11 October 2006

In Which Sarge Considers the Rain Down in Africa...


In the Sahel one always wonders from which way death will come. Here, prayer is reserved for survival, for God, like man, must focus all His attention upon it for those here to live. I am out of the mountains and in the middle region of Chad on a fool's rumor that out here somewhere, Mercerier recovers from an infection that almost cost him his life, though sometimes they say it was his leg, or his left hand and not his life, that was the real point of contention. I don't believe he is still in Chad, but that he is in Cameroon or perhaps even at his Côte d'Ivoire safehouse, and by the way, thanks for that tip, but we can't seem to trace that safehouse any closer than Abidjan's Treichville neighborhood, from there it's a maze of markets and the furious West African sun that seems to beat to the time of war. How many despots bless the name of Mercerier? How many mothers curse his name to a judging God?

I am not to leave Chad on a fool's errand just yet however. With so much noise coming from the Côte d'Ivoire, I wonder if it would be better to lay low and see who else arrives to do business with the devils, and also, I can't help but wonder if all the noise is a feint to draw us off. After all, from Chad it is nothing to Cairo, Tripoli or Algiers, a Cessna's afternoon is all. What if Mercerier drew us south and west only to move to the northeast, and from there it's nothing to his connections in the Mideast, or scarier to comtemplate, a longer, more comfortable flight back to Quebec, with a bottle of wine and a forged passport for company. The celebrations at bars like the Pub Saint-Alexandre would only be the first slap in the face, and the easiest blow to take. So in Chad I do what all in Chad must do, I persevere. The karkanji slakes the thirst but one feels the desert everywhere, it encroaches even on the soul.

Yesterday it rained, and the colors that rain brought out! Women and children suddenly young again (children, young again? You know in Africa, there barely is such thing as youth; who indeed, was the last prom queen of Africa?) ran about and there were joyful shouts. Inside some hut, the rain beating about, I almost imagined I was somewhere else, but the rain stopped quickly, and before the hour was out, the Sahel again felt nearly barren, the dry winds of the harmattan picking back up. That these many peoples of Chad can grow from this soil what they do, that is Industry. I stand among these people with awe.

But Mercerier stands among them much the same way a DeBeers or a Cecil Rhodes might, taking from them what he will without compunction, all for aims that cloak greed in the guise of "belief" and "ideology". Nwargo goes about among these same people talking and trading, he has in his pack some fruits and assorted items of his country, and they bargain good naturedly with each other. Always he softly asks about, in their gossiping there are the shadows of fact, and we know Mercerier is barely two days ahead of us on the ground here, and for him to be traveling as he has, it is clear he was looking for something, and if he found it, we shall find out he did in the next 36 hours or so. Nwargo tells me, and as he did we sat in a truck full of tired farmers chewing some kind of seed vaguely restless as the harmattan winds whistled their prophesies of drought, that you once patched him up after being double-crossed on some nameless dock; he showed me the scar which has the shape of the underside of a cloud. "Not a knife," he laughed describing the weapon that cut him, "like a...like a..."

His face flushed even darker suddenly and he grabbed my shoulder,

"I too, was almost killed by something like a syringe," he said almost shouting, the bumps of what can only charitably be called a road throwing us into vague contortions as he continued, "It was drill with a bit, the French, he picked up in panic, I moved in too fast, the Corporal, he was quick with the bayonet to the French's throat, I could not scream my pain but the Corporal, he hummed under his breath while he fixed me. That was later," Nwargo's voice had already resumed its usual sanguine quality, "in this sinking boat, barely floating, you would not know we had just pretended one hour before to be Canucks to re-buy plutonium from some old KGB! Plutonium in a sinking boat!"

Nwargo was laughing and I laughed too, but I was jealous. I didn't know you were detailed to that mission. It is already the stuff of legend.

Well done Corporal, I will have to send you some karkanji as a mark of esteem. Make sure to drink it cool, but it does not need ice.

Nwargo sends along his continued thanks and the greetings not just of his own, but of his family as well. He looks over my shoulder to make sure I have included this. After finishing this letter to you, I will join him and the people of this tribe, for one last prayer for rain, before continuing to the next town. Here, all religions, like the languages, bleed into each other, and all gods hold some hope for the future.

as always,


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