It’s getting close to late January 2016. Swift will soon have to return to Lagos, Nigeria to tend to her business. A Chinese manufacturer has been hounding her for his money. He wants it before the Spring Festival (this year in early February), a time to clear the books in order to begin afresh in the new lunar year. But, her African customer in Lagos is not sending the money. Though there wouldn’t be any guarantee that she would get the money if she went to collect it herself, Swift still had to make the effort to retain the manufacturer’s trust. Also, the visa for Nigeria that she was waiting for has finally been been approved by the embassy in Beijing (The law in Nigeria stipulates that if a person wants to renew her/his visa, that must be done outside of Nigeria. Application for extending an existing visa could be completed in Nigeria 19 days prior to its expiration.) and on route to her address in Togo. Lastly, her new landlord planned to return to Lagos by the end of January. If she wanted to secure her room in his house, she’d have to make sure that they’re in the country at the same time. My friend was concerned that a late return to Lagos would give the landlord, a Chinese man who’s been in the country for four years and has permanent residence, enough time to change his mind about renting the room to her.
Initially, the way that Swift discussed with me about her plan to travel to Togo for the Christmas holiday led me to think that it was to renew her visa and take a break from Nigeria. Unlike Nigeria, Togo’s a country that doesn’t require Chinese citizens to obtain a visa in advance to enter. I indeed assumed that it was more economical to travel to Togo and mail her passport to Beijing, rather than to travel home to sort out the visa for Nigeria. However, once in Togo, my friend started to explain to me the real reason that’s brought her back to that country and why it’s necessary to stay with Anna (other than the fact that they already know each other). She begins on WeChat: “The most important thing is that the shop is here.” Giving me additional background that she hadn’t shared earlier, she continues: “YC sent many goods to her [to] let her sale and get profit and pay him. About 400,000RMB goods they send to her during the time I was in Togo and after I left. They believe her so much.”
Suddenly, concerned that she might have confused me about her part in the business partnership, she adds: “But don’t worry, my money isn’t involved.” If only the situation was that simple. Swift’s loyalty to YC and his wife (who I’ll refer to as Susan from hereon) makes her overlook her frustrations with them (and that they still owe her money). That is to say, she’s still emotionally invested in her friends’ jewelry business. This is evident in at least two ways. The first is her agreement to bring the jewelries that haven’t sold well in Togo to Nigeria to sell. I didn’t ask Swift how much goods we’re talking about here. The second is her agreement to take stock of YC and Susan’s business or, as it turned out, to follow up with Anna about missing goods and profits.
She writes of her surprise after a few days of being in Togo: “So, the shop is empty, there is no goods, apart from the goods [Susan] sent to [Anna] recently.” To be clear, Swift emphasizes: “The old ones are gone!” Reporting on Susan’s and her own reactions, she further writes: “She was shocked when I told her this. I am shocked because I [haven’t spoken] with Anna about goods and business since I [returned to Guangzhou].”
Obviously, I asked my friend, who was clearly upset, how she planned to locate the goods as well as help YC and Susan resolve this matter when she knows where the goods have gone to? “I have to asked her to show me account or receipt that she sale. And also let me know how much did she send to Susan,” Swift replies. Apparently, after she asked to see either one of these items, Anna pretended to be sick. Of course, it was to avoid her, especially because Swift had also requested for both of them to sit down together to review the ledger. This dragged out long enough for Susan to contact Anna herself. According to Swift, Susan directly asked in a WeChat message: “why there’s no goods in the shop, and only send 150,000RMB to her, where is the remaining 250,000RMB?” The total amount of 400,000RMB not only includes the cost for the factory to produce the goods, but also profits for Susan and the business in Togo.
Nonetheless, feigning illness combined with trying to cover up details about her other businesses after Susan’s message made Anna seem very suspicious even though she insisted that she’s been honest all along. My friend writes: “So Anna started to shout and angry in the morning…very very angry with Susan. Keep [shouting] something in the car when we were going out.” Anna mainly speaks pidgin English with Swift, but switches to a creolized French language when she didn’t want her to understand. I suspect that morning Anna was shouting in the creolized French language. She doesn’t know, however, that Swift has been studying French on her own and has built up a small vocabulary. My friend continues to describe that morning: “She stopped her car in front of her restaurant and called all workers out and shout at them ‘don’t allow this Chinese girl to take any photo of my supermarket and restaurant, understand?’ in French!” Swift pretended not to understand. Instead, she observed how Anna’s businesses have changed since she was last in Togo. The supermarket is now stocked with many goods. A very large television (a size that Swift have yet seen before), cash register, and three refrigerators have been installed on the restaurant side. Within this mix, Anna has also started to sell hair (i.e., wigs, extensions, weaves, etc).
Swift’s years of experience in doing business tells her that these changes entail a good sum of money. Undoubtedly, her observation led her to question: where did Anna get the money to make these changes if the jewelry business hasn’t been doing well and her “husband” isn’t suppose to be involved in either the supermarket or restaurant business? My friend’s description of Anna is “the sneaky woman I am living with.” It doesn’t merely reflect her distrust in Anna, but also fear. As Swift plans to collect more evidence before making any explicit accusations of cheating, she’s fearful of crossing some unknown line and, thus, possibly losing her life over this matter. The idea of moving out of Anna’s house crossed her mind. She writes: “Because she can kill me any moment that I found out that she is cheating.” Her fear was exacerbated by the fact that she’s in a foreign country and nobody, including the authorities at the Chinese embassy, would know or care if something happened to her.