My Island: Part Three.

by | Jul 20, 2023 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

We were sitting in the back of the fixer’s Hi Lux when they appeared behind us

The route is called The Temple Run, after a popular computer game played by local youths. In it, one has to negotiate a journey that is fraught with danger and traps of different kinds. I was soon to find out how it got its name.

Before I set off, the same friend who had told me about his cousin, gave me some valuable advice. He told me not to keep all of my money in one place. In addition, he recommended the services of a fixer that his cousin had used.

This man was Arab, Libyan or Algerian, I think. He appeared very kind and respectful hardly taking any money for his services. Also I got a good rate for my Sierra Leonean Leones, in US dollars.

This was just as well because I would have needed my own truck to carry the former. I can’t even remember how many zeros in SLL five thousand dollars is, but there were many!

He gave me a small vessel which screwed apart the size of a large cigar. I then had to place two thousand dollars rolled up inside. When he showed me where to put it, with the help of some vaseline, I was shocked may I tell you. It certainly took some getting used to!

I was to place the remaining sum in four separate amounts on my person. Some in my clothing and exactly fifteen-hundred dollars in a money belt. This, he said, I would have to sacrifice but it would save my life. I asked him how so and why so much? He said it had to be enough to convince the bandits that it was your entire fund and to discourage them from looking further. Some people had been cut open because they didn’t do this. It upset me considerably but he was proven right, to my good fortune.

I set off on my journey from a derelict homestead near the border with Guinea. At the rendezvous point, I was shocked to be reunited with one of my ex-colleagues Mahmoud. He had been a clerk in the council office in Freetown. We embraced and shared our experiences. He too had two-thousand dollars up his ass! He told me he had stolen the money his sisters had received from the IOM.

What is the IOM? I hear you ask and I will tell you. The International Organization for Migration is an NGO which is responsible for repatriating migrants who have been stranded in foreign countries. This is where it gets interesting as my friend explained. Here is his story.

To encourage people to return from nearby Mali, before they embarked on the most perilous part of their journey through Niger and Libya to the Mediterranean, migrants were given a Grant.

If they returned to Sierra Leone they were offered fifteen-hundred US dollars and a free flight. In addition they were also offered advice on how to start a business in their home country.

However this system was abused as people deliberately took buses into Mali then pretended to be migrants. There, they would be given a free flight and the cash. Eventually the IOM found out and the scheme was scrapped. Not before Mahmoud’s sisters had successfully practiced the scam, raising three- thousand dollars between them.

This was how he justified stealing their money because it was stolen money anyway, in his eyes. When the bandits came, he was parted with it, along with his life.

We were sitting in the back of the fixer’s Hilux, when they appeared behind us. The driver decided to try and outrun them and we all hung on for dear life. Unfortunately we hit a pothole and Mahmoud was thrown from the pickup.

As luck would have it, Mahmoud’s misfortune was our fortune, as the bandits decided to cut their losses and stop where my friend lay unconscious.

They fell upon him like a pack of hyenas machetes glinting in the afternoon sun, turning red with my friends blood. It was my first experience at the hands of these ruthless animals, but not my last.

We didn’t escape for very long as we were first apprehended by border guards at the Mali/Niger border, and then almost immediately prayed upon by Libyan bandits in Agadez. My fifteen-hundred dollars went at the border and the Libyans took another five-hundred that was stitched into the collar of my jacket.

Two-thousand dollars gone and I was only a third of the way to the Mediterranean. Add to that the five-hundred I gave to the fixer and that makes half of my money lost.I still had a long way to go. Would my funds last the journey?

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