In this article, Kreol delves into the life and times of Jean Faure, whose career took him from the Seychelles to Uganda and Oman to carve out a living from the energy industry. As you would expect, his experiences reflect the nature of two countries that are not on most people’s list of holiday destinations.
It is typical of the Creole diaspora to have colourful and interesting life stories, often navigating through several different countries along the way. But certainly few are similar to that of Jean Faure, whose life took him to two countries that most of us would struggle to point to on a world map, let alone carve out a successful career in – Uganda and Oman.
As with many adventures into the unknown, it all started with work. Jean Faure started life as a motor mechanic in post-war Seychelles at a time when there was no transport around. However, unmarried and with a sense of wanderlust, at 19 years of age he was soon persuaded to make the move to Uganda, on the back of a conversation with an engineer he worked with.
“This company came from Uganda and they were looking for mechanics. It was a new company looking for people to go underground as it was a mining company. This was all done by the British people.” He continues, “When we were dismantling the engine, a big engine, a colleague saw me and he said ‘You’re a gentleman. Would you like to go up from here?’ I said yes, if I got the job I would go. He said, OK, there you go – just like that.”
The job was to become a mechanical fitter. Because the mining company was underground, they needed strong men and were looking ideally for people who had been in the war beforehand. They recruited people in two batches – one was for going underground, while the other was for sorting out the copper for exporting.
It wasn’t entirely plain-sailing though. Faure’s grandfather didn’t want him to go, saying to the recruiter “No, no, no, I can’t let him go – I need him.” The response to him was “Give him a chance, let him go, the guy is bright… let him work – he’ll learn something.” As it turns out, there was confusion over what Faure would be going to do work-wise, with his family thinking he was joining the police force.
Before he set sail, Faure learnt a skill that would serve him well over the next few years – how to look after electrical supplies and perform the duties of an electrician. His expertise was picked up as a result of the friends he kept: “Those guys in the power stations liked me so much, and that’s the way I learnt my trade. I was staying in the town around the power station as they used to play dominoes, and I was very inquisitive. Everyone tried to help me when I was going.”
Faure’s 26-year stay in Uganda coincided with the fighting that marked the reign of Idi Amin, the 1970s dictator. He admits that period of the country’s existence took its toll: “Part of my family came down when there was the trouble of President Amin. Uganda was called the pearl of Africa. But when the wars started between the tribes and so forth, it was never the pearl again. You could not have a cooking pot to cook the food… Things got worse, the President and all his soldiers needed a good education but they started messing around. If they needed a good car, they would take your car.”
He continues, “I stayed… but when we couldn’t go, everything was dropping, dropping, dropping… At the time, we could not send money to the Seychelles. For us, it became very difficult. They gave you only 33%, sometimes only 20%, of your money. The new manager came to work and he was a colonel. We became friends, because I had to be friends with them. The army was watching my house. I’d go to the toilet and they’d come with me. I said ‘Friend, I’m just going to the toilet’… but they followed with an AK47. He gave me one as well to put under my bed.”
Faure’s faith helped to carry him through, and despite urges from his family to leave the country and head to the UK, his reply was “Yes, but the time is not yet. I know that God will deliver me from this place.” It was a place in which many connections had been built. He chose to stay “because of the work, because of the people who liked me. I had a lot of friends. I had a good boss.” Additionally, five of Faure’s six children were born in Uganda, and were educated there too.
His son Danny was headed in his footsteps, and when Faure moved to work at the local power station, his son aspired to work there too. “He read the books in the office about engineering; he liked cars. He wanted to be an engineer. One time, we had a breakdown where I worked… the turbine was built on wheels and was placed on water. I had to go inside, and Danny wanted to come with me. I said ‘OK, we’re going down the pits.’ Danny came and he climbed the ladder. From the start, I saw that this guy wants to be an engineer, and he needed to prepare for education.”
It wasn’t easy though, Danny and his siblings had to travel a 25 mile distance to the best school for them in Uganda.
The drive to succeed
Aside from picking up the native tongue of Swahili, Faure also learnt another skill that would help fill his recreational time while in Uganda – golf. It was taught to him by his English chief engineer and technical manager, Mr Cruickshank, who on his arrival at the power station in Uganda where Faure worked, planned to build a golf course.
Faure remembers: “The first thing he did, typical Englishman, is build a place to drink. The club house was beautifully built, with a shiny timbered floor. He said, ‘Tomorrow is Saturday, can you come?’ So, I agreed to come at four the next day. I asked if I could play, and he said, ‘Yes, you will play – some guys will teach’ you. Everything was new, and I came on Saturday afternoon and played.”
Idi Amin and the Ugandan crisis
While Faure had assumed a position of great responsibility, being invited by President Amin and Mr Cruickshank to represent the Asian community (made up of Indian, Chinese and Seychellois), things were deteriorating within the country as tribal tensions took hold.
“President Amin was in the army. He was a nice guy – we could have a nice conversation, just like this. But, when the war came, and the army surrounded the power station – that’s when it affected my family. Especially for my wife, and my small one, Judy. Even up to now they say, ‘Dad, you sent us away’. But we had to send them away. Things were getting so hot – the boys could stay, but the girls had to go. That’s the time they pushed President Obote out, so then President Amin took over and that’s how the war started. That’s when the Tanzanian army came to push President Amin out, because President Obote was friends with President Nyerere.”
Projects in Uganda but Oman calls
It wasn’t all negative, and while working as a civil engineer, Faure notes, “I was inquisitive about everything, and they love those kinds of people. They like bright people who have studied. All my spare time I studied, and it was nice as I made a lot of development on my own. I was an inventor. I won a prize for inventing a fan to extract air underground. I was working on diesel, I worked on hydroelectric.”
“I was a climber – I climbed to over 17,000[ft] altitude and created dams. We had to find a way of running the hydroelectric dam in the dry season, so I took my own group to search for water. Getting a full reservoir, needed for powering the town as well as the mines. There were 15,000 people in the mines – Indian, Goan, Chinese – I had become powerful because of my initiative… My boss said I am his right-hand man because I did a job for him in a quick way.” He added, “I enjoyed my time.”
However, after Mr Cruickshank left to manage a mine in Oman, Faure soon received an invitation to join him. As Faure remembers, he said: “Jean, be prepared, I’m opening a new mine in Oman, a copper mine. Pack your things and come straight away.” There was no need to resign as Mr Cruikshank was his boss, so Jean set off for the next instalment in his adventure, where he would stay for a further 14-and-a-half years. “I had a massive case, full of everything that I owned. I told my close friends that I am leaving for Oman. Everything was ready.”
While Oman is a desert state, plus a culture that would be strange to many, Faure lived well. He recalls: “I went near the west, near UAE. It was so hot. I had good friends in Oman and I was well known. I used to do a lot of jobs to help the people. I built a sand golf course and gave golf instruction”.
The work was challenging but rewarding. He says that he immediately formed a bond with his older colleagues: “All the people were older; all the engineers were 60 years old and over. That was lucky. When I looked at them, the respect was there. That’s the way I’ve been taught with my family, to respect those people. They gave you everything.” Mr Cruikshank had a firm instruction for his esteemed employee: “I want you to work like you did in Uganda.” That’s the way I started. From diesel generator to hydro turbine to the gas turbine – the biggest machine that I have ever seen.” The work force was a mix of Filipinos, Thai, Indian and Omanis.
Indeed, his hard work was recognised by all those that he met – and, eventually he was offered a piece of land back in Uganda by the government for free in thanks for all his hard work. He also had the pleas of Mr Cruickshank for him to stay. However, eventually Faure decided to head back to the Seychelles for his retirement. As he notes, his reply to the offer was “Where I will retire is where I buried my father. I want to be there. That was my aim. I went all over, but I said, ‘No, I have to go back to my motherland.’”
The final push came from a source close to his heart. “What it took me to resign in Oman was my wife and mother who were both sick. I told Mr Cruikshank that I had to go, and he offered me four months leave, but said ‘You must come back afterwards.’ It was sweet because I had never been absent on my job. Never. I always worked extra time. I always came early, and when there was a breakdown, you just had to knock at my door – I’m ready. He said, ‘Mr Faure, don’t go’. I said, ‘I have to’. That was 1996.”
He returned to Seychelles and applied all the experience gained, while working at the PUC (Public Utility Corporation) from 1996 to 2008.
Now aged 80 and living back in his birthplace, the Seychelles, Faure seems to have no regrets. He was instead keen to underline the rewards, as well as challenges, that can come with a move overseas: “It was a challenge for ourselves to leave our country, but it was to learn something good as well.” His advice for other creoles, especially for the young generation, from his decades of experience, is simple, – “Listen. Listen to the old people, and follow their culture. That’s the most important thing – to follow the culture. Learn, learn and learn.”