By Michael Kakpindi Jamiru
Traveling to the People’s Republic of China was least in priorities of countries that I wanted to visit. Because of this belief, I thought of it as a utopia. I had really longed for traveling since my last experience in 2012 to Stockholm, Sweden, and Phonon Penh in Cambodia in 2013 respectively.
But as I was not in control of where to go next and when, my visit to China was welcomed.
The anxiety when finally I was informed of coming to China was received with mix feelings. Mixed because, on one hand, I was excited and looking forward to enjoy the exuberance of China’s friendship, and on the other hand, I was worried, because, I was expected to go through a rigorous medical test from the Chinese Medical Centre at Jui as a prerequisite for traveling. I would not bore you with details of why I was afraid of the medical routine. At the end of it all, I passed the medical test with distinction.
Finally, a total of 30 media practitioners from Sierra Leone were certified by the Chinese Embassy to be participants for three weeks intensive media training in Beijing, China. I was the third elderly person in the entourage, and unarguably also, one of the most senior in the media profession. On the 28 of August we boarded a two hours ASKY flight from Freetown and transited in Ghana, Accra for few hours.
I became worried thinking of the connecting flight to Ethiopia which was calculated at five hours and the corresponding one to China lasting for twelve hours. Naturally, I prefer a shorter trip than a longer one which is too discomfiting for me. To say the least, I am not bothered with the take-off of the flight, but rather, very worried when landing. We departed LUNGI International Airport in the early hours of Monday for Accra, Ghana, and then Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
I have a soft spot for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as one of my most preferred African countries in the African continent. This is so because of the topography of the country on one hand; and on the other hand, its huge success in air transportation. Ethiopian women remind me a lot about our Fullah women in Sierra Leone, with lighter skin and undisputed beauty.
So the first connection with their ladies was in the flight. Their exuberance in the flight was so touching that one may not even countenance the long flight to their country Ethiopia. We were supposed according to the flight schedule to spend few hours in Ethiopia. But rather, spent less than an hour at the airport. I had longed to spend at least few hours gallivanting in the airport just to admire the scenery on one hand, and the beautiful female port workers on the other hand.
We finally departed Ethiopia Airport for another long journey of about twelve hours to China. I had predestined in my mind that most of my time in the flight will be sleeping and eating, and then sleep. Traveling on land transportation, in either private or commercial transportation, I would only fall asleep when I know that the driver is experienced enough to buy my sleep. Our takeoff from the ground was painless, and after some few hours, sleep caught me off guard. I was awakened by my sitting passenger when we were being served food.
Seldom, I looked at the map on the mini television in front of me to catch up with distance. I smiled at the air hostess passing by, they also returned the favour. To have them in my constant view, I pretended wanting more food or drinks.
Traveling in an airplane can be bored even if you were in a group of many from the same profession. Seating accommodations are not arranged according to how you may desire. Everybody seems to be either playing with phones, watch movies or be sleeping. The only active session in flight can be to form a queue to the bathroom where constant body touch is unavoidable. The wine also made it lighter with incessant noise from partakers.
On arrival in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, we learnt from the airline authorities that our next flight to China was delaying for another one hour. The atmosphere was unfriendly when disembarking, and almost all of us were unable to adjust to the harsh weather which was very cold. Airline authorities arranged for us to be taken to a nearby hotel which was about 30minutes drive from the Airport.
Colleagues and I had the privilege to enjoy beautiful scenery of at least central Addis Ababa. Within 30 minutes of resting and anxiety, we were whisked to the airport enroute Beijing, China. At this time, all of us were shivering and wished our flight was even nearer.
We checked in without delay and without much difficulty, found the terminal from where we were to board the flight. The flight to China was a much bigger one. Those of us who are familiar with the distance between Saint Anthony’s Church to Savage Street bridge, Freetown, would know from my estimation how long in length the Ethiopian plane was.
It has the capacity to accommodate about 500 passengers. I want to believe that, all of us participants in the Media training in Beijing, China were eager to be awakened when the Ethiopian flight touches ground. As I was fortunate enough to be the lucky few, and seated by the window, l even televised our landing in Beijing, China.
Viewing from aerial view, I had to compare the Chinese Airport to that of Charles De’ Guelle in Paris, France. I recall very vividly my experience at Charles De’ Guelle Airport in 2002. We had benefited from a Human rights training in Stockholm, Sweden for a month. On our return, we were delayed due to bad weather by the time we arrived in Charles De’ Guelle airport. By the time we had to locate our terminal from which to board from, the flight had taken off for Freetown.
The airport is one of the largest I have ever set eyes on. When the officials told us that the next available flight was the next day, we nearly burst into tears.
I recall a white lady crying profusely because of the situation. Finally, we were given top up cards to communicate with our loved ones about the delay, and were lodged in a nearby hotel. The next day, we were boarded enroute to Cassablanca, Morroco, and waited for nearly three hours for a connecting flight to Freetown.
Arriving at the Chinese airport was gratifying. The airport was stretched over arches of land with beautiful scenery. During the routine security check, I observed with consternation the inscription at the immigration which reads, ‘Foreigner this way”. I was furious of the language used, but was quick to forgive the framers for they (Chinese) were foreign to the English language.
At the end of the immigration check, I well muscle gentleman’s placard read ‘Journalists from Sierra Leone’. We came to know him as Kelvin, Coordinator for the training programme. With about few minute walk, we were whisked away in a bus to out training base. On disembarking, Kelvin shared with us the itinerary for the next day. Most important of the information given was, 6 o’clock am, breakfast, 12pm lunch, and 6:00pm Dinner.
After this information I realized that by the time I get back to Freetown, I would have added substantial weight to the delight of my wife and many. I usually loose appetite and because of this, I brought with me supplement to help me consume the Chinese delicacies.
In readiness for the start of the training which was on Wednesday, Kelvin had told us to be official in attire. Sierra Leoneans have a special taste for dressing which many other nationals could attest to. The opening session was flamboyant as all of us were resplendently dressed to observe the formalities. Subsequent days were full of lectures from either Television or Radio experts, explaining what their respective institution does.
This lasted for over a week. The following week was intermittent lectures and field visit to other related institutions. But what interested us all, was China’s advancement in introducing the 5G, placing them as the first country in the world to take the lead. The New Media in China has advanced to say the least. We were astonished with the steady pace they had taken in both radio and television.
But what was scaring was the fact that the lifespan for newspaper and radio stations are but short leave. According to officials, some radio stations and newspapers which are government owned have been forced to close down, due to the new media users exponentially increasing. With China’s population at 1.3 billion, 1billion of this population are internet users.
Our visit to the Great Wall was a privilege. It remains in my estimation one of the wonders of the world. Out of the total of thirty of us who made the visit, three of us were able to make it to the Twelve Fortress. We visited many other places like the Forbidden City, Museums, and other touristic attractions, and our visit to the Sierra Leone Embassy.
At the Embassy, we finally had the real taste of African dish, which we had longed for since our stay in China. In some of the field visits, we were astonished to the number of request we got from some Chinese people, just to have a photo with them or their family. The feeling was mutual as our willingness brought broad smile to their faces.
We spent the remaining week in Guangzhou City, a two hours flight from Beijing, China. Unlike Beijing, a lot of our Negro Africans were spotted in Guangzhou City. Most of them, we were told, were either studying, or on business trips. We were able to relate with them well. But for the black women, Tanzanians were in dominance of the ones we made acquaintance with.
We rounded our visit in Guangzhou and back to Beijing on Friday 14th September, 2019. Back in Beijing, many of us had started wishing we were back in Freetown. I guess they missed the, ‘Scaki Tumbui’ Cassava Leaves. I shared the same feeling too, as I was missing my wife, kids and family.
The Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China, Ernest Domayina was invited to the closing and to do the certification. During the closing courtesy by our team leader, I nearly burst into tears. She was recalling how our Coordinator Kelvin used to get our attention, ‘Listen up, and gave us other directives.
Beautiful certificates, Chinese tea cups as a gift, and our group photos was handed to each delegate by Kelvin as a send-off package. This was to certify that indeed, 30 media participants had taken part in an impactful twenty-one days media training in Beijing, China. The eight of us who were selected by the Ministry of Information and Communication remain indebted to the Ministry through Minister for his choice.
We were now counting days to say goodbye to Beijing, China. Colleagues who still had the energy went out on their final shopping spree. Those of us who had exhausted our last penny stayed in the facility parking. The airline had given each of us a total baggage weight of 46kg.
We took the opportunity to buy additional bags to bring home. So, we borrowed the weighing machine in the training facility and had it brought closer to our rooms. In turn, we weighed our luggages. Our colleague’s especially the females had started campaigning to us to accommodate some of their things in case our baggages were below 46kg.
We departed the training base on Monday evening in order to check-in in advance and clear all doubts. Two long seated buses were made available for our departure. This is probably, because the organizers knew that we had bought additional items to take home. We painfully loaded and re-loaded our bags in the buses.
At the Airport, just before our check in, Kelvin said his final goodbye to us. We shall miss his leadership style, his amusement and mannerism. For those who would still have the strength to participate would again have a glimpse of Kelvin in the future.
As we were about to check in, Austin collected our passport for us to check in as a group or team. Even when all of us had a fair idea of the weights of our luggages, some luggages were far in excess of the weight required. This brought fear among us as some of us rushed to the nearest available machine to for the last time weigh and re-arrange our items.
At the end, all of us went through and made a laughing stock out of our individual experiences. The security check been the last check is what all of us was worried about. Anything from liquid to battery accessories for camera or computer was thoroughly checked before proceeding with it to the plane.
I had my camera batteries inspected many times before it was certified as flight worthy. Our flight was expected at mid-night. Our departing terminal was Terminal 2 Gate A-10. The seating accommodation there was already filled as most passengers were already found sleeping. Some of us practically had to stand until the announcement came for us to stand in our different zones for final boarding.
The usual big flight to Ethiopia was hosting 30 media practitioners, and other important dignitaries to Ethiopia. On our boarding passes, the information reads, twelve hours flight to Ethiopia. I believe we decided not to countenance the information, as long as we were getting to Freetown. Twelve hours gone and we were counting the remaining hours to Ghana, and then, Freetown.
We got to Ethiopia, and then, the much anticipated trip to Freetown. In Ghana, colleagues were giving run down to their loved ones on the phone. I decided not to until I get to Lungi International Airport in Freetown. I could hear clearly when some of them were reminding their loved ones to prepare the local dish.
The feeling was mutual. Our flight from Ghana was a much smaller one with an altitude of eight thousand feet. The one from Beijing to Ethiopia, and Ethiopia to Ghana was about 40 thousand in altitude. So, practically, we were from an aerial view, seeing the landscape on the ground.
Twenty minutes to arrival, the pilot made the announcement. I breathed with relief and was thanking the lord for traveling mercies. Within minutes, Lungi International Airport was in full view. I televised our landing and later wished to share it with my kids. We touched ground without much notice.
On the ground, after the plane came to a complete halt, we released our seats belts and already were making preparations to collect our hand luggages overhead. When our baggage were being taken off the plane, a colleague Desmond Crowther joked that he had seen his baggage removed. We thought that it was part of other baggages taken into the carrier at the airport.
We made our way to the carrier facility to collect our baggages. All of us collected our baggages except Desmond. It was only then that we realized that his baggage was mistakenly transferred to the flight making way to Banjul, the Gambia.
I must confess without remorse that the security checks at both at Ethiopia and China was perfectly done. We started having some problems at Accra and now Sierra Leone where we felt there could have been fewer problems.
Unfortunately, Desmond’s bag was not found. So, he was asked to make the complaint to the authorities. I could sense the dissatisfaction on his face, and we could do nothing. His worry was, I guess, if the items in the bag could reach him in one piece. We could give him no assurance knowing from experience how luggages have been tampered with in the past.
Whilst making it to the departure exit, someone wanted us to buy phone Sim Cards. I was quick to dismiss him that we are Sierra Leoneans who have only gone out for few weeks. We arrived a little close to 5pm. Some of us had made arrangement for pick up at the Airport. Those who could not hired taxis to the ferry. Even though some of us bought first class tickets, we did not occupy the cabin. We were in the parking lot just discussing everything.
A colleague of ours runs a restaurant, so we made preparations to spend the Friday evening there. Finally in Freetown. To God be the Glory.