When I thought I was going to die...

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When I thought I was going to die...

Post by River Dog on March 28th 2008, 11:45 am

The Castle

“They come out at night and dig a trench across the motorway to Tema. Then they wait for a car to crash and rob the victims. The chap you are replacing died that way.”
“Really? I didn’t know that,” I started to worry.
“They probably didn’t want to worry you in London.”




An Englishman, an Armenian and a Greek are being driven up the coast road in Ghana, only this was no joke. These are three wildcat oil men, taking in the sights after a rough week.

“Where to gentlemen?” our driver had asked.

“We were told there are lots of castles on the coast.”

“Castles? Yes. You want to go to the castle?”

“Yes, I guess so,” wondering a little on the singular reference.

“OK, the Castle then, very good,” puffing himself up a little.

The sea is down out of sight, palms gesture wildly inland with their raggedy leaves. The sky is blue and life slips out of gear as we relax in the old Mercedes bumping over the potholes.

Suddenly we are turning off the highway into a gated entrance. The gates are wide open and there is no-one about. The road is straight and well-laid by local standards. There is a sign ‘DO NOT ENTER’ then another, ‘NO TURNING’, and another ‘ENTRANCE FORBIDDEN – DO NO TURN AROUND’.

Our driver is oblivious to these contradictions and sweeps into a walled car park ‘NO PARKING – NO TURNING’. There are no cars, just soldiers with guns.

“Where are we?” asks the Armenian.

“The Castle”, the driver replies with pride, “where the President lives”.

“We just wanted to see a castle or two, not the President. Turn around and lets get out of here.”

“You don’t have an appointment?” asks the driver, afraid now.

“No, turn around.”

As the car spins and dust flies, a soldier lowers a barrier in our path and another walks towards us, a black pistol drawn.

“I thought these gentlemen had an appointment at The Castle, they asked to be brought here,” pleads our driver. He is shaking now.

The soldier grunts and calls over to a small building. After a few minutes a huge man emerges, a sergeant. He towers over the others.

“Gentlemen, what brings you to Osu Castle?” his big smiling head poking into the rear of the car.

The Greek bursts into an explanation that come out all jumbled and does us no favours.

“Well,” says the sergeant, “I just see three white men who drive into the President’s Palace, uninvited. Are you South African? We have trouble with their spies. Give me your passports.” He is still smiling.

What an awful sight, seeing your passport disappear into a looming fortress. Worse, an old soldier is now pointing a Kalashnikov at me, through the open window from two feet away. The worn barrel catches the sunlight as his old, skinny hands tremble.

The Greek tries to ingratiate himself with the old soldier.

“Do you think we are spies? I do not like the English either, I am from Cyprus and when I was young their soldiers would beat me about the head in the street.”

The old soldier just trembles and sweats in the midday heat.

“The British were worried about spies,” he continues. “There were many airbases on Cyprus, you see. Are there any airbases near here?”

“Shut up,” says the Armenian. “You are just making things worse and anyway, what do you know about persecution?”

I have a very small camera in my shirt pocket and I am trying to figure out how to get rid of it when the sergeant returns. He speaks to our driver in a local dialect, pointing at us and shouting a lot. The driver stutters and starts to cry. The sergeant calms down, smiles again and opens the driver’s door. He reaches down, wraps his right little finger around the driver’s left little finger and leads him out and up into the Castle. That minimum of restraint scared me more than the AK-47.

The hours pass very slowly and the sun throws long shadows. The old soldier retreats to a shady spot and points his barrel to the red earth. We’d stopped talking. Everything is still.

Then, through the shimmering windscreen, the sergeant is leading someone towards the car. A civilian I do not recognise, shambling with his bald head lowered.

“Your driver should have known not to bring you here and he has been punished accordingly,” he explains as he leads the man into the driving seat.

I can see it’s our driver now, though all his hair has been shaved off. The scalp is lumpy and blue from a beating. Blood trickles slowly down the back of his neck onto his collar. He is still crying. My arse puckers like it’s chewing a lemon.

“Please get out of the car and stand against that wall.” The old soldier is behind him. I find it absurdly romantic that I am going to shot as a spy.

“You are not welcome in Ghana and will not be able to return. Your employer, the Chief, is a friend of the President and is on his way to vouch for you. We must take your photograph.”

Not to be shot by a trembling AK-47, but a shaky Kodak, we happily smile for the camera. I wonder if it came out all blurred.

On the Chief’s veranda, over some Star beer, he explains.

“It was mostly down to your driver I am afraid. He is not Ashanti so it was a tribal thing as much as anything, you see? Most regrettable. Still, with the tip you generously provided to him, he doesn’t have to work for a few months. Time for the wounds to heal. He is quite happy.”

We had stumped up $20 each, in our guilt and relief.

I still had to bribe my way out the country that didn’t want me and then demonstrate to my colleagues back in London that contrary to the telex from Accra, I had not been killed. Not like the man I had been sent to replace.

“Good to see you back. We have another job for you in Congo. Tricky one though, dangerous place. How do you fancy it?”
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River Dog
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Registration date : 2008-03-28

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