February 28th 201215:40 Khartoum Time, 20:40 Dezhou Time
From Khartoum to China – The Accidental Business Traveler: Part I
When I was told that my presence was requested (if we can be so delicate) in China, I had mixed feelings. I know my husband had said that he had no objection with any travel my job might require, and that he could take care of the children on his own, but my heart was heavy, even as it soared. Any perceived objection would not be marital but that of a hard working father who would have to come home to take care of three small boys alone. God knows that with the both of us home, it was still draining. His work often required him to work late, and on the days that I had to do it alone, my physical and mental strength were strained to the core.
China! What could be more exotic? What could be more exciting? Cold! I don’t like cold! I’m way too African for cold. My babies! Who is going to love my babies when I’m not home? They might find someone to feed them, someone to clean them up, but who will squeeze them with love and kiss their tiny feet while praying to Allah to preserve them safe, healthy and happy? Daddies love, for sure, but mommies love fierce. Very fierce.
China! The Great Wall and the Forbidden City! Bird’s Nest and Tiananmen Square! Gold and red and bamboo. China, I tell you!
Then my Sudanese coworkers, tried to strip away my excitement, as only Sudanese can. You’ll starve, they told me. No food in China. I asked what Chinese ate because they seemed to be doing alright. They eat Chinese food that we can’t eat. Hearing that made me feel better, because I have no problem experimenting when it comes to food. I am not of the Sudanese school of thought that if my mother doesn’t make it and I ate it several times growing up, then it is inedible.
I refuse to think that I have tasted the perfect dish. There are so many more worlds to discover and my world may be comfortable, but I am not under any illusion that it is the best. Try everything once, I tell myself, and pack loads of meds.
The smell is overpowering, the Sudanese continued. You will not be able to tolerate it. They will steal you blind, you know, a visitor to the office chimed in. They will show you quality products and send you cheap ones.
The list went on and on.
I love my countrymen but what have they achieved lately? We keep hearing that China is the next superpower but in my opinion it is the only one. The US has failed to keep up, and now China owns the US debt (among others, Sudanese included) and has made leaps and bounds in commerce and technology, as the rest of the world seems happy to rest on their laurels – assuming they have any.
After borrowing a coat (Thank you, Rawa) and stocking up on meds (Thank you, Alyaa), in addition to downloading a translation app, and packing a few snacks and some tea (yes, I know it’s China, but in true Sudanese form, I want my tea just so, and don’t mess with it, thank you very much) I was on my way.
The company I work for decided that they were not the ones sending me on the trip (sure), hence they were not responsible for me, and forewent the allocation of a per diem, after a charade that lasted a few days. I assume the alternative was to reject the invitation and allow a more accommodating employee grateful for the chance to take my place. For a less exotic destination, I probably would have passed but the Prophet PBUH told us to seek knowledge, if it be as far as China, and I planned to follow that advice, verbatim.
I was to leave with another co-worker, who outranks me on the project, and two Client representatives. I learned that the Client was sending their people with about $300/day, which was about $3,000 more than my zero. Not to begrudge the nice folk, just pointing out that customary business travel practices are alive and well. Our host had arranged for "pocket money" and that was deemed satisfactory:-|
(My computer keeps pausing, as I type and I can’t help wondering if Big Red Brother is downloading my hard drive through the internet cable I was so happy to find in my Executive Hotel Room Office. But I’m getting ahead of myself).