A border crossing in no mans land – Gpakbleu, Guinea

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Gpakbleu, Border with Guinea, The meeting in nowhere’s land.

Following morning I am up, as usual before dawn. The captain and his Army command awaits me and assists me inspecting my car. It looks like it has been swallowed by a mud hole, there isn’t a single spot that has not got the distinctive, red color of the jungle late rite soil on it. The soldiers must have seen my worried look, and they quickly proceed to fetch some water in the nearby jungle creek.

My biggest concern is the engine, it is covered by mud, the whole of it. I wonder how we made it through last night’s carnage.

While the soldiers are giving the car a rinse, we receive a visitor. When I arrived the night before, I hadn’t the slightest idea where I was, or how far the border with Guinea would be. Now, I can see through the morning mist, we are just 300 meters from the physical border post that separates the two countries, Ivory Coast and Guinea. I meet the new arrival and I am told he is a Guinean border guard. Nor do I notice the reason for his arrival, thinking it is a social visit.

Finally I thank the Captain of the Ivorian Army for the hospitality shown and press to leave, a long way lays ahead of us. We start our vehicle, and commence our journey once more.

The border is separated by a barrier, and when we arrive a grumpy Gendarme appears, a hostile appearance, we begin to guess what lay ahead of us.In stark contrast to the Ivorians, who showed politeness, hospitality, the Guinea ns show the exact opposite. Realizing that we are in Sekou Toure’s country of terror, although now his former security chief runs the affairs, we enter the mouth of the dragon. Never before have I met such a open displayed hostile rejection of human dignity.

We are to produce our papers, passport, licence, permits, the whole lot. The first official is a blue uniformed Policeman and we are being questioned our motives for coming here, everything they want to know. Only when we bring out our last trump card, our connection with the President’s office, suddenly their grim asses turn into forced smiles. They are expecting to make a kill from the foreigner. To suck his blood, to drain his resources. Bribes, extortion are the key words here, in spite of regularity in our papers. I have flown to Guinea several times before to the capital Conakry, but now I am on the jungle border, far away from civilization.

It takes one hour before I finally make it out of the Police office, totally exhausted. Tired of the interrogation, tired of the country and people, tired with myself for bringing me into this hellhole in the first place. But, it has not finished yet, as when things start to go wrong, they can all go wrong, and this is my day. Thinking I have completed the formalities, an Entry stamp in my passport, only to be told to visit the other side of the road, and pointed to a run down shack on the hill adjacent to the station. This, as it turns out is the main office of the Gendarmerie Commander of the border Guard.

I wait for half an hour in the office, a meager chair and table in the room, no additional furniture. I wonder, how many before me have been subjected to this degrading, taunting procedure.

The Monsieur Gendarme takes his time before he appears, and I will never forget his grimace as long as I live, so help me god. When he enters the room, the assistant hands over the passport to him and disappears.

Not one word spoken, the colossal stature finally sits down, grabbing the passports and opens them to look at the visa. Still he has not spoken a word. His face is the most horrible, gruesome, Killer looking mask I have ever encountered.

A savage pantomime with a huge, broad nose, and a skull with retracting forehead that I can not but let my mind wander to Charles Darwin’s theories, even under the circumstances I am in. For here, in the middle of the rainforest, the law is in his hand, and he knows it and lets us feel his supremacy, with every second, minute that passes.

Finally, after taking 10 minutes to study my visa, and noticing my previous Visas for Guinea, he utters his first words.in French.

It does not sound good, as I expected. He simply put it to me, that I have to return back, through the mud and the hellish road, twelve hours for 40 km’s through the forest, and nearly 3000 km to get back home. I shudder at the thought.

The air is tense, my patience is wearing off, but I know this is what he is waiting for. He will take it all from me, my pride, my dignity, my money, the whole lot. Only to wait for a mistake, and he is the King of the jungle.

I force myself to be calm instead, to squeeze out a smile, propose how to get around this obstacle. He is insisting that my Visa is invalid. And who will proof him wrong, here. I take a deep breath, sigh and start to draw all my diplomacy skills I have learned in 20 years plus living in these parts of the world. Explaining the difficulties of getting here, the previous night, the breakdowns.

All have zero effect. He does not move one fraction from his opposition to me continuing my journey. Throughout this tense moments I know, all he is negotiating for, is a bribe, money. But, it was not time yet, the ice had to be broken, you either make it or you break it, depending on your survival skills.

When it comes to my companions, who are natives, they are trying as hard to speak in his dialect, to convince him, to soften him. They don’t want me to say much, because he is a racist, and he hates white people, it has become apparent.

We have entered the third hour, and his stance is stubbornly negative, he wants to show this white victim, that he is superior. My companions have not proceeded to flash the last card, the trump up our sleeves. We were warned by the Presidential offices, the seat of the government about such incidents.

They know their kind, they know where they come from. Gendarmes posted in these remote parts normally have a history, a dark secret.

The notorious Torture Camp Boiro in Conakry Camp Boiro was filled with beasts of officers who killed, tortured thousands of people during Sekou Toure reign of terror. Trained by the East Germans, KGB, and Chinese secret services, these individuals had no emotions.

With the dead of Sekou Toure’s, the camp was dissolved, and the officers, were transferred, the farther the better. Now, I was facing such a character opposite me. No normal Policeman acts in such a way, with open hostility, all his frustrations and hatred pointed at me because he dos not like me.

In the middle of all this he gets up, speaks no word and disappears, leaving us alone in the office, with no result in sight. It is then I am cautioned not to speak any bad word, and keep my calm. We decide to change our tactics now, as things could get out of hands. A concise ability to evaluate situations is one of my major advantages, and I am now ready to go for it.

By the time he appears again, after thirty minutes, the questions are changing, now directed at my companions, and this will change the outcome finally. My companion’s family are well to do citizens in Conakry, with far reaching influence in all social and governmental circles.

A Doctor of Medicine, Madame Bangoura is the head of the governmental AIDS campaign and heads the Medical research, with all its responsibilities. Her offspring sitting near me, never mentioning this fact till the right moment comes.

And this is the ice breaker, the threshold has been reached, his voice has thawed up, he speaks softer now. Because he understands that will not succeed with his original plan. Now, a change of tactics is necessary, and it comes in form of a proposal of how much I am willing to pay for a new Visa.

The ‘Visa’ costs .25000 C.F.A. Francs , a mere 10 U.S. Dollars. It is not the Visa, it is a bribe. And when we agree to pay we see a transformation that leaves in me an impression never to go away.

His sour face turns to an ape like grin, with his large mouth showing his huge fangs. He begins to talk, as if nothing has happened, nothing ever was wrong, no time has been wasted. He even offers me to visit him in his Bungalow up the hill, from where he forced himself down to see his victims.

I am disgusted, but I manage a smile. And I promise to visit him next time I pass by here. Needless to say that next time will never come.

We leave, tired, confused, and now it is the Customs department that expects us. We finish quickly, pass through we claim we have no money on us, not mentioning my ten thousand Dollars in my back pillow.

So, finally after three and half hours, we are on our way. Getting close to lunch time, I don’t feel the urge to eat. I will find some Bananas on the way, a safe way of keeping your bowels intact in such locations. Finally, when we leave we are stopped by some unidentifiable official with the same beige customs outfit, and I am told by my companions to carry on, not to stop. Another attempt to extort money from me.

The road ahead is still long, and leads me to a further unknown destiny, the town of Nzerekore. But before that, we face more difficulties, for there is no safe passage in Guinea.

Next : On the road to Nzerekore,

Excerpts from a journey to the unknown, by Heinz Rainer .

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