"South & East Africa 2011" story # 31

Makotapora, Tanzania           September 18, 2011

I woke up in my tent next to the commanding officer's house. I didn't know it was a commanding officer's house. I wouldn't know that, in fact, until he invited me into his home for lunch.
     A lot would happen before that, though ...

A woman saw me, as I was putting away my bright tent, amongst the trees. I didn't mind. I'd only been trying to hide at night, to stay safe.
     I finished packing, and a man came over to me. He wore a dark-green coat and black shoes; he only spoke Swahili. He seemed to be all knees, feet, and head: a black Beetle Bailey. I guessed he was a watchman for these big houses.
     He carried one of my bags. I was eager to get off this mountain and onto the road, so I could hitchhike to Tanzania's popular destination of Arusha. But, the possessive way in which he held my bag suggested he wanted me to do something first.
     We came to the house of a young man who spoke English. He told me this place, which I'd wandered into and slept in, was a military barracks. They were soldiers. He said I must wait. He wore plain clothes. His shaven head and bright eyes were incredibly handsome.
     "Everything's going to be all right," he said.
     Having dealt with policemen before, I knew this meant I should begin to worry. Nevertheless, I calmly fixed myself a peanut-butter-and-banana sandwich.
     The commanding officer arrived. At this time, I didn't really know what his rank was. Nor would I ever care. A lot of people were saluting him, though.
     With time, eight more soldiers arrived - including a fat-faced oompa loompa with a gun. I thought to myself: What was wrong with these people? Why had they become soldiers?
     Was it the false notion that this profession was heroic? An evil desire to hurt others? A mental deficiency that kept them from doing something healthier and more ethical?
     In Swaziland, my friend Julie had told me, "You can't run a successful dictatorship if you don't pay your soldiers well." She said soldiers were that country's highest-paid profession.
     I, however, saluted and knelt down to and obeyed no being besides myself.
     The commanding officer began questioning me.
     He wore olive green. At 6'5", he stood a bit taller than me, which was uncommon here. He had very light skin. Perhaps it was his skin color, or the cleanliness of his stubbly hair, that made him seem peaceful?
     Having argued with police in Lesotho months earlier, I decided I should be humble and cooperative here. But ...
     "Submission leaves you open to being abused." - J.Breen philosophy
     The man evidently wanted to believe I was a spy. He arched his eyebrows at me with hatred and suspicion. His mouth winced, with distrust and disgust. He said things like:
     "You're thirty-one and yet you're not married!?"
     "You seem like an intelligent person. Yet you live like this!?"
     Twice, he said, "I think I'd like to detain you. Yes. I'm going to detain you for two weeks." But, it sounded like he had - as the Tsonga people would say - "the tricks of a chameleon". (He was a liar.) I doubted he'd really detain me. I said, "I understand you can do that" - while continuing to eat my breakfast.
     The commando would, in later hours, make a big deal about how he'd allowed me to eat my breakfast, and how this proved he was a nice man.
     He continued his questioning:
     "You say you don't see well at night, yet you saw the mountain!?"
     "Why did you hide? Why didn't you knock on someone's door? We Tanzanians are good people!"
     At times, his face showed disgust in such a way that I thought he was about to vomit up his eyeballs.
     I hated him.
     Only one day earlier, I'd recieved an email from a philosophical Namibian named Stanley Goreseb. In response to my email asking if he'd thought up any new philosophies lately, he wrote:
     "The only real enemy to man is Fear, Anger, or Hate, as this emotions or state of mind can cause harm to who ever entertains it. The elusion is that it is in use of defense of ones self but in reality all three are destructive to keep, there for once you find your self in a state of Fear, Anger, or hate deviate from it, Calm your mind and find your inner peaceful limitless self" - S.Goreseb philosophy
     But, on this day, August 31st, I saw a brick beside my foot and considered smashing the commanding officer's head in with it. This was when there were only the other two soldiers present.
     Once eight more soldiers had arrived, in two trucks, the commanding officer turned to the fat-faced oompa loompa with a gun. He pointed towards the trees and said something in Swahili three times. Each time, the soldier shook his fat face defiantly. I fantasized that the fat-faced oompa loompa was staging a one-man revolution. I figured the soldiers must've hated the commanding officer as much as I did. I guessed the commando was telling the fat-faced guy to bring me to the trees and shoot me.
     The boss turned again to question me. Soon, I said I couldn't handle his stupid questions anymore. "FOOLISH questions!?" He immediately erupted.
     He said something to the two soldiers who carried guns; they cocked them. "That's it! I'm going to detain you for two weeks." This time, I believed he was serious. He ordered me to get into the back of one of the army trucks and sit down. I obeyed.
     The truck was basically what we'd call a pick-up truck in America. In the back, three benches were arranged so that nine people could sit and face one another. A tarp covered the back. I sat on one of the two side benches.
     But, then, the commanding officer ordered me towards the BACK bench, deep beneath the tarp. In my cornered and powerless situation, I thought he was pointing to the floor.
     My mom would later say of the situation: "I would've thought they were going to kill me!"
     I couldn't go to the back of that truck.
     And I hated the commanding officer.
     So, I acted. I attacked.
     I leapt out of the truck straight at the commanding officer. I came down on him, with my fists on either side of his head. I landed, punched him once more, and turned around the back of the truck and ran. A hand grabbed my jacket, but its grip slipped, and I was off down the road.
     I almost stumbled immediately. Adrenalin pulsed through my body, making it difficult not to fall forward. I was also hindered by my unzipped jacket floating around me, and the English-Swahili dictionary in my pocket. Nevertheless, I built up a big lead.
     Two shots were fired. They sounded like whiffs of air, so I assumed they were blanks. But, my mom would say: "You can't tell what blanks sound like!"
     The soldiers wearing heavy black boots couldn't catch me. Only the handsome, plain-clothed soldier was hot on my tail.
     As I turned from the dirt road and into tall grass, I appealed to his conscience. "You lied to me. You said everything was going to be all right!"
     Now, I was sure I'd be killed. It seemed like that was what they'd wanted to do to me, from the moment they'd found me - a poor traveler on his way to Arusha. I was like an ant in the den of an ant lion. I was like the old man in Lesotho who'd wandered past a secretive "manhood initiation ceremony" and been kidnapped by the boys, raped.
     I ran into a big hole, stumbled, climbed up the other side, and was caught by my shirt. The handsome monster swung me around. My t-shirt ripped twice. I wanted it to rip completely off, so I could go on shirtless. But, it didn't.
     I was brought to the ground.
     I was caught.
     I was in their hands.

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