Africa is interesting, the wildlife, the people, but it can be interesting in the bad sense of the word as well. A lot of bad things happen in Africa and it doesn’t take a lot to be involved in those bad things. I worked in Chad for a full year in 1990, upon landing one of the first remarks I made to a friend that picked me up was “what a shit hole”, and I meant it. At the time there was 23 miles of paved road in the country, no electricity grid and most people I saw lived in huts that were interchangeable with their barns. We of course had our standard, self contained mobile village like most seismic crews but that didn’t protect us from the malarial mosquito that flew around hoping to spread its joy. In fact half of the expats I was working with in Chad came down with malaria, a fun disease that is with you for life.
There was a good thing about working in Chad, the food was crap and I was on a mission to lose weight. The year I worked there I first started to run, plugging in the B-52’s and running down dirt trails. Something cool about listening to “Roam” as you jog a red clay African trail passing by native women carrying water on their head. I later brought back a Nordic Track as Exxon didn’t want us out away from camp without armed guards, it was Africa after all, kidnapping happened too often.
It was getting close to Christmas when a civil war turned nasty, Debe had his forces invade from Sudan, but as we were working north of the capital near Lake Chad, the prevailing wisdom didn’t think we would be in danger. Not being military strategists we of course were wrong, even though we weren’t in the direct path of the battles the losing government army evacuated through the area where we were working. At first it was OK, we give the soldiers a little food, a little money and they moved on, we were able to get the Twin Otter in to evacuate 16 of my fellow doodlebuggers leaving 12 of us more experienced for the next flight. Unfortunately the pilot of the first flight reported that he was shot at while taking off and wouldn’t come back to retrieve the “dirty dozen” as we eventually started calling ourselves.
As we ran out of money and food to give to the soldiers that got their butt kicked. Eventually they started to turn a bit nasty, some pushing and shoving, a bit of gun pointing and yelling. We decided it was best to go out into the desert to hide and await rescue. Interesting thing about the desert at night in Africa, it can get COLD! I had a leather jacket on and jeans and it still was uncomfortable cold lying down on the sub-Sahara sand at night. Two days without food and water was running a bit low, the Muslim soldiers did leave the beer and ice which was happily drank after the French military found us and flew us out by helicopter.
We were flown by the French to NDjamena and then off to Cameroon were Exxon chartered a 737 to take us to Amsterdam. When it looked as if the army would leave us nothing but maybe the cloths on our back a few of us put our valuables in a pickup truck and had a driver take it to a ravine and throw branches on it to hopefully keep it out of the hands of the military. Not 3 minutes after sending the truck to the ravine we see it coming back our way full of soldiers. Thinking maybe they would let me have my stuff back I started walking towards them, they pointed their guns at me and I decided the possessions they had of mine weren’t that important. I had my passport in my pocket, who needs 80 cd’s, a stereo, gold chains, diamond rings, credit cards and a couple of thousand in cash? That is how I found myself in Amsterdam with absolutely not a dime on me, no credit cards and no way to get any money, weird feeling that, being totally penny less thousands of miles from home.
We were met in Amsterdam by the Chad country manager who of course as very glad to see that all of us had made it out unscathed, he happened to be on break when all of this went down, coincidence? The first thing I asked him was did he bring any money so I could get a pay advance? He looked a bit perplexed at first then had a great idea, asking us to come with him he introduced me to a nice man from the US Embassy. JT, this is such and such from the US Embassy, such and such this is JT a US citizen; he is destitute, can you help him out?