Doctor Khumalo comes to my rescue in Jamaica

Doctor Khumalo comes to my rescue in Jamaica

Jamaica, 20 degrees North of the Equator was for more than 250 years a land of slavery as millions of Africans were shipped in galleys to work on sugar plantations. Coromantees, Yorubas and Ibos reached Jamaica in their thousands – the largest forced migration in human history.

Those who survived the appalling conditions of the trans-Atlantic crossing labored their lives away under the whip of British plantation owners. And out of their misery and suffering emerged a culture buoyed by songs, chants and music drawn from their ancestral land – Africa.

Work songs, grave songs, wedding and songs of struggle could be heard as the slaves remembered their idyllic lifestyles in Africa. Slavery was abolished in 1838. But the mark it forged on the collective conscious of the island’s people remained etched in their minds and in their culture.

This is Jamaica. I was not the least surprised by the rows of corrugated zinc shacks that lined the streets of Kingston in Jamaica as I arrived in the capital to join Bafana Bafana who were already in the land of Bob Marley and reggae music from Port of Spain in Trinidad and Tobago.

Somehow, zinc shacks are a constant reminder of our heritage as Africans because you hardly see Europeans living in zinc shacks. The shacks confronts you the minute you arrive in Cape Town, Accra, Lusaka, Addis Ababa, Bulawayo and that is why I was not surprised to see the structures standing grotesquely even in Kingston.

It was early in 1999 and Bafana Bafana were playing a series of friendly games against influential countries that could vote for South Africa who were bidding to host the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Their Caribbean tour included Trinidad and Tobago, where disgraced Jack Warner was the President of the Federation.

I had flown directly from Johannesburg to Miami and from there connected to Kingston. I could distinctly hear the sounds of reggae music booming from loudspeakers strategically put on pavements. I watched a lone “Natty Dreadlock” strolling nonchalantly down the main road with a giant spiff wedged between his fingers.

I checked in at the Holiday Inn, only to discover to my horror, that while my company had booked a room for me, payment had not been effected. I used my credit card with the aim of sorting it out with the office and their travel agency the next day.

It was the beginning of my nightmare trip to the Caribbean Islands. Due to the time difference between the two countries (RSA is 7hours ahead of Jamaica), I checked in at around 16H00 and it was nearly midnight back home.

It had been a long haul flight and as soon as I settled down in my room, I went out like a baby. By the time I woke up the next morning around 9H00, the staff in the travel agency office in Johannesburg was preparing to go home and my problems with the hotel intensified.

I had breakfast and struggled to connect with the office. I filed my stories nonetheless. Then I abandoned attempts to phone the office but made arrangements for my media accreditation as well as how to get to the national stadium for that night’s match.

I secured a lift from the Bafana bus. The game ended 1-1 Daniel Mudau scoring the RSA goal in a game the visitors were captained by Doctor Khumalo. I made a terrible mistake of going to the Jamaican dressing room to interview their coach.

I reasoned that I would interview Bafana coach Trott Moloto in the bus drive back to the hotel before filing my copy. I was a huge mistake. The bus took off while I was in the Jamaican dressing room. I had no transport back to the hotel. I did not have enough cash on me to hail a taxi. I walked/ran the 8km or so distance to the hotel!

On arrival, sweating and panting, I discovered that there was not enough funds left in my credit card and my room had been suspended, my luggage brought to the holding room near reception. I had not eaten and was hungry. Bafana Bafana had already eaten their dinner and had retired to their rooms.

I woke up Doctor Khumalo and to this day, I wonder what I could have done had he turned me down. I informed him I had no place to sleep and my company had not paid for my accommodation. First he ordered room service for me and then allowed me to use his coach as bed!

The next morning, Khumalo offered me US$100 and with the rest of the squad, departed for South Africa. I packed my bag and headed to 45 Hope Road, the former home of Bob Marley that is now a museum and like a tourist, strolled between the rooms.

That afternoon, I boarded a taxi to the airport and paid US$30. It felt like I had been ripped off but, when custom officials also demanded a further US$20 as departure tax, I was left with US$9 between starvation and myself. I boarded a flight to Miami and on arrival; my itinerary indicated that I had been booked an overnight room close to the airport.

I did not even bother to check whether it had been paid for or not, but simply used my travel bag as a pillow and for the entire night, listened to hunger pangs and the sound of flights landing and departing from the airport until the next morning.

My flight to Johannesburg departed at 11H10 and I thanked my lucky stars to be going home. Three weeks later, I handed my resignation to the sport editor of the newspaper I worked for at that time.




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