Aussie sold for heroin in Africa
IT TOOK 30 years for Jan Golembiewski to piece together the story of how an obsession with magic consumed his life and took him on an unimaginably perilous journey across the world.
It was a two-year voyage which would eventually see the teenage explorer - who went on to enjoy a high-flying career in advertising- to be sold as a slave for a sticky, brown lump of heroin by a Nigerian beggar.
Now the 49-year-old architect and academic, who lives in the affluent eastern suburbs of Sydney, has publicly revealed how he reached that incredible moment in a mind-blowing biography, Magic.
He told news.com.au it was a journey which was spurred by a yearning for the supernatural which was implanted in his mind at a young age.
The rural NSW country boy lost his father in 1978 when he was just a small child, and his mother later married an anthropologist who would receive an assignment in New Guinea.
The young family packed up and made a life for themselves among one of the island's most remote jungle communities who had never even seen a white person before.
"Growing up in a world like that, it was impossible not to believe in magic," he said. ]
"It was pretty much a stone age culture."
But just a few years later, the family decided to move back to Australia and Mr Golembiewski was plunged back into suburban life in Canberra.
"It was just so magic-less," he said, as he recalled how his teachers and his peers couldn't begin to understand or accept the way of thinking he'd picked up in the New Guinean jungle.
So when he hit his late teenage years, he vowed to take a journey to discover what magic really was and, when he hit 18, he took a flight to the US.
It began like many student gap year trips as he hitchhiked with his enormous backpack through the iconic scenery of America.
But as he began to travel further - down through Latin America and eventually Europe - he began to throw away all of the things he didn't need.
And, after meeting a Rastafarian mystic and kung fu master in Belize who changed his perception of the world with his interpretation of magic, Mr Golembiewski vowed to plough even further into a spiritual journey which would see him sacrifice everything he had.
"He was difficult, he was uncompromising and a man who truly believed in the virtues of a simple life living in poverty and of the wrongs of western consumerism," he said.
This "magic" he was taught by the Rastafarian master centred around thinking about things he desired and how they could come to pass.
His sister, who he later met in Europe after being deported from Belize, was convinced he had gone insane.
However, a series of events such as finding shelter in the middle of a freezing Bavarian mountain range and repeatedly stumbling across places to live in the most unlikely places gave him the sense he was onto something extraordinary -- and he wanted to see how far it could take him.
By the time he made his way to Niger in Western Africa, he had thrown away almost everything he owned.
It was here in the landlocked nation's capital of Niamey, where he took the ultimate step towards his perception of liberation by burning his passport.
The incredible act was inspired when a distraught mate had her passport stolen and he wanted to show her how a passport couldn't define a human being.
"It was the most incredible and liberating experience, because we're born free and we just get caught up with so much s**t in our lives which doesn't mean anything," he said.
With no passport, no money or possessions --which he gave to beggars Niamey -- he admitted he became a "total liability to travel with" as there were border checks "every five minutes" in that part of Africa.
However, the mystical good fortune kept rolling on for the intrepid traveller -- who at this point was with four friends and his brother. They casually drove through border checks with no problems at all.
But eventually, at the Nigerian border, he finally arrested by police in Niger for having no identification.
He persuaded them he wanted to leave anyway as he was at the border so they pointed their guns at him and told him to keep walking towards Nigeria through the inhospitable desert alone, otherwise they would shoot him.
In Magic, Mr Golembiewski describes how he survived this incredible journey despite temporarily losing his vision from the dryness of the desert and having no food or water.
It was a journey which would take him back and forth across the minefields and cliffs which separated the two countries, as he stumbled across an oasis and even a random bottle of water among the goat bones of the Sahara.
He claims to have even passed out at one point and woken up in a desert community to be fed camel yogurt by perplexed locals who carried his dishevelled body into their village on a donkey.
However, he was eventually arrested by Nigerian police and taken to prison where he claims he was tortured, given pointless hard labour and made to live in a room which was "ankle-deep" in human excrement.
Mr Golembiewski said he didn't care. It was all part of his spiritual journey.
One day, the guards at the Lagos prison he was taken to took to a story he was telling about his Rastafarian beliefs. They took him out for lunch to hear the end of it when they drove past an Australian embassy.
Mr Golembiewski said he suggested they take him in, because they could potentially offer him an identification certificate and end his legal woes.
They agreed to take him in and, sure enough, he was given a photocopy of his certificate of identification. He was freed from prison that day and the embassy sorted out his flight back to Australia.
But, after celebrating his release at a Rastafarian party, Mr Golembiewski claims his spiritual journey took an even more bizarre turn when he was approached by a beggar the following day.
The beggar persuaded him to take a public bus with him. It was the beggar's shout as Mr Golembiewski had no money and he assumed it was again part of his mystic journey.
The homeless man took him to the heart of a sprawling shanty town where he was informed he had been sold to a drug dealer for a lump of heroin.
Despite being owned by a Nigerian drug dealer, Mr Golembiewski said the situation could have been far worse.
"He (his new owner) was an extraordinary man and he didn't make me do anything really, his wife even cleaned and cooked for me," he said.
In fact, the slave owner said he wanted to do one very special job for Mr Golembiewski He took him to the airport and suggested he use his embassy-arranged first class ticket to fly home to Australia just two weeks after he bought him.
"He said he had bought the right to send me home to my mother," Mr Golembiewski.
Sat next to Nigerian generals and high flyers in their suits, the ragged 20-year-old from rural NSW flew back from whence he came -- and he still believes in magic to this this day.
- Magic, by Jan Golembiewski, is out now. For more information visit the website.