Monday, 27 December 2010

A Secure Life Abroad 2 - Zambia

Zambia was my main overseas posting and I stayed there for 2 years. It was around 1973 which was the time when the battle for independence was in full swing in neighbouring Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). That did not bother me much as I was posted to the Zambian ‘city’ of Kitwe up on the Copper Belt and a long way from the border conflict. Or so I thought.

What I failed to grasp was that although the actual fighting was taking place in the south the fighters themselves had many reserve and base camps around Kitwe. This meant that not only did residents have to cope with the numerous local gangsters but also raw army recruits who had no money or food but plenty of assault rifles and grenades. Unfortunately it was not rare to see troops selling Kalashnikovs to the local bad guys for money and food thus increasing their dangerousness by 1000%

We looked after ourselves as best we could. Most houses had razor wire around their gardens, barred windows, alarms and fierce dogs. We had our fierce cat called Sooty which I told you about in an earlier story. At least he had hospitalised the next door Dobermans once which was a pretty good reference!

People also hired night security cards from a local company to patrol their perimeters until dawn. These guys were supposed to be there as protection and to scare off intruders but in actuality they spent most of the time asleep. Unlike the murderous guard I had in Ghana these people were mainly weak, hungry and very poor and, in some ways, I could understand why they were not willing to risk their lives for a bunch of wealthy Europeans. I used to recognise this so I paid mine extra, gave them food and said that all I wanted was for them to scream a warning before running. That and to stay awake and not smoke the local drug called Dagga.

The security company recognised the problem of guards sleeping on the job and they employed supervisors to cycle around the neighbourhood tinkling their bells and calling ‘guard’ until they got an answer. More often than not they used to get no reply so the volume kept on increasing until they were shrieking ‘GUARD! GUARD!’ at the top of their voices. By this time everybody in the house was awake…except the guard.

Our most regular guard was called Greatson. He was a little better than the rest so I ended up pampering him quite a lot. It got to the point that I would play his favourite ABBA record every night. He used to lean back on his patio guard chair until his head half entered the lounge window and join in with a baritone drone. I also gave him a case load of my dad’s old clothes and told him to help himself.
Unfortunately the better I treated him the more complacent he got and the less reliable. Things came to a head when he turned up one evening drunk and dressed in an old silk smoking jacket/dressing gown which he had found in the case of cloths. He flopped in his chair looking like Noel Coward on a bad day and started singing Chiqitita from ABBA’s greatest hits. I went to bed in disgust.

About 2 in the morning I was woken from an uneasy sleep. As I regained consciousness I started to hear tinkling of bells, loud shouts of GUARD, GUARD and the loudest snoring possible. Clearly Greatson was out cold and his employer had lost patience. The next thing I knew a stone crashed through the bedroom window. It had come from the security supervisor and been aimed at Greatson but missed him by yards.

‘That’s it’ I cried and stormed outside to confront Noel Greatson Coward who was tucked up in his dressing gown smiling angelically in his sleep. I shook him again and again with no success. He is not going to beat me I thought. This man is going to wake up the hard way I thought and I picked him up. I held him for a moment in my arms and was about to drop him on the patio when he started nuzzling his head up against my neck still with that daft smile on his face.

No, I decided, the patio is too good for you my friend, and I carried him around to the swimming pool. It was well illuminated by the security lights and I lurched to the edge of the deep end. I dropped him. Well actually not dropped, more stumbled. We both went over and crashed into the water. Greatson woke up when he was about 3 feet under. His eyes dilated and his mouth opened discharging a large bubble of water. My face which was about 2 inches from his was being held in a panicked and vice like grip.

With a little bit of help we finally managed to get out. We looked sorry figures. Him in his soggy smoking jacket and me in my now transparent pyjamas. Greatson kept saying he had not been sleeping. ‘I was resting my eyes Bwana’ he said. Yes, and ears and senses I thought. His supervisor who had managed to climb over the garden gate to help pull us out started hitting him over the head with a stick and it took 10 minutes to throw them both out.

I heard they had sacked Greatson and I was very sorry. After all he had only let us down once and I felt responsible for him being thrown back on the streets. A couple of weeks later I went a nearby friend’s house for dinner. It was a great evening and we sat in his lounge drinking brandy and listening to the African night sounds. Suddenly I could hear some faint deep singing from around the corner. Someone was singing ‘Super Trooper’ by ABBA. I peeped around the corner and yes, it was Greatson reclining in his new security guard uniform and smoking something suspicious!

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