Fortunately most of the ‘incidents’ that have taken place involving me during my travels have been relatively trivial. In fact some have turned out to be nothing of the sort. I can think of no better example than a short visit I made to Banjul, Gambia many years ago.
I had been told that The Gambia was a very safe place full of very nice people and it proved true. However it did not seem like that when, within minutes of arriving, my duty free cigarettes were stolen. They went when I was standing in the international arrivals and departures hut. I tell a lie. It was more a shed than a hut which comprised mainly of a bar with two trestle tables either side for the check in and arrivals formalities. The bar was full of expatriate males who were watching all new arrivals very carefully.
One of these guys, a very well spoken dignified chap. shuffled up to me and asked if I had any cigarettes I would be prepared to sell him. It turned out that Banjul had run out of European cigarettes the previous week and people were getting desperate. I felt sorry for him so I reached around for my cabin bag, which I put on the ground when another white hand (his accomplice) beat me to it, grabbed my Rothmans and dashed to a waiting Land Rover followed by my new but brief friend. The local customs officer rolled his eyes and said it was the third cigarette snatch that week.
Wow, I am going to have to be on my toes in this city I thought as I made my way to the hotel. No wonder some of the local houses looked so secure I thought as I gazed out of the taxi window. It turned out that some of them had four inch steel walls as apparently, after the second world war, some army or other had left behind all their tank tracks and steel mesh temporary road equipment, much to the delight of the local homeless.
My second incident happened in the centre of town. It was getting towards the end of the day very few people were around. I walked past a group of dangerous looking Gambians when one stood up and stared. I kept walking and he called after me. I walked a bit faster and he started following me. “Hey man” he shouted again and started to run. “Oh God” I thought and broke into a trot “Hey you white man” he called again and by this time we were both running fast.
He is going to catch me I thought so I decided to make my stand. I whirled round fists ready and teeth clenched. “Ok you bastard, you want some” I snarled as he came to a halt in front of me. “Excuse me sir” he answered “but I think you dropped your sun glasses and I am bringing them back to you”. In his giant hand were my sunglasses. I nearly died of shame there and then. To make it worse I offered him money in thanks which embarrassed him and shamed me further.
I left Gambia a much chastened person who had learned that not every citizen in a foreign country is a con artist or thief. I pondered this at the bar of the international arrivals and departures shed bar whilst waiting for my plane when a rat the size of a small Daschund ran across the counter and stole the meat from my ham sandwich (true) and fled. The locals are fine I surmised but the wildlife are definitely a bunch of villains!