Moscow is a ripe plum for the businessman and every one of them is heading into Eastern Europe, the African not an exception. There everything goes from vintage items to rare jelly fish, underground gambling, gold, diamond to name items that could be written about officially.
Hundreds of thousands are soaked up in Russia’s crooked maze where you have to belong and protected to be safe. Russia’s business clan has their own errand men…. It is like a flipping card game.
Dealing with Asiatic businessmen, they would have an Asian counterpart… well bred and every inch to match. If it’s with an African, take a bet an African will surface… ready to argue out deals in fluent “russki izik” (Russian language).
It was about midnight-in-Moscow that I met Sam, bearded and suited waiting patiently at Shrimetova Airport, holding a sleek briefcase and acting bureaucratic. He goes to the airport three times a week to wait for unsuspected African businessmen seeking to make their debut in Moscow.
Sam said he knows when the flight from London will arrive and other minute details which airlines seldom reveal to even the traveling passengers making me to suspect that the set up he works for has very high connections in Russia’s difficult –to-understand network.
According to Sam, because of his shared identity, he is usually the front man who had notched up dozens of fake business deals resulting in millions of dollars losses for many African businessmen.
Sam would wait when the heat is high and simply vanish into thin air to re-emerge with fake identity and passport a day or two later. Try to confront him and like instant milk, a gun-toting political policeman would appear to chase you off within the warning: “idi churnee” (go away dankie)
Despite the fact that the African would be doing business, his colour is sometimes brought to the forefront. The colour is always there. It still remains a reminder of the rough time many African students faced during the days of the Soviet Union.
Little has changed since then.Taxi drivers would after midnight ignore African passengers to such an extent that African students devised a method of sending their Russian girlfriends ahead on the pretext that they are the only would-be passengers.
In those days, even Russian students would tease their African counterparts that back home, it has been said they live in trees. African students would jokingly retort: that’s true but your diplomats live on the highest trees.
But the word – “chorni” is still a standard word by even kiddies who would cling frightening around their mothers and grandmothers at the first sighting of the African. One businessman told me that deals in Moscow can sometimes be ropey.
You can buy a fleet of assembled cars and when you check the make of the engines they can be of any brand in the West but with difficult-to-pronounce names. Others have tales of goods which manufacturers would tell them have been mistakenly packed and labeled.
Car tires 14 or 15 inches rim but could not fit the standard sizes and electronic equipment that would play your video cassette backward. In it all, there is an African insider who would feign that you are having the best business deal in a life time.
Taxi drivers are the same as elsewhere. They will round you corners dozens of times even if your destination is a stone throw away. They are good chatter box and sometimes secret operatives who would leak the address of your hotel to more people than you care to tell.
Then there is the other end of the game. Africans have left hundreds of children with black features in Russia. There lies a problem…a hydra-headed one at that. Some of these black kids have been abandoned by their Russian mothers to become street kids. They are harvested by drug gangs and underworld baddies and they are the dare devils. They prey on African businessmen calling them “tavarish” (comrades) and “gaspadines” (bureaucrats).
No job is too small for them to undertake for a fee. Many African businessmen understandably mix business and pleasure sometimes to their regret. Some have their wads of foreign currency frittered away after having their drinks laced or peppered with addictives.
African businessmen in Moscow operate under Murphy’s Law-if something can go wrong it will. In any case, many African businessmen who returned ruined to their countries are reliving the Russian proverbs-spend each day as if it was your last-and you’ll be broke by sunset.
In any case African business ventures in Moscow live by the Russian saying: Sabaka Ne Zabeviit Koo Toe Dayot Emo Kleba (the dog does not forget those who give him bread)
By Rod Mac -Johnson