Artorius Castus

North Africa and the Axeman

Posted in Uncategorized by Patrick Truax on August 22, 2007

NORTH AFRICA. SAND. FLIES. HEAT. TEEMING CITIES LIKE CAIRO AND TUNIS. BUT MOSTLY DESERT. AND WHEN ONE THINKS OF THE NORTH AFRICAN DESERT, ONE IMMEDIATELY THINKS OF THE FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION. BEAU GESTE. AND THE BUG-EYED BRITISH COMEDIAN MARTY FELDMAN IN “THE LAST REMAKE OF BEAU GESTE.” THE FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION DOES EXIST IN REALITY AND NOT JUST ON A HOLLYWOOD SET. RECENTLY, THE MILITARY CHANNEL RAN A COUPLE OF DOCUMENTARIES ON THE LEGION, ITS HISTORY, ITS TRAINING, AND ITS ROLE IN AFRICA.

FROM HOLLYWOOD, WE LEARNED THAT THE LEGION HAD A GARRISON AT FORT ZINDERNEUF, IN THE ALGERIAN BLED, THE LEGION’S REAL HOME. BUT WHEN THE WINDS OF CHANGE, ACCORDING TO HAROLD MACMILLAN, BLEW ACROSS AFRICA, ALGERIA WON ITS INDEPENDENCE MUCH TO THE CHAGRIN OF FRANCE, THE LEGION HAD TO MOVE THEIR HEADQUARTERS TO CORSICA.

THERE IS A CERTAIN MYSTIQUE ASSOCIATED WITH THE LEGION. A MAN CAN ENLIST IN THE LEGION, TAKE ON A NEW NAME AND LEAVE HIS PAST LIFE WITH ALL OF ITS SINS BEHIND AND START OVER. THERE WERE MANY VETERANS OF THE WEHRMACHT AND THE WAFFEN SS WHO AVOIDED PROSECUTION AT NURENBURG AND GRAVITATED TO THE LEGION. THEY WENT TO MARSEILLES, GAVE A FAKE NAME AND WERE INDUCTED AND SENT TO ALGERIA TO THE LEGION’S BOOT CAMP. AFTER TRAINING, WHICH TO MANY OF THEM WAS A VACATION AFTER THE RIGORS OF KASSERINE PASS AND STALINGRAD, THEY SHIPPED OUT OF ORAN ON THE MEDITERRANEAN BOUND FOR HAIPHONG. THEY DISEMBARKED THERE AND WENT ON TO MAN THE FRENCH GARRISONS THROUGHOUT INDOCHINA.

WE ALL KNOW WHAT HAPPENED AT DIENBIENPHU. THE RAGGED VIETMINH SURROUNDED THE LEGION’S GARRISON THERE, LAID SIEGE AND ULTIMATELY FORCED THEM TO SURRENDER, THUS SETTING THE STAGE FOR THE NEXT TWO DECADES OF AMERICAN INVOLVEMENT THERE. WHAT TO DO? THEY CAN’T GO BACK TO ALGERIA. THEY’RE FORBIDDEN FROM RETURNING TO LA BELLE FRANCE SO THEY ENDED UP ON THE GULF OF TADJOURA.

AT ONE TIME, THIS TINY ENCLAVE WAS KNOWN AS FRENCH SOMALIA, THE FRENCH TERRITORY OF THE AFFARS AND THE ISSAS AND AS OF 1977, THE REPUBLIC OF DJIBOUTI. DJIBOUTI OCCUPIES THE SANDS AROUND ONE OF EAST AFRICA’S MOST BENEVOLENT HARBORS. AND NOW THE FRENCH MILITARY OCCUPIES DJIBOUTI. THERE IS A REGULAR ARMY GARRISON THERE, AND ALSO A “DEMI-BRIGADE” OF THE “DEUXIEME REP,” THE SECOND FOREIGN PARACHUTE REGIMENT. WHEN YOU LOOK UP “INHOSPITABLE” IN THE DICTIONARY, YOU’LL SEE A MAP OF DJIBOUTI.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THERE IS A SHERATON HOTEL IN DJIBOUTI. IT’S THE PLACE TO STAY. FROM 1700-1900 THEY HAVE A HAPPY HOUR. ONE CAN LOAD UP ON $2 BOTTLES OF FRENCH BEER. ONE PUTS IN ONE’S LAST ORDER AT 1855 AND WHEN THE LAST ONE IS SERVED, THE HAPPY HOUR GUYS LOAD INTO THEIR RENT-A-CARS AND HEAD DOWNTOWN TO THE WATERFRONT. THERE ARE A COUPLE OF RESTAURANTS DOWN THERE, AND THE BEST OF THE LOT IS A VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT. THERE ARE SEVERAL BARS THERE FREQUENTED BY THE FRENCH SOLDIERS AND LEGIONNAIRES. A BUNCH OF US PULLED UP THERE ONE EVENING AFTER THE HAPPY HOUR WAS OVER. I FOLLOWED THE GUYS INTO A BAR RUN BY AN OLD LEGIONNAIRE, CALLED FRANZ. THE LEGIONNAIRES AND SOLDIERS WERE LINED UP THREE DEEP, SUCKING DOWN BEER AFTER BEER. I WAS WITH A GUY WE CALLED “THE DESERT RAT.” WE’D ORDERED OUR BEERS AND WERE ENJOYING THEM AND TAKING IN THE AMBIENCE OF THE SALOON. “RAT” ELBOWED MY AND WHISPERED, “THERE’S A LEGIONNAIRE OVER THERE, GIVING YOU THE EYE. THAT USUALLY MEANS HE’S GOING TO COME OVER HERE AND BEAT YOU SENSELESS.” I CHECKED MY WATCH AND SAID “GEE, LOOK AT THE TIME! WE’VE GOT TO SPLIT.” AND SPLIT WE DID.

Desert Rat

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WE WENT TO WHERE WE’D LEFT THE RENTED CITROEN, IN FRONT OF THE VIETNAMESE RESTAURANT. A GROUP OF YOUNG DJIBOUTIENS HAD GATHERED AROUND AND WERE YELLING AT US. CALLING ON MY COLLEGE FRENCH FROM YEARS BEFORE, I DEDUCED THAT THEY WANTED TO BE PAID FOR GUARDING OUR CAR. I TOLD THE GANG LEADER THAT I’D GIVE HIM A FRANC IF HE WATCHED THE CAR. THAT WASN’T TOO HARD. WHAT WAS HARD WAS TELLING HIM IN MY STILTED, LITERATE FRENCH THAT IF I CAME OUT AND FOUND A DENT OR A SCRATCH ON THE CAR, I’D RIP HIS LIPS OFF.

I’D BEEN IN VIETNAM BACK IN THE 60S AND DIDN’T THINK MUCH OF VIETNAMESE FOOD THEN, AND THIS RESTAURANT DIDN’T DO MUCH TO CHANGE MY FEELINGS. I HAD SOME CHICKEN STEW AND BOTTLE OF “33,” BA-MUI-BA VIETNAMESE BEER. (DID YOU KNOW THAT THE FRENCH TAUGHT THE VIETNAMESE ALL THEY KNEW ABOUT MAKING BEER ONE TUESDAY AFTERNOON?). AFTER WE ATE, WE WENT BACK OUT TO THE CAR, AND THE GUARD WAS THERE. THE CAR HADN’T BEEN TOUCHED, SO I FULFILLED BY END OF THE BARGAIN AND GAVE THE LITTLE PIRATES TWO FRANCS, NOT THE AGREED-UPON ONE, JUST IN CASE I’D NEED HIS SERVICES THE NEXT TIME I CAME BACK. FROM THERE, WE DROVE BACK TO THE EMBASSY ON PLATEAU DU SERPENT TO WATCH A MOVIE WITH THE REST OF THE STAFF. THE MOVIES WERE SHOWN ON THE TERRACE OF THE CHANCERY, WITH A GREAT VIEW OF THE GULF. LIFE WAS GOOD.

THE NEXT WEDNESDAY, WE MADE PLANS TO GO OUT THE FOLLOWING DAY INTO THE DESERT (BECAUSE DJIBOUTI IS A MOSLEM COUNTRY) THE EMBASSY WAS CLOSED ON FRIDAY/SATURDAY. I DROVE OUT TO ONE OF THE GUYS ON PERMANENT STAFF’S HOUSE WHERE WE RENDEZ-VOUSED. AT 0900, THEY WERE ALREADY DRINKING BEER; EVEN BY MY LOOSE STANDARDS, I FOUND THAT A BIT EARLY. WE PILED INTO GARY’S TOYOTA LAND CRUISER AND BILL’S LAND ROVER. WE HEADED OUT THROUGH THE TRACKLESS DESERT FOR THE BEACH. I WAS IN THE LEAD VEHICLE AND EVENTUALLY WE LOST CONTACT WITH THE OTHER PART OF OUR GANG. WE STOPPED TO WAIT FOR THEM TO CATCH UP. JERRY, A GUY WHO WAS UP TDY FROM NAIROBI, GOT OUT OF THE TOYOTA. HE LEANED AGAINST THE DRIVER’S SIDE FENDER AND LIT UP A CIGARETTE. NOBODY WAS SAYING ANYTHING, AND WHEN JERRY FINISHED HIS SMOKE HE FLICKED INTO THE SAND. I SWEAR THAT IS WAS SO DEATHLY QUITE THAT I COULD HEAR THE CIGARETTE PAPER BURNING. THE PLACE LOOKED LIKE THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON. WHEN THE LAND ROVER CAUGHT UP WITH US, WE CARRIED ON. WHEN WE GOT TO THE BEACH, WE SET UP A TENT, MADE UP OF AN OLD PARACHUTE, AND BROKE OUT THE BEER. KIM, BILL’S WIFE, HAD MADE SANDWICHES AND WE COMMENCED RELAXING. AFTER A COUPLE OF HOURS OF BURNING UP, SWIMMING, DRINKING BEER AND GENERALLY CHILLING, WE PACKED EVERYTHING UP AND HEADED BACK TO DJIBOUTI.

THE FAR SIDE OF THE MOON.

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THE EMBASSY HAD A 26′ ESCAPE/EVASION BOAT. GARY WAS IN CHARGE OF KEEPING IT SHIPSHAPE AND SEAWORTHY. IT HAD A COUPLE OF VOLVO 225 OUTBOARD ENGINES, AND WAS KEPT ON A TRAILER ON THE EMBASSY COMPOUND BETWEEN A COUPLE OF CINDERBLOCK BUILDINGS. I’D NEVER DONE ANYTHING LIKE THIS BEFORE AND WAS A BIT NERVOUS. GARY SAID HE’D STOP THE TRAFFIC ON PLATEAU DU SERPENT, NOT MUCH OF A PROBLEM AT 1300 WHEN IT’S ABOUT110 IN THE SHADE; NOBODY WAS MOVING. HE GUIDED ME OUT ONTO THE STREET, AND WE HEADED FOR THE ‘MARINA.’ I DID OKAY UNTIL WE CROSSED THE CAUSEWAY AT THE MARINA. GARY JUMPED OUT AND TOLD ME TO BACK THE VEHICLE AND TRAILER DOWN THE RAMP, AND SAID HE’D GUIDE ME INTO THE WATER. WOULD THAT IT WERE THAT EASY. IT’S COUNTER-INTUITIVE AND I MADE A REAL DOG’S BREAKFAST OUT OF THE OPERATION. FINALLY A FRENCH OFFICER JUMPED ON THE RUNNING BOARD AND ASKED WHAT I WAS DOING. I TRIED TO EXPLAIN THAT IT WAS MY “PREMIER FOIS” (FIRST TIME) AND HE SAID THAT ONE COULDN’T DO IT ON THE FIRST TIME. HE PUSHED ME OUT OF THE DRIVER’S SIDE AND EFFORTLESSLY BACKED THE BOAT BACK DOWN THE RAMP.

ONCE WE’D GOT THE ENGINES STARTED, GARY HEADED OUT OF THE MARINA INTO THE GULF OF TADJOURA, LOOKING AT THE “BAB AL MANDAB,” THE GATES OF SORROW. DJIBOUTI’S STRATEGIC POSITION COMMANDED THE ENTRANCE TO THE RED SEA FROM THE INDIAN OCEAN. WE MOTORED AROUND FOR A BIT AND FOUND A DESERTED SPOT. WE DROPPED ANCHOR AND SWAM FOR A WHILE THEN DRANK SOME MORE BEER. THE BOAT WAS ASSIGNED TO THE EMBASSY FOR EMERGENCY SITUATIONS, TO EVACUATE AS MANY OF EMBASSY STAFF AS POSSIBLE TO U.S. WARSHIPS THAT WOULD BE SITTING OFFSHORE TO RESCUE US. AT LEAST THAT WAS HOW THEY JUSTIFIED THE EXPENSE OF KEEPING THAT BOAT. AFTER ABOUT THREE HOURS, WE WENT BACK TO THE MARINA. THEN THE FUN BEGAN. I TRIED TO BACK THE TRAILER DOWN TO THE BOAT AND PRACTICALLY WRECKED THE BOAT. EVERYONE WAS WATCHING ME AND HAVING GREAT SPORT AT MY EXPENSE. FINALLY GARY SAID TO FORGET ABOUT IT. HE PAID AN ETHIOPIAN BOY TO BACK IT DOWN AND WE FINALLY GOT BACK ON THE ROAD. I VOLUNTEERED TO DRIVE BACK BUT GARY SAID HE’D DO IT, THANKS ANYWAY. MIRACULOUSLY, HE WAS ABLE TO BACK IT INTO ITS PARKING SPOT ON THE EMBASSY COMPOUND. WE BOTH NEEDED A DRINK.

THE EMBASSY ESCAPE/EVASION BOAT.

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AS IF THAT WEREN’T ENOUGH EMBARRASSMENT FOR ONE DAY, THE NEXT DAY THE CHARGE ASKED ME IF I COULD MAKE A “NON-PRO” (NON-PROFESSIONAL DIPLOMATIC COURIER RUN) UP TO ADDIS ABABA. I JUMPED AT THE CHANCE AND GAVE HIM MY DIPLOMATIC PASSPORT WHICH HE SENT WITH A COURIER DOWNTOWN TO THE ETHIOPIAN EMBASSY FOR A VISA. IT WAS RETURNED WITHIN THE HOUR. I WENT BACK TO THE HOUSE WHERE I WAS STAYING, ANTICIPATING THREE DAYS IN ADDIS WITH SOME BUDDIES OF MINE WHO WERE STATIONED THERE. I TOOK OFF ALL OF MY CLOTHES AND TOSSED THEM ALL INTO THE WASHING MACHINE SO EVERYTHING WOULD BE FRESH WHEN I LEFT THE NEXT MORNING FOR DIRE DAWA AND ADDIS. I WAS WATCHING A TAPE ON T.V., AND WHEN I HEARD THE WASHING MACHINE STOP, I GOT UP TO PUT IT ALL IN THE DRYER. WHEN I LIFTED THE LID, I WAS AGHAST TO SEE A SODDEN BLUE MESS ON TOP OF MY LEVIS: IT HAD BEEN MY DIPLOMATIC PASSPORT! I PANICKED,AND WENT TO SEE THE CHARGE D’AFFAIRES. HE HAD TO TAP A GUY WHO HAD JUST BEEN UP TO ADDIS THE WEEK BEFORE, AND SENT HIM BACK. IT WAS THIS GUY’S DAUGHTER’S THIRD BIRTHDAY; HE DROPPED OUT OF MY FAN CLUB THAT AFTERNOON. THE EMBASSY HAD TO ISSUE ME A TOURIST PASSPORT TO GET BACK TO THE WORLD, AND I HAD TO PAY $65 FOR A DJIBOUTIAN EXIT VISA.
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

THE LIFE OF THE LEGIONNAIRE IN PEACETIME IN DJIBOUTI IS NOT EASY BUT AT LEAST NOBODY IS SHOOTING AT THEM, NOT THAT THEY’D MIND. MORNINGS START OFF WITH A FIVE KM RUN, GROUND EXERCISES, BREAKFAST, A COUPLE OF HOURS ON THE RANGE, CLOSE QUARTER COMBAT AND LUNCH AROUND 1400. FROM 1500 UNTIL 1900 THERE IS A DESERT MARCH. THE LEGION’S OLD SLOGAN WAS “MARCH OR DIE.” THEIR MILESTONES ARE LITERAL. EVERY 100 METERS THERE IS A CAIRN OF DESERT ROCKS, ALL PAINTED WHITE. TOMORROW, THEY’LL BE PAINTED AGAIN BY THE SAME MEN THAT ARE MARCHING TODAY. AFTER 1900 THERE ARE SHOWERS, SUPPER AND IF ONE HAS ENOUGH MONEY A COUPLE HOURS DRINKING IN THE WATERFRONT BARS AND HOPEFULLY THE CHANCE TO APPLY SOME OF THEIR CQB TECHNIQUES.

(DJIBOUTI EPILOGUE: DJIBOUTI IN 2007 IS A DIFFERENT STORY. CAMP LEMONIER, A ONE-TIME LEGION BASE, IS NOW HEADQUARTERS FOR THE U.S. MILITARY’S HORN OF AFRICA – WAR ON TERROR OPERATIONS. MARINES AND SPECIAL OPERATIONS SOLDIERS NOW WORK AND TRAIN WHERE 25 YEARS AGO THE ONLY U.S. MILITARY PRESENCE THERE WOULD BE AN OCCASIONAL U.S. WARSHIP PUTTING IN TO DJIBOUTI TO TAKE ON WATER. I CAN ONLY IMAGINE WHAT THE BAR SCENE IS LIKE NOW WITH THE AMERICANS DRINKING ALONGSIDE THEIR LEGIONNAIRE COUNTERPARTS.)
+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

FAST-FORWARD NOW ABOUT 18 MONTHS. SAME CONTINENT, SAME GRINDING HEAT, SAME SAND AND A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT CAST OF CHARACTERS. IN JANUARY 1984, THE FRENCH MILITARY IN CHAD WAS ACTIVELY ENGAGED AGAINST THE LIBYANS IN THE SAHARA. THE LIBYANS HAD CROSSED “THE GREEN LINE” IN THE DESERT IN ORDER TO HAVE ACCESS TO CERTAIN MINERALS FOUND THERE. ON THE DAY MY TEAM ARRIVED, A FRENCH AIR FORCE JAGUAR HAD BEEN SHOT OUT OF THE SKY BY LIBYAN AAA, KILLING THE PILOT AND THE FRENCH WERE UP FOR SOME REVENGE. THE CAPITAL, N’DJAMENA (FORMERLY FORT LAMY), WAS CRAWLING WITH FRENCH SOLDIERS AND AIRMEN. A BRIGADE OF THE LEGION WAS UP FROM THEIR BASE CAMP AT BANGUI, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC, AND WERE DEPLOYED AROUND FAYA LARGEAU, ENGAGING THE ENEMY WHERE POSSIBLE. IN THE YEARS PRIOR TO 1984, THE COUNTRY OF CHAD HAD BEEN THE SCENE OF A BLOODY CIVIL WAR AND THE FRENCH WERE CALLED IN TO RESTORE ORDER TO THEIR FORMER COLONY. SOME FOLKS CALLED N’DJAMENA “BULLET CITY” BECAUSE SO MANY OF THE BUILDINGS WERE RIDDLED WITH BULLET HOLES.

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MY TEAM WAS QUARTERED AT THE HOTEL TCHADIENNE. IT WOULD NOT RATE ANY STARS. MY ROOM LACKED A SHOWER HEAD AND A TOILET SEAT. WE HAD TO SHOWER AT THE EMBASSY. CROWDS OF LITTLE KIDS CONGREGATED OUTSIDE THE EMBASSY, KNOWING THAT WE WOULD GIVE THEM THOSE LOUSY CIRCLES OF SOME KIND OF CHOCOLATE THAT CAME IN THE C-RATION BOXES. THEY LOVED THEM BUT THEY MADE US SICK. THERE WERE JUST A FEW RESTAURANTS IN N’DJAMENA AT THE TIME, RUN BY THE FRENCH. ON ONE OCCASION, I ORDERED SOME TOURNEDOS AND I’M PRETTY SURE THE WAITRESS ASKED ME HOW I WANTED IT DONE, AND I’M PRETTY SURE I SAID MEDIUM. WHEN THEY ARRIVED, THEY WERE STILL BLOODY. MY FRENCH IS PRETTY RUDIMENTARY BUT I’M PRETTY SURE SHE UNDERSTOOD ME WHEN I SAID “I’VE SEEN COWS HURT WORSE THAN THIS GET UP AND WALK AWAY.” SHE ALSO GOT STIFFED FOR A TIP.

ONCE AT THE BAR, I WAS SITTING NEXT TO A YOUNG LEGIONNAIRE. HIS KEPI WAS ON THE BAR, AND I WAS THINKING, “THE ONLY WAY I’LL EVER GET ONE OF THESE BABIES FOR A SOUVENIR WOULD BE TO WHIP THIS GUY’S ASS, OR ELSE JOIN THE LEGION MYSELF. NEITHER WAS A GOOD OPTION. I GOT TALKING WITH THIS GUY IN REALLY BAD FRENCH. I EXPLAINED THAT I WAS ABOUT A QUARTER FRENCH MYSELF AND WHEN I TOLD HIM MY NAME, HE SAID HE WAS PRETTY SURE IT WAS FROM AROUND THE FRANCO-BELGIAN BORDER.

THE AUTHOR ON THE BANK OF THE CHARI RIVER.

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THE OLD SLAVE MARKET IN N’DJAMENA, CHAD.

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WE MOSTLY HAD DINNER AT A CREPERIE NEAR THE MOVIE THEATER, WHICH PLAYED MOVIES FROM BOLLYWOOD. THE CREPERIE DIDN’T HAVE A MEN’S ROOM, SO WE HAD TO USE THE ONE IN THE THEATER, WHICH WE SHARED WITH THE SPIDERS AND OTHER BUGS. PRETTY GOOD CREPES, ACTUALLY, HAM AND CHEESE. WE WERE SITTING OUTSIDE ONE NIGHT WHEN SOME CREATURES APPEARED OUT OF THE GLOOM. THEY WERE LEGIONNAIRES, DRESSED FOR NIGHT COMBAT AND ARMED WITH AUTOMATIC WEAPONS. THEN A COMMAND CITROEN PULLED UP AND A COUPLE OF FRENCH GENERALS GOT OUT AND SAT ACROSS FROM US. THE LEGIONNAIRES WERE THERE TO PROTECT THE BRASS.

AFTER DINNER WE WENT BACK TO THE TCHADIENNE FOR A NIGHTCAP. I STOPPED IN THE ALMOST CIVILIZED LATRINE THERE, AND MY BUDDY, WHO HAD A FRENCH SURNAME BUT SPOKE NOT A WORD OF FRENCH, WAS ANIMATEDLY TALKING WITH A LEGIONNAIRE NCO. I FIGURED MY SERVICES AS A TRANSLATOR WEREN’T NEEDED. THE NCO, IT TURNS OUT, WAS A BRIT. HE’D BEEN IN 2 PARA BACK IN THE U.K. AND FOUND GARRISON LIFE PRETTY TAME. WHEN HIS ENLISTMENT WAS UP, HE WENT TO MARSEILLES AND JOINED THE LEGION. HE’D BEEN IN BEIRUT IN THE PREVIOUS OCTOBER WHEN THE MOSLEMS SLAUGHTERED 241 U.S. MARINES AND OVER 50 FRENCH PARAS. THIS GUY WAS THE LIAISON BETWEEN THE FRENCH FORCES THERE AND THE MARINES.

WE RETIRED TO THE PATIO BAR AND GOT TO SHOOTING THE BREEZE WITH THIS GUY. HE ASKED IF WE’D EVER READ “SOLDIER OF FORTUNE” MAGAZINE. WE SHEEPISHLY AGREED THAT OCCASIONALLY WE GLANCED THROUGH THE COPIES WE’D FOUND. HE REACHED INTO HIS CANVAS BAG AND PULLED OUT THE LATEST ISSUE. THE MAG WAS OPENED TO AN ADVERTISEMENT IN THE BACK. HE SHOWED US THE PICTURE OF AA TOP-OF-THE-LINE CROSSBOW. WE AGREED THAT IT WAS PRETTY NEAT. HE THEN SAID HE WAS GOING BACK TO HIS CAMP AND ROUND UP SOME CASH FOR ME TO CONVERT TO DOLLARS AND THEN ORDER 30 OF THEM. I SAID I COULDN’T DO IT, BECAUSE I’D NEED A LICENSE TO DO THAT. OUR NEW FRIEND LEANED ACROSS THE TABLE AND SAID “YOU WILL DO THIS THING. I’LL BE BRINGING THE CASH HERE ON SATURDAY NIGHT.” THAT WOULD MEAN CONVERTING A WHEELBARROW FULL OF C.F.A, THE FRENCH WEST AFRICAN CURRENCY INTO DOLLARS. I WAS WONDERING HOW I WAS GOING TO GET OUT OF THIS.

FATE INTERVENED. ON FRIDAY MORNING I FOUND MYSELF ON A FILTHY GURNEY IN A MEDICINES SANS FRONTIERES AID STATION. THE GURNED WAS COVERED WITH A BLOODY SHEET. I FELT FINE BUT THE DOCTORS AND THE EMBASSY REP SAID I WAS TO BE ON THE NEXT AIR AFRIQUE FLIGHT TO PARIS. ORDINARILY, I’D COMPLAIN. BUT I REALLY DIDN’T FANCY MEETING WITH LEGIONNAIRE NCO WITH HIS MOUNTAIN OF CASH. ON SATURDAY MORNING, I WAS WINGING MY WAY ACROSS THE SAHARA, HEADING FOR GAY PAREE. I WOULDN’T BE SURPRISED IF MY PICTURE IS STILL HANGING IN THE LEGION’S POST OFFICE SOMEWHERE.

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3 Responses

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  1. Patrick Truax said, on August 22, 2007 at 6:59 pm

    Great pics and anecdotes from my Dad, (who forgot to sign it again) about his time spent in North Africa on the tax payers dime. It should be noted however, that during his time there, an entire KGB team was exposed and converted to Christianty. Ok, not really, but is still a fascinating post. Good job, Dad! We are looking forward to the next post in your series, on Saudi Arabia. Home of the Wahabbis…

  2. Anonymous said, on August 23, 2007 at 1:50 am

    The author of this has way passed the requirements for a Pulitzer. He’s in the same league as Marco Polo, Vasco da Gama, Roberto Pizzaro, Hernando de Soto and Lewis and Clark. I can’t wait till Hollywood discovers this guy and cranks out some major blockbusters based on his travels.

  3. Patrick Truax said, on August 23, 2007 at 1:54 am

    How about a Nobel Peace Prize? Yassir Arafat got one, you know..


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