Author: Xiaonie Talks About Africa
Translated by Alley Zhu
August 18, 2002, it was the day when Sister Fan, who didn’t understand a little English back then, went to Africa and Nigeria alone. She would always remember her first impression of Africa, “Am I in hell?” After getting off the plane, it was dark all around. After more than 20 hours flight, she was already exhausted laughing at her naivety and how quickly she had made the decision to jump on a flight to Nigeria after a few words from a Nigerian man who she had known for a few months and could only speak a little bit of Chinese. The idea of going to Nigeria is to explore the Nigeria market. When she arrived, she was shocked by the condition there – no electricity and completely dark at night. With no relatives and acquittances there, she was indeed feeling helpless at the time.
How would Sister Fan get into such helpless situation? It all started from the mid-1990s when Sister Fan’s husband was still a bank president. He ended up being defrauded by guaranteeing loans and owned millions of yuan. In the 1990s, it was an astronomical figure. Her husband had to turn his profession to doing business. To pay off the debt, the debtor only left a small industrial belt manufacturing factory with rudimentary equipment as part of the debt. Sister Fan also resigned from the bank, and the two of them began to operate a factory. The social statuses of the two have undergone earth-shaking changes. By 2000, the situation finally improved. The money they earned from factory operation can temporarily pay back the bank loan interest. At that time, the Canton Fair began to rise. At a Canton Fair, Sister Fan met the Nigerian who can speak a few Chinese words.
Despite the lack of electricity, the language barriers, and the shortage of food, sister Fan clearly felt that there is a great deal of business opportunities in Africa. At that time, there were not many Chinese in Nigeria. The price of Chinese goods is different from that in China. She excitedly called her husband who was in charge of production and told him not to produce belts as there are a lot more things to do in Africa. She was so naive at that time and started to feel that her adventure was worthwhile. But in practice, she didn’t understand. She could only follow what the Nigerian man said to her. The most helpless thing was that she partnered with the black man in everything aspect of the business, because did not know anything at that time. First of all, they did a tire trade, but the investment was just a waste of money. Then they tried to develop generator but they failed again. The Nigeran man told her that they did not make any money but she could not tell. She felt conceived but had to accept that she had bad luck. After stumbling in the previous business attempts, she finally found a suitable project (Sister Fan didn’t want to write what it was). After earning the first bucket of gold, he began to expand the business. Then she bought hundreds of acres of land in the Nigerian man’s hometown under his persuasion. But then the project failed and the land was all taken by him, and he threatened her to withdraw from the company to prevent her from going back to China. Sister Fan was scared at the time. After all, she was in a foreign country by herself. So she compensated the man with 200,000 US dollars. Fortunately, the operation of the belt factory back home improved at that time, and the money for the “redemption” was collected, and she finally got rid of the man’s control.
When she left the company in Nigeria, she had only one request – she wants a few senior cadres to leave with her and also took away a child who was the relative’s child of the Nigerian man. At that time, the little boy was studying and was incredibly smart and sensible. She felt that there was an inexplicable fate between the little boy and herself.
Since then, she has taken care of the boy as her own son.
God told you that if you meet a bad person, you will be compensated by a good person. After the boy graduated from university, he helped her tremendously with her business
The little boy was extremely smart, educated and capable. He treated her like a mother. After more than ten years of hard work, she took the belt factory to Nigeria and become incredibly successful.
In 2015, Sister Fan decided to return to China. Her daughter was over one year old when she went abroad, she finally decided to return to China when her daughter was about to enter high school. She trained several reliable agents to improve the business of the belt factory and hand over the parts of the business in Nigerian to her Nigerian son. Her son quickly became experienced, and she returned home with an easy mind. After five years of returning home, the Nigerian market is stable and she began to work in various African countries, traveling back and forth, looking for agents. Soon her business spreads over most of Africa.
What Sister Fan said to me the most is “It is hard to imagine our domestic factory with around three hundred people. The customers are all Africans, and there is no salesperson. The boss is the only salesperson.” In 1988, she ran all over the streets and alleys of Nigeria. At the beginning, she was not used to the local food so she only drinks coke as her meal. Once she got sick in the middle of the night and was afraid of going to the hospital, so she endured it until she no longer felt the pain. Sometimes, because of loneliness, she cried for no reason at midnight, the kind of howling, until the end, she dried her tears, and continued to run the business the next day. She gets along with all her local customers who were all impressed by her determination and willpower. She is a woman from Zhejiang province where women are known for their fond for delicate lifestyle. She never thought that Lagos would be this hot and she sweats a lot here, She would go home to cook and take care of the children after an exhausting day. The locals kindly called her a “Nigerian woman”.
Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa with a large population and a huge market. However, Nigeria was not safe at that time. Sister Fan was once robbed and held on the ground with a gun to her head every year. When she returned to China, relatives and friends persuaded her not to go to Africa again. They asked her “aren’t you afraid of death?” Sister Fan always smiled and said that there are so many accidents and criminal cases that happen every day in the world. Even though some people were dead even if they just sit at home. For Sister Fan, death is just fate. No one can say it is bad. There is nothing to be afraid of. That’s it.
She travels back and forth between China and Africa. The most embarrassing time was when she neglected to stamp her visa at the Nigerian Embassy in Beijing due to negligence at the airport, and her visa was invalid. She was sent back to her country. She did not know what happened and until she was told at the airport and was reported back to China. The plane transited in Ethiopia. Abandoned at the Ethiopian airport, the mobile phone was out of power, and the passport was lost. She slept in the airport lobby for two days and three nights. When she was thirsty, she drank the water in the bathroom. Eventually, with the help of others, she returned to China.
Looking back on those days, she said “In those few days she felt like a tramp.”
Apart from the shortage of materials and resources in Nigeria, as a woman pursuing her career alone in Nigeria, the most challenging thing for Sister Fan is the loneliness, the kind of depression that no one tells about, the kind of isolation and helpless situation she confronted with, the kind of personal sadness and struggle. People often need a lot of spiritual motivation to persevere. For countless nights filled with deep loneliness in Africa, she faced alone and persevered. She told herself that she must succeed and be a role model for her daughter, also because her daughter has to take the high school entrance examination. If she ever went back to China, it was to accompany her daughter. She felt that she owed her daughter too much in her life. Every time she returned to Africa from China, the most miserable thing she had the deal with was looking into her daughter eyes to say goodbye.
Like mother, like daughter. Her daughter has been well-behaved and sensible since she was a child. Much more independent and mature than ordinary children, it is also the growth of her daughter, which gives her a lot of motivation to go out and supports her to lead her life better and better. Women might show weakness sometimes, but mothers are the strongest. These lines are very appropriate for Sister Fan.
Nowadays, she goes to Nigeria once or twice a year, staying for a week each time. She aslo misses her old friends in Nigeria. These two weeks each year are her happiest times. When she is back in Africa, people greeted her warmly and she also began to truly have time to enjoy her time in Africa, to travel all over the mountains and rivers of Nigeria. Nigeria has become her second hometown. She felt at ease there. She told me, “Nowadays, a lot of Chinese are in Nigeria, and many young girls come here and bring umbrellas to shade the sun. I never use umbrellas. I am here to make money. Can you meet customers under the umbrella?” This may be the tenacity and hard work of Zhejiang Merchants
Nowadays, she goes to Nigeria once or twice a year, staying for a week each time. She misses her old friends in Nigeria. These two weeks each year are her happiest times. She feels Africans I did not forget her, people greeted her warmly. She began to truly have time to enjoy her time in Africa and began to travel all over the mountains and rivers of Nigeria. Nigeria has become her second hometown. She felt at ease there. She told me, “Nowadays, many Chinese are in Nigeria, and many young girls bring umbrellas to shade the sun. I never use umbrellas. I am here to make money. Can you meet customers under the umbrella?” This may be the tenacity and hard work of Zhejiang Merchants.
As a woman who doesn’t speak English and is heavily in debt (at most 20 million in debt), Sister fan is admirable for her heroic trip to Africa. It feels like Don Quixote
is holding a sword and cutting a windmill. Others might laugh — “The ignorant is fearless”, but those who succeed in Africa are often these “ignorant people”. They have the spirit to do what they say, the will to do nothing, and the determination to never settle, so that they have a vast presence in Africa. This confirms the old saying “persistence is victory.” Sister Fan still has some romantic vision of her future. Now that her daughter has gone to a prestigious school, she has started her plan to travel around the world. She likes the kind of travel that is free and easy with a backpack. Happiness means to enjoy life to the fullest, to have a long-term perspective, and there is no suffering that cannot be overcome. This is her advice to me. All successful lives are bitter before sweet, and all the lives that can be enjoyed today are those that have gone through great tribulations before.