Learning a Foreign Language
I was inspired to learn French after my first visit to London for a training sponsored by my employer. During those days in a hostel I stayed in London, I had several friends who were French and who helped and encouraged me to learn French. However, earlier in my life, around the age of 16, I had wanted to learn German and even went as far as buying German books and dictionary for my German studies. At a time, I discovered that those could not get me anywhere because even though I made concerted efforts to study the language and build my vocabulary, I was not getting lots of things right. To complicate matters, I always got lost when I hear native speakers speaking the language on television those days.
During my stay in London as well, I had to stay in another hotel that was managed and mostly occupied by Germans. For whatever reason, I did not experience the same level of warmth and friendliness I got from the first one where I had lots of friends that were French. That was the point I started preferring French to German for the first time. I also remembered that Nigeria is surrounded by mostly Francophone countries and this will give me a good opportunity to travel and practice French in the neighboring countries. It was at this point I concluded I was going to learn French.
The next challenge was finding a school or an institution that can allow me learn the language. I asked a few people but they knew nothing about where I can find one. I eventually used Twitter to find. There was a popular handle on Twitter those days and I think the guy is still on Twitter till date – @GidiTraffic. ‘He’ is mostly used by Lagosians to find out traffic situations on different Lagos routes. People however sometimes tweet general inquiries to the handle and he responds or retweets and those of his followers who are knowledgeable would respond to the query. I sent a Tweet to this same handle requesting of French school in Lagos and I got a response that eventually led me to L’Alliance Francise Lagos, Ikeja branch to be specific.
Alliance Francise was the first time in my life of being in a French class. It was very confusing initially. I also joined the class a week after it commenced. I found it somehow difficult to catch up with other students who seemed to know almost everything and I knew nothing. In any case it took me a few more classes to adjust and come up to speed with other students. I took the classes so seriously that I would want every little opportunity to speak or listen to anyone speaking French.
Easter Holidays was fast approaching that year and I thought to myself that I have to travel. My choice of country to travel to was Cote d’Ivoire. Amongst all the reason I wanted to travel there, the first was because of the help the French rendered to Biafra through Cote d’Ivoire during the Biafra-Nigerian civil war. I was meant to understand that there were still some places named after Biafra there in Abidjan. The other reason for wanting to travel here was because I learnt people in Abidjan speak better French than most of the other countries who live closer to Nigeria. I was also thrilled by some of the history of this country that I read about online and so, I had to make arrangements to visit this country. My final expectation from the trip was to see my speaking and listening ability in French improve.
Bayelsa United Football Club
My flight to Abidjan that day was around 11 am that Good Friday. I was accompanied to the airport by my brother Nnamdi and I checked in without hassles since I had only one bag which I took into the cabin. After some minutes while seated in the plane, a football team with their officials boarded as well. One the officials that sat next to me was a journalist and he gave me details of the match they were going to play. They would be playing against Sewe, a first division club in Cote d’Ivoire and the tournament was a CAF Championship. I was very excited and promised I would come to join the team to cheer them up on Easter Sunday when they will be clashing with the Ivorian side. Part of the information I was given was the name of the hotel where they would be lodging and the venue for the football match which was Stade Robert Champroux. I felt good travelling with them to Abidjan and on arrival, after clearance with the immigration at the airport, I went to get a taxi to take me to a not-too-expensive and decent hotel in the city. One of the local drivers there who spoke a little English got my attention. He told me he was going to take me to a good hotel for just 16,000 CFA and I thought it was a good deal and went with him. It was eventually later I found out I was swindled – The hotel was located close to The General Hospital at Macoury in Abidjan. Normally, the ride was not meant to cost more than 2,500 CFA. The hotel however was good for the price – 12,000 CFA or so. In all these, I was lost and communication was a big problem.
In the hotel however, Stephan, one of the staff spoke a little English and he was helpful while I stayed in that hotel. He helped me to find food to buy, he also helped me find several things I needed that evening and the next day Saturday.
On Saturday morning, Stephan was meant to be off since he worked the previous evening. We visited several places in Abidjan, but the problem was that we were not communicating properly. He only spoke a little English and I only understood the little he was able to explain. At around 2pm that afternoon, I was bored of the whole exercise and I went back to the hotel. I lingered there till the next morning and I decided it was time to go join the Bayelsa United Football club. When I got to the first hotel they were meant to be staying in, I was told they have moved to a new one, I recognized some of the players and the same journalist I met in the plane. He quickly introduced me to the coach and told the coach I had come all the way from Nigeria to support the boys (The football players). The coach was with the Commissioner for Sports in Bayelsa State when this journalist was doing this introduction. They were all happy I came all the way to support them and that was how I became an official. The story became a bit interesting when I noticed that a classmate in secondary school was among the officials – he was their therapist.
The match was billed to start by 3:30pm that afternoon. We were meant to arrive around two and then the boys were to commence final fitness training before going into the game. I was so excited all these was happening to me. With this of course, the money I had paid coming to Abidjan was not in vain. I had access to VIP seat and it was so comfortable and exciting seeing the game. The game ended 2 – 0 with the hosting side winning the game. It was a very sad day for the visiting side but our consolation was that when they visit Nigeria for the return leg, they will be defeated but that unfortunately did not happen. The boys were particularly sad because they will not be paid a particular allowance they could have been paid if they won the game.
It was at that time I learnt some of the ills and corruption in African football. I got to know of an attempt by one of the sides to bribe the referee before the match. It was indeed a sad day for everyone except of course the Ivoirians but that did not stop the boys and their officials from going out for party that evening.
I was presented an option of going to a nice dinner with the officials or going to club with the boys. That was a difficult decision initially but I finally decided to go with the boys to the club. This will be my first time of going to a club in my life but I was also happy it will be a good time to forget the woes of their loss.
Right there at the club, both teams were all present and the way everyone dance and partied, you could imagine if it was the same set of people who were battling for 90 minutes a while ago. It was at that party I got to become friends with Gideon Gambo, who is presently with Wikki Tourist in Bauchi (A Division One Club in Nigeria), he was then the first goalkeeper of the team. He shared his experiences in football and some of the games he has played and won. He told me about the future of football in Africa and the dangers of playing for a local league in Nigeria and in Africa. We talked about may other different things and then afterwards we left back to our different hotels to get some sleep before going back to Lagos the next morning.
The next morning, I had to join them in the bus to the airport to board the plane back to Lagos. I was particularly excited that they added colour to my stay in Abidjan. I was also happy I made some friends who speak more of French than English who I can always count on to teach me the language. We got to the airport safely and returned back to Lagos without issues.