The next thing I knew..  one man said to me “Attendez ici s’il vout plait!” I understood that one.. it means “wait here please” So I waited for about more than half an hour. Then a man with a tie came to me and said “You need a Visa to come here, or someone must invite you to the country before you can come here.” Then I replied to him “I want to go to Conakry Guinea..not here!” Then he said again “There is no more plane to Conakry today. U must go tomorrow. Come. I take you to the hotel now.” He took me to the hotel which was within the airport itself. I knew that I only had USD300 in my pocket, that’s all. Even before he took me to the reception, I told him “I can’t afford to stay  here.”  He said “You must stay here because you don’t have a Visa. I will keep your passport and return it to you tomorrow.” So, I reluctantly paid USD200 just to stay for one night. I was hoping the remaining USD100 left will be sufficient for me to reach my destination…

That night.. someone came and knocked on my door. At first, I was afraid to open it. But he kept on knocking and called out my name. Then I felt safer to open the door. I wasn’t sure if he was the same officer, but definitely looked the same to me and he asked me “How are you?” “Fine” I said.. eventhough I knew I was not fine.. what a horrible day I thought. Then he told me.. “My family is very poor. My wife is very sick. I don’t have enough money to buy medicine. You must help me.” I said “How?” and he replied “Give me some money” At this point of time.. I was wondering whether he was telling the truth or just lying to me. Then I had my second thought, what if he is not lying, what if his wife dies tomorrow, shouldn’t I help my own muslim fellow? Then I made my decision, I’ll help him and I’ll leave it to the hands of God. I had a USD100 dollar note with me..then I said.. “Ok my friend.. I will give you 20 dollars only because I only have one hundred dollars. But I need to change this money first.” He replied with excitement, in french of course.. meaning “You are very kind.. may God help you always.. Thank you very much Sir” He said again ” I’ll go and change the money for you.. don’t go out because it is very dangerous at this hour.”  Given him the benefit of the doubt, I let him went alone.. So he left the room…. and I waited.. waited.. and waited for more than 2 hours.. he didn’t come back. There I was.. trying to help someone.. but now with no money at all.. no food.. no drinks.. hungry.. dissappointed.. donno what to do… and donno what to expect tomorrow…

To be continued… DjRay

Chapter 1 : Goodbye Amigos!

CHAPTER 1 : Goodbye Amigos

November 1st 1995… This was the date when I first entered the mysterious continent.. Africa. I was working for Dato Amin Shah then.. under a company named Business Focus SB. My first post was in Peru.. After a few months handling Dato Amin’s hotels there.. namely Macchu Picchu Ruinas, Hotel La Isla Estevez etc.. as a Business Development Manager, I received a fax from the HQ, ordering me to be transfered to The Republic of Guinea Africa immediately.. I was really stunned.. what was meant by immediately.. So I called them.. and they said “We have a new Hotel named The Grand Unity Hotel in Conakry Guinea. You are required to manage this hotel.. as you can speak French!” “Please move immediately!” I had no choice but to get packed and move to a new direction.. I took a flight to Buenos Airies the next day.. hoping to find a Malaysian Airline office so that I could re-direct my flight ticket to Johannesburg instead of a direct flight to Kuala Lumpur as written on my ticket. I had been warned that Buenos Airies is a very expensive city. I looked into my wallet and said to myself.. “I must get to Johannesburg within 3 days.. or else..” When I reached there, I started to look for the Malaysian Airline office.. I was on my foot coz the taxi was just too expensive that I couldn’t afford… but it didn’t exist then.. I found Singapore Airline who didn’t want to hear my problem. I needed to re-direct my ticket. I needed to change my direct flight from Buenos Airies to Kuala Lumpur to Johannesburg instead. That’s it!! I must do something about this!

I made up my mind and decided that I’ll bloody do it! I went to another airline.. but I won’t tell you which one.. because what I did was wrong! I could be in jail for that! I put on my blazer nicely with my tie on.. I walked into this airline office and said “I am the ambassador! Please change my flight ticket to Johannesburg.. I urgently need to be there!” And the lady said “Momentito porfavor” She came out from the office after a few minutes and said “No hay problema.. es possible!” Gosh… huhhhh.. I didin’t know what to say.. All I remembered was that.. my legs were shaky.. thinking.. what if they found out that I was lying..? After they had made the changes, they even told me that I could use the portion that I had cancelled ie from Johanesburg to Kuala Lumpur for a re-imbursement later at the Malaysian Airline Office in KL. This was my last words to them..”Muchas Gracias Muchas Gracias Muchas Gracias!”

The first nightmare was over.. As I was going through the checkpoint at Buenos Airies airport.. I had the strangest feeling.. every single person working there was looking at me.. with that kind of look! I looked around me.. and looked again.. and looked again.. then I noticed that I was the only coloured person there.. All the whites went through the custom’s checkpoint without being asked what was in their luggage.. When it came to my turn… so sad.. every single piece of document was opened.. and checked.. I really felt so small and deeply hurt with the treatment that I had there.. plus everybody else was looking at me.. I hate to say this but I felt that.. they didn’t like much someone from asia! So, I said to this guy’s face who possibly tried to get some under table money from me.. and I said it in English “If I had the choice, I don’t even want to be here.. my country is beautiful..peaceful.. with beautiful people.. If you want to grab some money from me.. go to hell with you!!” I packed all the things that were taken out from my luggage and went off.. the hassles made me almost missed the flight..

The flight that I took didn’t go straight to Johannesburg.. it went to Rio de Jenairo first. I thought.. Oh well.. at least I had a chance to see Rio. I felt relief as I walked into the aircraft and promised myself that I won’t ever land my foot in Argentina ever again! The aircraft sudenly made this funny kind of noise.. it sounded like ‘clag clag clag clag clag..’ I noticed that we could even see buildings around us.. and yet we still had another 1 hour or so before we reached Rio. I was thinking.. “Are we going to crash..?” After about 40 minutes.. I heard a loud sound like an exhaust fan of a kitchen being turned on.. Then I knew that the engineer had fixed the problem.. We reached Rio safely.. Upon landing.. everyone in the aircraft clapped their hand.. perhaps they all were thinking the same like what I was thinking.. I just wanna share this with you.. The aircraft that I took, crashed a week after that killing everyone on board.. Ok.. I’ll tell you the name of the aircraft.. It’s Varig Airline!! Goodbye South America.. I’m on my way to Africa now..

To be continued.. DjRay

Motivation before anything..

It’s been 10 years now since I first started teaching and training people from language programs to skills programs. The pattern of participants seems the same. If I conduct language classes for a hotel, the attendance seems good only in the first month.. then what happened in the following month? They started to lay back, come late, absent without notice and so forth. It can be frustrating as a teacher and a trainer.  It would then change when I made effort to highlight this matter to the human resource department.

Programs are provided free by the hotels for the workers and yet, some don’t seem to value it. Something is not right here. Why can’t some people see the value of what a company is offering them?

In my opinion, there must be another program before an English program. This program must aim to change their attitude first before they should continue with another program, otherwise the objective will not be met when we simply provide a course, thinking it will benefit our company.  Those who qualify the attitude related program should be allowed to go further..

As for the skills program sponsored by the government, at least there is a contract signed before they started. Their monthly allowance as offered by the government will not be given to those who failed to achieve 80% of their monthly attendance.