My first view of West Africa featured burnt out DC-10s rotting like long-dead jungle beasts next to a runway. I was on-board a plane that was making a short stop en route to another country where I had secured temporary employment in a gold mine. The sight did little to reassure me that I had done right to accept the offer.
An Australian workmate, let’s call him Jason, gazed unblinkingly at the scene, his enormous protuberant Adam’s apple bouncing like a benzedrined frog. This too was unsettling, surely a steady nerve and cool head would be needed in the coming months. I was glad when we took off and the vision of burnt-out hulks disappeared beneath the clouds.
After arriving at our eventual destination we were ushered through customs and immigration into a waiting phalanx of taxi drivers. Somebody grabbed my hand, and another my bag. A fight broke out. Another hand reached around and tugged at my bag, and this time it had the urgent pull that was difficult to resist. Either I lost my bag, or I followed. We were both thrown into the back seat of a small, dented taxi emblazoned with the words ‘God is Love’.
The next day we caught a bus to the gold mine and checked into the contractors’ accommodation block where we discovered that the place was over-run with ‘seamstresses’. These women were from all over West Africa and moved about the block in ravening hordes. There was a group from Mali, another group from Liberia, and yet another from Nigeria.
Turned out that Jason preferred the Nigerian seamstresses. He was not the only contractor who indulged his fancy, but where Jason differed was in the sheer immoderate scale of his excess. He became the seamstress’ creature, rarely more than several feet away from his favoured grouping at any given time.
I can still picture him sitting at the bar, his mouth open and his benzedrined frog going nine to the dozen. He was eventually ‘let go’ by the contracting company and he disappeared back to his wife and child in Australia.
A year later I discovered Jason in a small bar not far from the mine. He had returned to his ‘girls’ and was making plans to accompany them to Nigeria. “I’ll be fine,” he said to my expression of concern, “I have several hundred dollars to bribe the border guards and I’ve got an Australian passport.”
And that was the last I ever heard of him. Whether he managed, by some miracle, to get through to Nigeria with his dollars intact and throat un-cut I never managed to discover.