Thank you, Thank you
It’s hot as hell here and it reminds me of working in Liberia trying to escape the heat. But there it was more the humidity that was hard to get away from even in the evenings. I was on my first mission to the southernmost town, Harper, on the border with the Ivory Coast. After a long day of meetings in offices and huts without fans for lack of electricity, I felt stifled, and at the end of the day around sunset, I grabbed an office car and headed for the river not far away that ran on the backside of the center of town. I was alone on the mission and the local staff had no interest in swimming, in fact, they seemed to relish the heat and paid no attention to the sweat constantly running down their cheeks. As I approached the shore of the river I saw a UN police vehicle. I parked away from it to avoid a conversation as I wanted to immediately jump in the river for refreshing relief.
After I took the plunge I surfaced and saw the UN policeman standing on the riverbank waving his arms. Already I was too far away to hear what he was shouting. He then ran to his car and drove away. Immediately I realized I was in a fast current being taken down to the mouth of the river to the sea. I tried swimming in different directions to the shore but it was useless. I realized I was caught in a current that took me out past a large beach area into the ocean. I am not a strong swimmer but I can tread water. And that is what I did for the next, I guess about a half-hour, as the sun slowly sank below the horizon and I realized how alone I was and unable to make it back to shore. All I can remember thinking is what a stupid way to die, a self-inflicted drowning, all to get away from the heat. I never bothered to ask anyone about where I should swim or thought about a dangerous current. I’m not sure now how long I was treading water out there in the twilight, but I started to get cold, nervous, and really scared. Then in the distance, there was a canoe heading out the mouth of the river directly toward me with three people paddling and whistling and shouting. In a few minutes, they were alongside me laughing at me as they pulled me in over the side. I laid down on the bottom of the canoe and repeated thank you
thank you, thank you!
Back on the river bank next to my vehicle was the UN police officer. He was based in Harper and knew about the strong current. As soon as he saw me jump in and floating down the river he immediately knew I was in trouble and went upriver to a fishing village and asked them to go out and get me. That Uruguayan UN police officer saved my life!
Needless to say, I slept like a grateful baby. I had a $100 bill I always carried in my travel bag so I thought to give that to the fishermen that saved me. (I did eventually treat the Uruguayan officer to dinner when he came to the capital Monrovia where I was based) The next morning when I ask the staff to bring the money to the fishing village all the staff said I was crazy. After some discussion, they agreed to change the bill with the petty cash in the office and give them 50 dollars. The staff even thought that 50 dollar was like giving a thousand dollars to these poor fishermen. With my UN hat on, I thought at least this would help some repairs to their canoes and fishing nets that would help them and their community.
Later in the afternoon a small group from the fishing village arrived at our office and invited me to come to a party they had arranged since I was so generous to them. They were so enthusiastic I too became the excited humanitarian anxious to be honored. When I arrived in the village all I could see was empty bottles of beer strewn around on the ground and drums of homemade banana wine around a table I was directed to. The chief with big red eyes greeted me and the staff who accompanied me to interpret: He was happy to inform me that everyone in the village was able to get drunk with my help, even the small children …