The inside of the van was well ventilated but dark. The only source of light came from a little gap that separated the driver’s compartment from the back of the truck where we were seated. We could catch glimpses of where we were going as the van toiled its way through the rough, jungle route. The hairiest moment I remember was when we drove right past a police patrol that was going the other way. I tensed up for a moment but it soon became obvious that there was an “understanding” between the driver and the local police. We passed each other with no incident.
The crossing didn’t last very long (definitely less than an hour) and soon enough we came to a clearing on the other side of the border and merged on to the regular traffic. Apparently the locals really didn’t really bother with borders that were drawn up by Europeans to suit their interests, so to say the border was porous would be an understatement. Soon after the van pulled up into a truck stop, we were let out by the driver and we made our way over to one of the taxis looking to get on one for the trip to the Conakry. When I say truck stop, I’m not referring to some sanitized set of buildings with a McDonald’s and a Wendy’s and a gas station that you pull into off the 401.
I’m talking about a truck stop in the African sense, areas where motorcycles, mini-vans and people mingle in a perpetual haze of dust. I’m talking road side vendors that would be hawking everything from sunglasses, to plantains, to packaged water that you knew was probably unclean but you drank anyway because there was nothing better available for miles. Young people walking with dust covered feet selling chewing gums and cigarettes from little wooden boxes, rather large women selling “beef” on the side of the road…if you’ve ever been to a place like this before you know exactly what I’m talking about…If you haven’t, this would be a great item for your bucket list.
We managed to get in one of the taxis, which was packed with people and we were on our way. We drove for a while without any incident but then we started hitting checkpoints, manned by Guinea’s notorious soldiers… a bunch of sadistic pigs.Some would rather call them orang-utans because they were such brutes…in any case they were anything but human. These were nerve wracking because we had no Guinean ID and our Sierra Leonean ones would subject us to uncomfortable questions about how we came across the border. The first few we came across, we gave the driver money which he used to bribe his way through….no ID checks.
This worked a couple of times until we hit a checkpoint in a one of the larger towns en-route. We knew something was different this time because the driver took longer than usual to return to the car after he went to deal with the soldiers. He came back, looking a bit ruffled and told us we were going to have to see the soldier in charge of the checkpoint. We got out and went over to the side of the road where the soldier was standing.
As if just to fuck with us, he started talking to us in Soso, a language I couldn’t understand even if my life depended on it. We definitely could’ve had a conversation with him in French but a part of me didn’t think that he was the talking type. Built like a gorilla with the brain of maybe a chicken, he towered over us in his army uniform enjoying every bit of power that it offered him. He kept on asking us questions about IDs and where we were from and where we going…at least that’s what I suspect he was asking from his hand signals and occasional French word. We replied with blank stares and just stood there.
He motioned to the driver to walk away and he pointed us to a little wooden bench. We sat down,almost in a trance,and watched as the Taxi driver walked to his cab and drove off. The sun was almost out at this moment and kerosene lamps were lighting up all around us as the locals set up their stalls to sell stuff at night. We had no idea where we were, we had some money but not a whole lot left and we were being detained by King Kong who spoke a language that we didn’t understand. It was gonna be a long night…