Hello and welcome to all you newbies to The Odyssey blog. I got a little press coverage in the UK last week, so I’m guessing that some of you will be wanting to know what the hell happened to me when I arrived in Cape Verde. I’m not one to stand on ceremony, so here we go…
We passed the island of Maio (no doubt first discovered by Captain Teddlis) at around 4am and pressed on to the island of Santiago, getting there about 7am. We were accompanied into port by a bunch of curious Cape Verde fishermen and once we got there, we found a friendly police boat to tell us where we could dock. Only…they had machine guns.
At this point, I thought nothing untoward. In fact, I expected to be questioned upon our arrival, but with the backing of the Cape Verde representative in the UK, and others, all it would take was a phone call to iron any kind of misunderstanding out and send us on our way.
That didn’t happen now, did it?
Instead, we were confronted by a team of armed police officers, a crowd of rubber-necking dock workers and even a local news crew.
Here’s the video of the whole sorry journey:
The police relieved me of my wallet, my money, my mobile phone, my camera, my bags, everything.
We were then told to get off the boat. I protested, trying to explain that we were at a national border and these guys don’t have passports and that we just wanted to turn around now and go back to Dakar. But the police had guns, so we did what we were told. It was all a little crazy, but hell, I thought, as soon as they let me make my phone call as per the Geneva Convention, we’ll be back on the boat within the hour. I left my leather jacket on the boat. It was hot and I thought I’d pick it up later.
Then all eleven of us were bundled into a couple of minibuses and driven in siren-blaring procession to a police station.
The police took my belt, my shoelaces, that stupid fish necklace that I won on the Costa Cruise trivia quiz and pointed down at the cells. Now I’ve never been properly arrested before, but I have watched enough episodes of The Bill to know that they have to tell you what you’ve done wrong before they can throw you in a cell.
They wouldn’t say.
At this point, what had started out as a merry little adventure at the expense of the (obviously bored) Cape Verde police started to turn rather sinister. We were forced down into the lock up, a long narrow room with a staircase in the middle that had a locked cage door on it. Along one side of the lock up were three cells, each perhaps ten foot by ten foot, each with an incredibly smelly squat toilet in the corner.
It was now about 11am. We would be left down there all day, and my requests for Habeas Corpus, a statement of arrest, a phone call, a lawyer or even my malaria medication fell on deaf ears.
What the hell had I got myself into?
By the evening I was beginning to panic – the whole Odyssey project was in danger of going completely off track and to make matters worse, NOBODY knew where I was.
At 8pm they instructed us into one of the cells, slammed the door and locked it.
There was me, sitting with ten rather bemused (but not angry, bless them) fishermen. The cell had no beds. I used my jumper as a pillow and fell asleep on the concrete, trying not to breath through my nose.
We were awoken at 6am by the guards. Still no phone call or anything. I began (very vocally) protesting against my treatment. At the very least, I should be allowed to call my family. Most of the day we were kept in the cells, only being allowed out for a few hours into the larger lock-up, as if for exercise. I spent my time constructively demanding a phone call off every one who had the misfortune of walking past the lock-up. My pleas fell on deaf ears.
Certain policemen muttered something about the Frontier police, others blamed the chief of police. Either way, whilst some of the police where content in the knowledge that they were breaking several international laws by holding me without charge or a phone call, the smarter ones began to shy away from making eye-contact.
At this point, I sensed I was in the right, these guys KNEW they were screwing up big style keeping me locked up and so I pressed my case.
Time and time and time again.
Telefono! Por mi família!
TELEFONO! POR MI FAMÍLIA!
TELEFONO! POR MI FAMÍLIA!
I’m surprised that none of them gave me my phone call just to shut me the hell up. But they didn’t.
The worst thing about being locked up? There is NOTHING to do. I had no book, no pen, nothing.
I couldn’t even chat to the fisherman – Captain Mbeye, Modou, Saliou, Ablaye, Adama, Aleen, Aleen, Mahmoud, Doudou and Elage; and I couldn’t even play football with a bottle as the bizzies had taken my damn laces. But at least my compass watch came in handy when finding the direction of Mecca for them.
So in the spirit of JJ Abrams, I came up in my head with the plot of a re-imagined Star Wars Prequel trilogy. AND OH MY WORD, IT’S BLOOMIN’ MARVELLOUS.
In my version, Anakin is an already grown-up space pirate with dubious morals, Obi-Wan is in love with Amidala and has been since they were kids, Amidala is a kick-ass Jedi Queen, the clones are evil clones of the Ten Dark Lords of the Sith and to cut a long story short, THERE IS A LIGHTSABER FIGHT IN HYPERSPACE.
Now if you don’t want to watch that, you don’t deserve eyes.
We spent a second night locked in that damn cell with nothing but my over-active imagination for company.
Although, the scene when Obi-Wan force jumps over Anakin’s K-Wing kamikaze attack is just AWESOME!
I felt like one of the ‘victims’ of the Milgram experiment. Only I wasn’t pretending. I was given no change of clothes, there was no shower and by now it was either drop the browns off at the pool or risk bowel cancer. I hadn’t gone since last Sunday.
Luckily, I befriended one of the cops, a guy called George. He’s a top bloke and will get my recommendation for Chief of Police once all this is over. He went out and bought me some bog roll (I have no intention of EVER using the old wet left-hand trick favoured by the less salubrious areas of the world) and I used the toilet to say goodbye to all the stuff I had eaten that week.
Talking of food (kinda), they did feed me well – we had two decent meals a day (usually rice and meat in gravy), but ‘original’ bottled water was a little difficult to come by, so I had to do with tap water. Actually, the fact that I still haven’t had the runs for this entire journey despite some pretty damn insanitary conditions, only goes to prove that my DNA should be extracted and analysed in order to create the race of super-soldiers that games designers keep telling us will one day RULE THE WORLD.
Anyway, today I tried to get as many coppers on my side as possible. I’ve already mentioned George, but there were others who really helped me out. However, the majority of them could give a flying monkey’s behind about my situation. The most fun bit of the day was, after banging on my cell door for an hour solid (luckily my cellmates where those peaceful Muslim types you read a lot about but never see on the news) the door was opened by one of the cops. Seizing my opportunity for a little bit of amateur dramatics, I put on the waterworks, got down on my knees and explained that my mother will think I’m dead. I may have even dribbled a bit, it was a jolly good show. I think everyone was quite impressed.
But the copper didn’t yield. He just threw me back in the cell and went upstairs.
That night, the Senegalese Ambassador (who was really a policeman) gave me one of my bags back. Inside were wetwipes (JOY!), my malaria tablets, my Lonely Planet West Africa, some money, a pen and my iPod. But, sadly, no phone.
No phone call for me.
I stuffed my earphones into my lugholes and started scrolling through to Johnny Cash (seemed appropriate), but before I got there the bloody thing ran out of juice.
Anyone got a spare laptop and new version iPod USB cable?
You Dream of Blondes and You Dream of Beer
And Life Gets Terribly Stale
It’s Dead In The Morgue, but it’s Deader In Here
There’s No Night Out In The Jail
There’s No Night Out In The Jail
There’s No Night Out In The Jail
At least I still, incredibly, had my hat on. But I was getting really worried now. NOBODY knew where I was. What was to stop the cops doing me in and making out that we had been lost at sea?
We had now hit the fourth day of my illegal incarceration on the island of Santiago. I had been held beyond the 24-hour limit of Habeas Corpus, and even beyond the 48-hour limit of extenuating circumstances, so unless I was suspected of being a terrorist or I had somehow been teleported to Guantanamo Bay in the reign of the Great Ignoramus, I was now certainly more sinned against than sinning.
On top of that, it being Saturday, my girlfriend Mandy and my mum would be worrying about the fact I hadn’t checked in with them. They would think I was dead. The police told me that the British consulate had been informed; they told me they had spoken to my family; they told me a lawyer was on the way. But I wasn’t born yesterday. If my parent’s knew I was here, there would be a lawyer kicking these coppers back into the 1970s where they belong.
Something had to be done.
I had surveyed my possibilities of escape, timed the appearance of cops (totally random), attempted to scrape away at the walls Shawshank-style with a spoon that I had stolen at dinnertime (all concrete, no sedimentary rock; more’s the pity), had a go at the window bars with a large bit of scaffolding that the cops had left in the lock-up (along with, inexplicably enough, two broken gas cookers, a bicycle with no chain and an original Nintendo Entertainment System – get out of THAT one, Guybrush!) but it was no use.
The only way out was to injure myself sufficiently in order to be taken to hospital and then seducing a nurse to get her on side and pulling a fast one dressed as a doctor before heading under cover of darkness to the relative safety of the US Embassy (directions out of the Lonely Planet scrawled in Biro on my hand).
So I took up my position on the shouting step and started my oft-repeated plea.
Telefono! Por mi família!
TELEFONO! POR MI FAMÍLIA!
TELEFONO! POR MI FAMÍLIA!!!!!
Once I had the bizzie’s attention, I started hitting my head on the bars like Vyvian out of the Young Ones – only with more conviction.
Unfortunately, I’m bloody difficult to knock out (hence the necessary of super-soldier clones to be made from my DNA to protect the Earth from the invading nasties from Dimension X). I guess my head is just too fat to cause any real damage. Or maybe I’m just a wuss, who couldn’t headbutt a large blancmange without pulling my punches. Either way, I had to pretend to be knocked unconscious (more bloody acting – where’s my Oscar eh?).
The copper on duty took the hysterical-woman-out-of-Airplane method of treatment and slimly slapped me ‘awake’ and pulled me out of the way of the door.
Let’s try that again shall we.
TELEFONO! POR MI FAMÍLIA!!!!!
TELEFONO! POR MI FAMÍLIA!!!!!
TELEFONO! POR MI FAMÍLIA!!!!!
This time, I lay there on the floor for over an hour, not moving (but thinking of even more unbelievable groovy scenes for my version of Star Wars Episodes I to III, including one where Mace Windu, Amidala, Obi-Wan and Anakin are hanging off a spaceship (above a the huge frozen sea of Sullust) and Obi-Wan is forced to cut the cord on Anakin Touching-The-Void-style to save everyone else’s life. So Anakin plunges down to almost certain death before (at the last moment) using the Force to break the ice beneath him).
No wonder he’s so angry off at the end of Episode III.
In my version anyway. I still can’t quite work out what his problem was in the GL version. Sand-People killed my mom! Well, you could have perhaps dropped in on her sometime in the past decade, you selfish mook. I wanna be a Jedi Master! Okay, here’s your seat on the council. I had a bad dream about my wife! Aw, diddums. Now KILL ALL THESE CHILDREN…!
Anyway, after an hour, I was getting pins and needles so I got up and dusted myself down.
After a while, I was finally allowed five minutes to make a call, but the phone was all in Portuguese. I spent the first minute trying to unlock the damn thing. I only know a handful of numbers off the top of my head. I dialled my parents. The call connected, but all I could hear was my own voice repeated back at me. Kafkaesque or what? So I tried my brother Mike. No answer.
Then I texted Mike. My hands where shaking like Michael J Fox sitting on a washing machine. In an earthquake.
The copper was coming back. One last try. I rang Mike’s mobile number. I got to speak to him for just enough time to confirm he got my text message and to say in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t playing around here.
It was done. The word was out. Now, where’s my lawyer?
I would find out later that my parents sussed out where I was being held and spent all day yesterday trying to phone me, but it wasn’t until my fifth day being held at El Presidente’s pleasure that somebody finally got through to me.
That wasn’t before our early morning wake up call. I staggered from the cell into the lock-up area to find some of the other prisoners gathered around what I can only describe as the biggest mess of a human I have ever seen. A guy who had drank so much that he pulled down his pants and had defecated EVERYWHERE, rolled in it, got sick, pee’d himself and then passed out. Now I’ve been to some seriously messed up house parties and attended
some truly drunken festivals, but this was on a whole new level of JUST PLAIN WRONG.
Why had the police brought him in? To punish us? Why couldn’t they have just left him on the street – it’s not like he could catch pneumonia here, it’s too damn warm. He STANK. He had excrement all over his feet, it was in his hair, all over the floor. My word, I would LOVE to know what this cack monster had been drinking because I would like to use it on my enemies.
The other prisoners were trying to hose him down when I got summoned upstairs – the first time I had left the lock-up in over 120 hours. Isabelle, the assistant to the British Consulate. You angel. She told me that they were doing everything they could to get me out. Once I had answered one call, they couldn’t really stop me – I spent the best part of the day upstairs talking to my Mum and Dad, my girlfriend Mandy, my brothers Alex and Mike… I even did an interview for Granada Reports (North West UK TV). Although everyone had to ring me, I STILL wasn’t allowed to call out. Behind the scenes, people like John Roberto, the Cape Verde Representative in the UK, were doing everything they could to get me out.
Every time the phone went silent for more than ten minutes, I was sent downstairs, back to the cack monster. He had crawled Gollum-like to around the corner of the lock-up, beside the bike with the broken chain. He had managed to defecate himself even more and the whole jail was now resembling the aftermath of a German scat orgy. The fishermen were pressed against the back wall, praying for the wind to change and deliver them from the stench.
And we thought the squat toilets stank. Oh my word.
I felt awful that the fishermen didn’t have the opportunity to go and use the phone. In fact, I felt awful for putting them in this situation in the first place. If the Police had let me make a phone call on the Wednesday, we would have been out on Thursday at the latest, and here we were, five days later and the police where STILL not telling us what was going on.
After a while, the police stopped answering the phone and I had to sit downstairs. The cack monster was returned from whence he came, unlike his cack, which was left all over the floor and up the walls.
At least I knew this would be our last night in the damn jail.
On Monday morning, Captain Mbeye and I were taken away with four others. We (typically) weren’t told were they were taking us, but it turned out to be the courthouse, the Palácio Da Justiça. There I met Maria, the wonderful lawyer that my parents had organised for me. She assured me we’d be out before we knew it – the police had no case and no right to hold us for so long without following the correct procedure of Habeas Corpus. However, they didn’t have a translator for the fishermen, so we had to go back to the cells until 2pm. I spent the time singing Bohemian Rhapsody at the top of my lungs. The fishermen and I ate our last lunch together and just after 2pm, I left the illegal custody of the Cape Verde police for the last time.
At the courthouse, I met a dapper Englishman by the name of Piran. He was from Sheffield and had taken the day off work to help out a fellow Brit in need. He worked as translator as Maria and I explained the whole sordid affair to the Judge. The court case was not even about the fact we had turned up on a wooden fishing boat, it was just based on the fact that the police had broken the law of Habeas Corpus.
While we waited for each of the fishermen to be interviewed by the Judge (the first time ANY of us were asked any questions!), I found out the ‘Senegalese Ambassador’ was in fact a copper and I chatted to local reporters. It was 6pm before the judgement came out.
The prosecution said that it was his considered opinion that we should all be set free immediately, so that made Maria’s job a little easier. The Judge set us all free immediately.
Anyway, as the police left, Piran and Maria found somewhere for the fishermen to stay for the night. Luckily, Maria knows the minister responsible for these people and he ensured that all of my Senegalese chums had a pension for the night. Piran gave us all a lift in his 4×4 monster truck (just the right size for 11 ‘illegal’ immigrants!) to the hotel, and there I said my goodbyes to the guys. Captain Mbeye, Modou, Saliou, Ablaye, Adama, Aleen, Aleen, Mahmoud, Doudou and Elage; what a bunch of legends. If I get any compensation out of this traumatic and frustrating experience, I’ll be sure to pass it on to them. Heaven knows they deserve it.
Piran and I then went for a pizza of liberation, washed down by copious amounts of alcohol. We met up with some other British ex-pats and as we clinked our drinks together, I thanked my lucky stars that I was born in what is still the best country in the world, and nowhere I’ve been since has even come close to knocking it off that position.
Ah, who cares? I was free.
ON WITH THE SHOW.
If you haven’t done so already, please, please sponsor this mad journey by throwing some money in the pot for WaterAid, so at least some good will come of this whole debacle – www.justgiving.com/theodysseyexpedition Thanks.
Huge hugs and desperate thanks to Mandy, Mum and Dad, Mike, Alex, Leo, Yvonne, Dino, Michelle, John Howell, John Roberto, Maria, Piran, Mito, Mel from WaterAid and everyone else who helped me out this week. You are all Odyssey Legends and you were there for me when I needed you the most, and that will never be forgotten.
“Vogons have to be just about one of the most unpleasant races in the galaxy. Not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous. They wouldn’t even lift a finger to save their own grandmother from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters”.
– Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Since I started this stupid, impossible journey I have been consistently battling Vogons. Curiously absent from Latin America and Europe, they bogged me down in the Caribbean, treated me like a dog on the Greyhound, imprisoned me in Cape Verde and have made my trip through Africa a non-stop cavalcade of misery and paranoia.
Now I don’t want you to be fooled into thinking that everyone in Africa is a Vogon. Nothing could be further from the truth, but there is a sizable minority that is currently employed for the sole purpose of tormenting the helpless wayfarer with their incessant (and usually armed) demands for money. This is with the blessing of their evil little Vogon governments, thieves and liars to a man.
You can spot a Vogon a mile away – most wear some kind of uniform (possibly found in a jumble sale) and all will be armed with Mr. Kalashnikov’s infamous 1947 model of semi-automatic rifle.
As they flick through your ‘papers’, desperately trying to find even the slightest inconsistency so that their disgraceful brand of highway robbery can be guilded in the false pancia of earthly justice, your heart pounds, your palms sweat – are they going to ask for one dollar or one hundred? Or will they just throw you in stinking jail cell for a week?
“There are places in this world where the safety net is suddenly whipped away, where the right accent, education, health insurance and foreign passport – all the trappings that spell ‘It Can’t Happen to Me’ – no longer apply, and your well-being depends on the condescension of strangers”.
– Michela Wrong, In The Footsteps of Mr Kurtz
And DON’T give me that crap about them not being paid. The shoeless crippled orphans on the city streets aren’t getting paid – they don’t relieve me of my cash via the barrel of a gun. These Vogons are scum, just utter scum – there to line their own pockets at the expense of their country, their families, their neighbours and at the expense of foolhardy tourists like myself who, once over those border lines, vow never to return.
It was shaping up to be a long day.
I had risen with the lark and jumped a shared taxi to the next village (there was no direct transport link with Brazzaville). I would repeat this process twice over, in two different shared taxis, hopping from town to town until I managed to find a shared truck that was heading all the way to Brazza.
I had been warned of banditry on the road, so I bought a couple of bandages and strapped my video tapes and my hard drive to my legs, just in case. It was actually a relief when a friendly soldier clambered onboard, complete with AK-47 to ward off any would-be Dick Turpins.
Luckily, I managed to bag a seat in the cab; yesterday’s ordeal of sitting in the back of the truck held little adventure for me. I just wanted to get to the capital before dark, because that’s when the Vogons are at the height of their powers.
We bounced around for hour after hour, a single, hobbled, dust track marking the main road from the capital to the port. We arrived at the city of Kinkala at dusk. Kinkala is the last big town before Brazzaville, the capital of this wretched place.
At this point, the dust track gives way to a brand new road, with TARMAC (fancy that!), drainage (DRRRRRAINAGE!!!), white lines, road signs – the lot. It even had a couple of roundabouts.
It wouldn’t do to have built their own road, even after 50 years of ‘in’dependence, so the Vogons got us daffy Europeans to build it for them, possibly on the back of a promise that they (no doubt) intend to break. Hell, one day they might even have a road that goes from the capital city all the way to the main port, Pointe Noire – wouldn’t that be a fine thing?! Although at the current pace of road building (50km in 50 years), the fine people of Congo can look forward to the damn thing being completed around Stardate 2453.
I have to say, after four days of roughing it over the dustiest tracks in the universe, it was a blessed relief to be back on tarmac – I even got out of the truck and gave the road a little cuddle.
A major problem with Vogons is that they generally start drinking at around 6am and continue drinking all day. The result of which is that the roads in Africa get VERY dangerous at night. Not because of bandits (who thankfully didn’t appear), but because of drunken officers of the law who have no scruples in fleecing one of the few (very very few) tourists, of everything he or she has got.
RULE 1: KEEP SMILING
We arrived at the Vogon roadblock outside Brazzaville at around 8pm. It all seemed quite straight forward until they asked me to get out of the cab so they could rifle through my belongings.
My crime? Not to smile at the horrible bastards. I was tired and I was looking forward to meeting my couchsurf contact Christophe, and going for a beer. This was quite possibly the 200th roadblock that I had come to since Rabat and after four days of the most arduous bit of overlanding so far, I just wanted to relax as soon as possible.
Hell, I was cordial enough. But after they kept me waiting by the roadside for an hour, it didn’t take Sherlock to suss that the game was afoot. They had captured a whitey. At night. Entering Brazzaville. In a truck!
They were drunk and as frisky as a bunch of Hitler Youth who had caught a Jew attempting to escape Nazi Germany in a haycart.
The fact that there is no bus, no coach, and no shared taxi from the west to the capital and the train would not be getting in until Saturday (maybe) didn’t figure much in their tiny, uneducated minds. I was possibly the most exciting thing to happen to them since puberty.
Now we’ve got him, how do we keep him? How do we make his trip to Congo a complete misery that he will never forget? How do we ensure that he tells everyone he knows and everyone he meets never, ever to go, invest or give aid to Congo, this most fetid basketcase of basketcases?
My passport was somewhat problematic for them – it was genuine, valid and had a stonking great visa in it for Congo, as well as my four separate entry stamps. So they decided that they wanted to see what was on my tapes. So I picked one at random and played it to them. One of the thick idiots decided that Steve, the lovely Nigerian guy from Port Mole, was in fact Ali Bongo, the new president. Quite what I was doing in a fishing shop with the President of Gabon is quite beyond my capabilities, but there you go.
Before I knew it, I was being stuffed into a sequested car with four Vogon ‘policemen’ (me and three others in the back, all armed) and being taken to see ‘The Chief’.
As I was to later discover, this guy was one of several ‘Chiefs’, each one seemingly as impotent as the last.
So I found myself hauled into a police station and sitting before a (typically drunken) Vogon ‘chief’, accompanied by ten armed officers in the room gauping like a bunch of schoolboys who’ve found a dead animal and are wordlessly trying to estabilish who will have the honour of poking it with a stick.
Luckily for me, I had managed to get a call out to Christophe, my couchsurfing contact, and he headed down to the cop shop to bail me out.
Only, in Congo, there is no such thing as bail. Or human rights, habeus corpus, rule of law, lawyers, judiciary or even a real police force – all they have are some illiterate morons with guns given the task of making everybody’s life a misery.
Christophe’s flatmate, Max, also came down to help me out, but I wasn’t going anywhere. By now, it was past midnight. The ‘chief’ pulled out the whiskey and offered me a tipple. I was told to make myself comfortable on the couch.
I managed to get through to the British Embassy in Kinshasa and explain the situation. There’s no British Embassy in Bazzaville, only an Honourary Consul. The guy at the British Embassy, a wonderfully posh guy named Holgar, said they would do all they can to get me out as soon as possible.
According to the ‘chief’ (who would not give me his name, but I have a feeling it was Mr. Utter B**tard), it was all a matter of ‘procedure’ and I’d be released the next day. Which brings us to…
I awoke on the little couch in the ‘chief’s’ office. Gone was any chance of me submitting my visa application for Angola this week. Max returned and was helping translate the situation. Then they took me outside and tried to stuff me in a 4×4. I resisted on the grounds that they wouldn’t tell Max where they were taking me. In the end, Max said he’d follow and not to worry, they say they’ll let me go soon.
So off I go with the police. Are they just going to take me out to the sticks and put a bullet in my head? Who knows? Why am I here? Why are they doing this? Are they crazy or just blitheringly stupid?
I was taken to another police station – this one much larger (and even more horrible) than the last. I was taken up to see another ‘chief’, who didn’t give his name or ask me any questions, just told me to wait and be patient.
I was then taken downstairs and left in a room. The police had taken my mobile from me for good measure, but I had a spare phone and my laptop, so I could get the word out about what these scumbags where doing to me.
Conversations would go around like this:
“Why am I here? What have I done?”
“It’s a matter of procedure.”
“So you do this to all tourists then?”
“It’s a matter of procedure.”
Kafka would have loved it. As the day dragged on, it became increasingly clear that they had no intention of letting me go, even though I was told repeatedly that I had not committed a crime, my visa and passport were in order and that I was – apparently – ‘free’. Not free to walk out the door though.
Around 7pm, my camcorder, tapes and mobile phone where plonked down on the desk beside me, so I dug out my mobile and called Mandy, my girlfriend in Australia.
Mandy and I were discussing the saddest song in the world: we have various candidates, of which Bless His Ever Loving Heart (Nick Cave), Me Ne Quitte Pas (Jacques Brel), Another No-One (Suede) and Exit Music (Radiohead) usually come out near the top.
I brought up the possibly of The Guillemot’s track, ‘If The World Ends…‘
At this point, seven policemen charged into the room, ripped the mobile phone from my ear, proceeded to violently relieve me of my hat, my shoes, my socks, my belt, my T-shirt and everything in my pockets.
They tore my glasses off my face, which given my prescription is a little like taking the white stick off a blind man.
I was then violently frog-marched into a cell that I can only describe as a room you might wake up in if you found yourself a victim of the Jigsaw Killer.
This was possibly the most traumatic moment of my travels so far, if not my life. There in that filthy, stinking, mosquito-ridden cell, sans spectacles, the world nothing but a blur, I broke down and wept.
I hate this place.
I hate these people.
I’m sick of being treated like a dog.
Once this bloody stupid journey is over, I doubt I will ever return to sub-Saharan Africa. I’m not a battered wife who goes back for more, and Africa and the Vogons contained therein have fallen over themselves to make one thing very, very clear: white people are about as welcome here as a dose of the clap. Tourists, travellers, investors: look to Asia or Latin America.
“The only way to get a drink out of a Vogon is to stick your finger down their throat”.
– Douglas Adams, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Most children learn about empathy at an early age. The Vogon brain, being hardwired for bureaucracy, selfishness and greed, never develops the necessary range of higher-level emotions that are necessary to successfully gauge the suffering of others. Therefore, there is nothing to prevent a Vogon brain’s owner from locking them up in a stinking cell and wondering why the victim might not enjoy the experience. Similarly, there is nothing to stop Vogon leaders from stealing everything, absolutely EVERYTHING (including the future), from the bottom billion poorest people in world. The man, as Super Furry Animals once sang, don’t give a f**k.
With no watch to tell the time, I measured the day by banging on the cell door and screaming at the top of my lungs to let me the hell out. My cell mate, Omar, a guy from Mali who had been caught without any papers, tried to get me to calm down, but I wasn’t having any of it.
At this point, I thought sod you, you horrible little ***tards, I’m not eating. I didn’t eat anything other than a croissant the previous morning and I reckoned that I could go a couple of days on hunger strike. Not that they would give a damn, but it would make me feel like I had some power over my situation. Plus, it would mean I wouldn’t have to use the toilet (a prison squatter with no shoes or socks on? You’d have to be mad). I didn’t want to catch the plague, leprosy, ebola or whatever other medieval horrors are still lurking in Central Africa.
Late in the afternoon, after being ignored for hours, three Vogon pigs came to the door and said that if I calmed down I could speak to yet another chief and then they’ll set me free.
So I settled down, carved WELCOME TO THE HEART OF DARKNESS on the blood-smeared cell wall and waited. An hour later, they took me out. Don’t forget, they had taken my glasses so I couldn’t see anything. I was taken to one of their filthy little offices (does EVERYTHING in Africa have to be filthy and wretched?) and sat down with this new ‘chief’. He asked me a progression of amazingly stupid questions which included my name, date of birth, place of birth etc. All of this information was available in my passport, but it had to be slowly and painstakingly written down by the powder monkey in the corner. Ten policemen looked on, gawping like yokels who had caught the moon in a bucket. There’s obviously not much crime in Brazzaville. Well, none that would make these pigs a fast buck anyhow. What was also available in my passport was what I was doing in Congo – I had a valid transit visa, a stamp out of Gabon and a visa for Democratic Republic of Congo – a twenty-minute ferry ride away. It would appear that I was transiting through this mess of a failed state.
The Vogon then told me that he had looked at my website and knew I was travelling all over the world. This is where Vogon logic just defies all reason. WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK I’M GOING TO SAY ABOUT CONGO? That it’s a wonderful rainbow island of a place full of wonderful sunny people?
Or maybe I’m going to say that it’s a disgusting dirty little hole of a fascist police state, ruled over by the flotsam and jetsum of humanity. A place where people are treated like animals, have no money, no clean water, no human rights and have been terrorised by their own hilariously inept government for the last fifty years. A place where you become president by murdering the last guy. A place where the life expectancy is what it was in Britain in the Stone Age. A place that has managed to snag Cape Verde’s unenviable position at the very bottom of my League of Nations.
After the ‘interview’, I asked if I could go. The ‘chief’ said he had to speak to his ‘chief’, but I should be out within a couple of hours SINCE I HAD COMMITTED NO F***ING CRIME. I was taken back into the wretched cell.
You cannot reason somebody out of a position they haven’t reasoned themselves into. Appealing to my captors on the logical grounds that I was a tourist, had a valid passport and a valid visa, had no contraband in my luggage and that as quite possibly the only tourist in Brazzaville, their actions where no only bad for me, but also bad for their rotten hellhole of a country, got me nowhere.
Sunday passed VERY slowly. It’s hard to mark time without a watch. Nothing to read, nothing to write…just me and my thoughts. To mess with future inmate’s heads, I marked the entire Periodic Table on the wall.
My daydreams centred on two things – a new Indiana Jones movie set in Africa called Indiana Jones and the Heart of Darkness; and the possibility of escape, slim though it was. I tried all of the bars on the windows, but they weren’t going anywhere and I didn’t have Andy Dufrayne’s quantity of time. There was a missing bar in the window above the toilet, but it would mean I would have to climb over the stinking pile of shit that was spread out all over the floor. Don’t forget…I was barefoot. I’d bandaged up John McClane-style to stop the mosquitos biting me, and without my doxycycline pills, I was a sitting duck for malaria, the biggest killer in Africa. I also couldn’t see anything further away than a metre, so the plan was only to be enacted if things became really desperate. Luckily, the pigs had missed two things when they stripped me of my possessions – my little penknife and my emergency wallet. I had eighty Euro on me. That should be enough to get a fisherman to take me over the river Congo to Kinshasa. I had it all planned out. I had even worked out the way to the river by observing the shadows as the sun passed overhead.
The police station was empty as everyone was at church, apparently. This gave me the opportunity to use the line “God left this place a long time ago” and to spend the afternoon politely kicking the hell out of the cell door.
I did that much damage that the next day it took them over half an hour to get the door open. Hee. Omar wasn’t that impressed. He really wasn’t the shouty type. I am though. Christ, if shouting was made an Olympic event, I’d be bringing home the ‘Yellow Metal That Make White Man Crazy’.
One thing that I tried not to think about was food. To be honest, I didn’t have that much of an appetite, and if you had to stay for the weekend in a tiny room that smelled like a rotting corpse, I guess you wouldn’t feel like eating either.