Ferryman follies


By Fisayo

Chronicling the lives of foreigners living in America could be interesting. Expending equal energy in the same pursuit with American subjects in foreign countries is hilarious.

Talk about a conflict of worldviews.

A certain story springs to my mind at this juncture about an American engineer who, for some reason or another, was posted to a West African country to work for a Dutch oil company. The engineer’s only discernible interests in the region — apart from engaging in illegal gas flaring activities, polluting the delta waterways, which consequently destroyed flora, fauna and fish and lining beautiful expanses of Mother Nature’s aquatic highways with layers of crude oil — were smiling happily to the bank and engaging in riotous and vulgar beer parties graced by a generous number of native damsels.

The oil company had its base of operations in the hinterland of the country — far away from light, far away from any civilization, far away from all things except, perhaps, the darkness of the marshland, the whispers of the forest and the enigmatic ferrymen who transported people to and from rigs and accompanying installations.

Our American friend arrived by plane at a city proximal to the oil installation. He then had to take a series of taxis to the quay from where he would he board a ferry to his destination.

Getting from taxi to taxi was easy enough. A wave of the hand and a shout – “Wharf!” — seemed sufficient enough to bring most taxis to a screeching halt. Taxi fares were no cause for negotiation and rides proceeded smoothly enough.

The test of his patience came when he arrived at the wharf and not only was there not a boat, neither was there a ferryman to do any ferrying. An hour passed, an hour thirty minutes, two hours — still not a ripple in the daughter waters of the Atlantic. Two hours thirty minutes, three hours — the engineer was fuming, kicking at posts, fences and the air. About four hours after the beginning of his ordeal, the ferryman came gliding serenely on the waters, humming a song that told about a man who loved a much younger lady, who eventually left him in his old age. The American wasn’t amused and he yelled at the ferryman, querying his sense of time and responsibility. The bemused ferryman calmly plucked his pipe out of his mouth and said “Fifty,” obviously indicating the price to be paid for his services. The engineer understood the message; the seemingly high price was because of prevailing conditions on the foreign exchange market. Climbing into the boat, he instructed the ferryman to be quick and not waste his time.

His driver wasn’t a man to be ordered about, however, especially not on his own boat. He proceeded calmly at his own pace, smiling now and then as a fish leapt out of waters and plunged back into its murky depths.

Well, the story goes that at some point in time, the engineer got so fed up with the delays and unnecessary meanders undertaken by the ferryman he screamed obscenities at him. The indigenous ferryman surprisingly understood exactly what he was saying and simply replied “One hundred.”

The engineer couldn’t care less and venting his anger in a continuous tirade, he screamed louder. The ferryman was not to be found wanting in his responses.

“One fifty.”

“Two hundred.”

“Two fifty.”

“Three hundred.”

“One thousand.”

“Three thousand.”

At some point in time, the reality of his situation hit home and the engineer stopped his ranting, stared incredulously at the ferryman and said “Twenty thousand? You want me to pay twenty thousand for this unreliable, problem-ridden ferry ride? Impossible. I am paying thirty — you ought to give me a forty percent deduction for such incompetent service.”

The ferryman stopped the boat and said “Twenty thousand or you drop.”

“Very well, I drop then,” said the engineer.

He grabbed his briefcase and began to put his foot outside of the ferry but yelling he quickly withdrew his foot as he spied telltale triangular fins crisscrossing the waterways.

“Sharks!” he yelled. “These waters are ridden with sharks.”

The ferryman turned to him and parted his lips in a wide grin, exposing a dental arrangement with several front teeth missing.

“Forty thousand,” he said.


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