In Washington, D.C., in September 2018, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo declared and formally launched “The Year of Return, Ghana 2019” for Africans in the Diaspora, giving fresh impetus to the quest to unite Africans on the continent with their brothers and sisters in the diaspora. In essence, Ghana rolled out the red carpet to encourage resettlement in the motherland.
As this was happening, I was stuck in Geneva, unable to go to Egypt to undertake my internship at the Confédération Africaine de Football (CAF). The Egyptian embassy could not process my documents since I did not satisfy the “returnability clause” to my country of residence, Switzerland. At the same time, securing an internship in the numerous European football-related organisations was proving to be next to impossible because of the passport I held, Kenyan. The placement was a mandatory part of the qualification I was pursuing, a Professional Master in Football Business at the Football Business Academy (FBA) in preparation for the next phase of my life, returning home.
So how did I get here, a ‘seasoned IT professional’ returning home to work in the football industry.
I turned 30 on Saturday, August 3rd, 2014. I remember leaving a bar in downtown Geneva, Seven Arts, some minutes after 2 am with a beer in my hand. I was the evening’s DJ earning myself a cool fifty Swiss francs (CHF 50), and an evening’s supply of Heineken beer. Mad Cobra was in town. He was performing at M.A.D. night club. I was a regular on the Geneva reggae dance hall scene, so I had a “VIP” table booked. A couple of my friends would join me there.
As I was crossing the road beer in hand, I remember asking myself if this is the way I wanted to live the rest of my life.
I was in between contracts, contract break they called it. But this time they were not calling me back. I was waiting for a different position, one that had “fixed-term” prospects. I had done well in the interview, I was informed, but due to a restructuring process, onboarding was delayed. On the other end, the clock was ticking. I was almost exhausting my three months allowed residence with no employment in Switzerland.
As I walked to the tram line, I promised myself a meeting once I sobered up the next day — a meeting with myself. Next day, Sunday, came but after the night on the tiles, I felt I needed a fresher mind, so I skipped the meeting and nursed myself to full system recovery. Porridge, eggs, a banana and blueberry juice for brunch, sleep, read or watch a movie and dinner at the Senegalese restaurant were part of the regimen. I was then ready for another week of morning runs and job searches.
At the end of Monday, I was prepared for my meeting. At the meeting, I asked Brian when were you last happy with yourself. Brian was blank save for patchy moments, a certificate here, a promotion there, a contract renewed. It had been four years since I joined the United Nations. So I asked myself where do you go no matter how your mood is. That answer came fast, football.
Football is my go-to place in good and bad times I concluded. So I had to find a way to go back to football. My competitive playing days were coming to a grinding halt owing to age, work and lifestyle choices. I had tried to move up a level in the amateur football leagues, but there I met young but stiff competition. I did not make the team and was limited to training sessions and friendly matches. I felt like a part of me was being taken away, but I was fighting to keep it.
Football – More than just a Game
Immediately I embarked on researching about football. I wanted to know more about the sport that had occupied so much of my time but was now threatening to leave me with no replacement in sight. No job, no football. There was a girlfriend. I had to start running in the morning on the shores of Lac Leman. As I researched on football, I came across an online course that was being offered for free, Football – More than just a Game. Amazing! It could not have come at a better time.
The course lasted four months, and I must say it was the most engaging course I had ever taken. I knew football as a player and a fan, but there was more. I bought some of the recommended books, never mind I was on a jobless immigrant’s budget. Towards the end of the program, I felt an urge to share what I was learning. I wanted to write, but I did not know how to, so I asked in the course forums. A seasoned writer came to my rescue. He told me, “Brian, just write.” So I started writing.
My first article, Football: More than just a Game – A PEST Analysis (football peppered with my IT and accounting background). I wrote on my blog brianwesaala.wordpress.com, which until then was an attempt at having an online CV. I finished the article around November and would read and edit it from time to time afraid to share it with anyone. I was not sure how people would react. I was fearful of the public eye, so I sat on the article as I continued with my research on football matters. By then, I had also secured a new contract, so buying books became my new hobby. And I read some of them.
The IT Assistant
I was again employed as an Information Technology Assistant. I remember reporting to work and being introduced to my colleagues. It looked like I was going to be the youngest member of the team at 3o. Once I was installed at my desk, my supervisor showed a glimpse of what my work would entail, the backend of Lotus Notes, IBM Domino. In my head, I gave myself a maximum of five years on the job. Talk of quitting before starting.
Despite giving myself five years, I promised to give my best not just for the organisation, but also to prepare myself for the next phase, away from the United Nations. First days were good, one of the Chiefs even solicited for ideas to improve the department. I did some research and submitted a business case. “Brian, I saw your email. I like the way you think (lol)”. In retrospect, I think he must have read my email and ROFLMFAOed because that was the last I heard of it. Our subsequent exchanges were usually drowned.
I tried to settle into my new surrounding as best as I could, but something was amiss. About a month into my stint, one of my immediate colleagues (we were a team of 3) went on sick leave as soon as he was back the other one left. Then at some point, they were both off ill, and I was left alone managing an email infrastructure serving over 5000 members of staff. Proud moment. No, it was firefighting, and I had to let some fires burn to completion. And at the end of my three months contract, I think they just had to extend my contract to manage the fires.
My contract was renewed for seven months which would take me to June 2015. A bit of breathing space. I could afford my weekends. Geneva nightlife is expensive, especially for those of us who ‘like’ to do battle with the bottle.
Come January 2015, and I set my sights on nailing a fixed-term contract. The prospects were promising since the post I was occupying was fixed. When you work for the UN, you are bombarded by these temporary, fixed, permanent, G, P, G3, D1, P2 lingo. Did you get a fixed? Are you G? G4? He is a P3. She’s on a temp. I felt it was always about posts, labels, rarely about people, humans.
My fixed came earlier than I expected. On the morning of January 24th, 2015, I woke up and as has become the norm checked my WhatsApp. My most active group, Strathmore Wazee, was up earlier, and there was terrible news, “Obama amepass.” Obama has passed on.
Read Part Two