An Amazon Story

The first thing that you realize when you head out into the Amazon, is that it is big. Really big. Spread out over 8 countries, its physical land mass is nearly 8 times the size of Texas. And Texas is pretty damn big. Then you get into it, and you realize that maybe the size isn't the impressive part. Maybe the impressive part is how wild it is. An endless labyrinth of waterways weaving through thick rainforest vegetation and constantly pulsing with the din of birds and monkeys and bugs. The river itself churns and slurps, creating eddies and whirlpools - "remolinas" as the locals call them. That's a word that you've learned to hate. And that's just the edge, the part accessible by you in your little boat. But you've seen the maps, you know that beyond the river's edge is endless jungle, stretching hundreds or thousands of miles on into the unknown heart of Amazonia.


The rivers are plied by dugout canoes and other vessels, the basin is home to some 400 different indigenous cultures and millions more who have flooded in for the wealth of natural resources. But it's so damn big, that beyond the 400 known indigenous cultures are unknown numbers of "uncontacted" tribes, living in some of the few dark parts of the world map. The indigenous people that you meet are pretty good to you, but you start to hear stories that make you wary. Narcos moving drugs through the unenforceable expanse of the jungle. Pirates who murder the narcos and steal their guns and drugs and money. They make a living off of stealing from the drug trade, but on a slow day, they'd probably be willing to see what you have to offer. 


And there you are, out there on the river. Alone in the endless expanse of the Amazon wilderness. You think you see a small canoe across the river, but he is over a mile away and you can't be sure. You're out there alone, and it would be deafeningly silent, if it weren't so god damn loud. 


So I'm about 100 days and 3,000 kilometers into this solo trip through the Amazon, and my contacts in the Brazilian Navy and Federal Police suggested that I take a small side river to avoid a notoriously dangerous section of the main Amazon. This side river is wild and remote - winding its way through a deep and almost unpopulated section of the rainforest. The first day passes quickly as I work my way down the river system. I spend most of the second day enjoying the jungle, walking around in the forest and fishing in the river. 


On the second night, I tie my boat to a floating house in one of the few tiny communities in the area, and prepare for night. Some guys come by and tell me that there are pirates at the mouth of the river - I get this warning daily and I deal with it by leaving very early, and being vigilant and ready to fucking run like hell if pirates show up and come after me. Then they say that 6 pirates attacked this community 3 nights earlier. This was something I hadn't heard before - an actual, verifiable incident. This isn't good. 


That night I hear the person in the floating house lock the door from the inside, and notice people up on the hill scanning the water with flashlights. They're scared. So am I. I call my mom and my girlfriend on my satellite phone and make small talk and tell them that I love them. I get out of the boat and scout how I would get out of there if anything happened, and decide that I need to stay awake overnight to keep watch. After about 4 hours laying in my hammock, I hear an outboard engine out in the darkness of the river. The local fisherman in the area can only afford a pekepeke engine or no engine at all, and no one could confuse the droning hum of an outboard with the staccato sound of the pekepeke. I get out of my hammock, and put on my glasses. A handheld spotlight comes on out in the river. It is pointed at my boat, blinding me with the bright light. Slowly, the light turns and scans the shoreline and floating houses of the community, and then turns back to my boat. I can't see what they are doing, so my plan is to listen and hear if the boat is coming closer. To my horror, I watch as the bow of their boat swings around the stern of mine and shows the midsection of six people, all of which are pointing single barrel breech shotguns at me. As planned, I jump out of my boat, let out a yell to alert the community, and run across the deck of the floating house. They fire and I hear something whiz through the air, but I have already turned a corner and I'm running fast through the darkness. I fall into the water and swim under another house as I hear them firing into the water. I hear them running around above - yelling in Portuguese and firing into the air. I wait a long time under that floating house - so focused on the danger above that any concern about treading water in the deep Amazon night never really crosses my mind, never even thinking about the 4 meter black caiman that I had seen about a kilometer up river earlier that day.


Eventually, I figure that it's time to come out. The locals must think that I'm dead and I'm quite sure that they will be very happy to know that I am alive. When I swim out, someone shines a light in my face and ushers me up the hill. At the top of the hill stands the male population of the village, twenty people or so all armed with shotguns. In the darkness, I can't see their faces, but their moonlit silhouettes begin yelling and pointing at me. My Portuguese isn't very strong, but I understand the gist of it - they are saying that the pirates attacked because of me and that someone from the village is dead. As the tenor becomes more hostile, I don't feel comfortable with them behind me, so I move back to the edge of the group. Feeling the need to say something, I try to defend myself by pointing out that the pirates had already attacked the village a few days prior and so I didn't bring them here. They don't acknowledge what I say, and continue to point at me and yell.


Eventually, one of them invites me to go back to his hut to sleep and I accept. When we got back there, he asks me if I have any drugs or guns. The odd part js that he doesn't seem to be asking out of anger and it isn't an accusation. He seems to be asking if we could do business. I explain to him that I am an American traveler and that I don't have any guns or drugs. He just smiles.


Soon, the rest of the men come in and resume their pointing and yelling. I hear the words "Peruano" and "Colombiano". So that's it - because I am speaking Spanish and the only outsiders that they had ever encountered before were narcos or pirates, they think that I must be a Colombian or Peruvian smuggler. The pirates must have made the same assumption. I stand up and very deliberately explain to them that I am in fact not a narco and instead an American traveler. I alternate slowly between Spanish and English, and explain that I am speaking Spanish only because I don't speak Portuguese. Everyone freezes and the room is silent. Then, everyone is smiling and the man who had called me a Peruano is patting me on the back. I still feel terrible that someone had been hurt though, but when I ask someone about it, they are puzzled. Apparently I had misunderstood someone saying "someone could have been hurt". 


They slowly file out, but I can still see them through the spaces between the wood slats in the hut. They stand guard on top of the hill, armed with their shotguns and slowly sweeping the water below with a low powered flashlight. Later that night, the pirates do come back but they never made landfall. They just drive around in the river and fire a few times in the air. I don't sleep very much that night. 


The next day, I went down to my boat and basically everything was gone including all of my photo and video equipment. Holes were punched in all of the seats where they must have hoped to find drugs or money. On top of the rubble of slashed bags and discarded items sat my passport, face up and open to the photo page. 


I waited in that village for four days, until a boat came by that could give me a ride to Coari. During that time, I promised the village elders that I would speak with the Navy and police to send help. While this was met with enthusiasm by some and scorn by others, everyone seemed to be interested in the idea of police visiting the village. At some point during my stay there, I took notice of the fact that each day, the majority of the men would walk off into the woods, armed with a shotgun and some cane liquor, only to return in the evening without any meat or sign of a successful hunt. I didn't ask any questions. This time in the community was very tense - there was palpable anxiety each afternoon as the sun began to set, not knowing what the night would hold. The pirates did return on another night, driving around in circles and firing into the air. On the morning that I left, some of the community women asked me to attend church with them. At church, they prayed for safety to return to the community, and they prayed for my safe passage back to my family. When they prayed for me, they referred to me as "our friend". I hugged each of them and then departed. 


In Coari and Manaus I met with several branches of the police as well as the Navy. They were concerned and sympathetic, but I have reason to believe that they ultimately did not take any action. I gave my contact information to the captain of the boat that gave me passage from the community to Coari, and a few weeks later his wife reached out to me and told me that the boat had been attacked and that their son had been shot and dumped into the river. Luckily, he had survived and he was in Coari recovering. 


The Amazon is a wild place. If you don't believe me, you should go see for yourself. 

An African Story Parts 3 and 4

Part 3 - Please start below at Part 1

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


I woke to the sounds of his phone ringing. I looked at my watch and it was after midnight. The evening commotion of the street had subsided and all was quiet except for the ceiling fan and the angry little phone ringing away. I picked it up. It was one of the little Nokia types that everyone had had in 8th and 9th grades. It had the game “snake” on it.  

I looked at the phone and saw the name “Njankluddy” illuminated on the screen. Somewhat annoyed at being woken up, but also excited to hear how my good dead had worked out, I picked up the phone.  


“Roooss,” the phone moaned and then started coughing the same disease cough as earlier.  

Startled, I took a moment. “Jean-Claude? How are you feeling man?”  

“I’m in the hospital,” he wailed absently, “Roooss” he said again.  

“I – know,” I was puzzled. “Did they give you the medicine? Are you feeling better?”  

“Ross,” the phone wailed again. ‘What the fuck is this?’ I though. “I’m sick. I need an ultrasound.” This came out as alter sound. “Doctor says I need an ultrasound. For my stomach. I’m so sick.”  

“Ok?” I wasn’t sure how to respond. “Aren’t they treating you for Malaria?”  

“I need an ultrasound. For my stomach. They gave me a drip for Malaria, but I’m sick – I need an ultrasound!” and then he broke into a cascade of coughs. ‘What the fuck is he talking about?’ I wondered. ‘Why is he sounding so miserable about the ultrasound?’ And then it dawned on me – ‘he wants me to pay for it’ I realized.  

“Ok, ok Jean-Claude-y – so how much is it going to cost?”  

“Rossss,” he moaned, “they need 40,000. I need an ultrasound. I might not make it – I’m so sick pray for me!”  

40,000! Plus the 35,000 that I had already given him. That’s a lot of money in East Africa, but what could I do? I was involved and he couldn’t turn my back on the man now. A sick man, a refugee. And it wasn’t that much money.  

“Ok, can you come over to the hotel?”  

“When I finish the drip. Thank you. Pray for me.” And the phone beeped because Njankluddy had hung up.  

I remained still in his bed. 75,000. He had seemed ok earlier – sick but not like this. The man was hardly making sense on the phone. And then I thought about something else – an ultrasound is just a diagnostic procedure. Surely he would need treatment for whatever they found. How much would that cost?  

But god, how could I be so cheap? This was a man’s life, a man I knew. Someone who had spent the day trying to help me. 

I thought all these things and waited for the phone to ring again. Eventually it did and I went downstairs.  

The hotel manager, a big hawk nosed Indian, was sitting in the lobby and he peered at me with a puzzled look on his face. It was nearly 1 am.  

I had a guard unlock the door and I stepped out into the darkness of the street. Dar es Salaam has almost no street lights. At night it is very, very dark.  

Directly ahead, a man sat on a motorcycle watching me. To his left, a few figures could barely be made out through the darkness.  

“Ross,” the sound came from my right and I reeled around to see a silhouette sitting on the hood of a parked car. I walked over to the man. He looked bad, he was panting, his shirt was pulled up exposing his stomach and his arms were curled up as if the small muscles in his arms had tightened up and he couldn’t release them.  

“Jean-Claude, did the medicine help at all? Are you feeling any better?” I asked lamely – after all, what was I going to say? ‘Njankluddy, you look like shit’? I was still fishing for some good news.  

“Ross! My stomach. I need an ultrasound.” He tried to sit up but after only lifting himself a few inches he flopped onto his back again.  

“You told me,” I didn’t know what to do, I wanted to help, but Jesus!  

Could I just give him the money 40,000 and go back inside? “So what happened?”  

“Ross! My stomach! They put me in a ward to get a drip and next to me the guy is coughing and he has TB. You know TB? I can’t get TB, I will miss my classes! 6 months to treat TB. Don’t make me go back to that ward. Please!”  

‘Make you? Make you? What is he talking about?’  

“Doctor says I need to be in the hospital for 3 days and now I’m going to get TB! Please don’t make me. There is another ward.”  

And again, a moment of realization for me – He wants more money.  

“How much to move to another ward?”  

“80,000 for the new ward and treatment.”  

“So you want 120,000?” I asked, shocked by the number.  

“Ross! They won’t treat me without the money. I need 140,000.”  

“140,000? What is the extra 20 for?” ‘This is getting ridiculous I thought to myself.  

“10,000 for the ride here,” he pointed at the guy on the motorcycle,” and “10,000 for food earlier. I didn’t want to eat but they said that I couldn’t take the medicine without food. He coughed again – a very sick, convincing cough.  

I went over to the guy on the motorcycle. “Did you bring him from the hospital?” I asked.  

The man gave me a blank “I don’t speak English” look. I didn’t ask again but instead waved him over to Njankluddy, still lying on the car.  

Njankluddy looked ghastly. He had his mouth open, locked in a half grimace. The man said something to him in Swahili and he didn’t respond, didn’t move at all.  

I wondered if he might die right there. How tidy that would be. And then, deep guilt  how terrible – this man needed to get back to the hospital.  

The motorcycle guy hoisted Njankluddy back into a sitting position and pulled his shirt back down over his stomach.  

“Ross,” Njankluddy stirred to life.  

“Ok, ok,” it was too much for me. Yes it was a lot of money, but what could I do? I couldn’t let the man die because I didn’t want to give him $100. $100!  

I had no choice. Hell, I even had the money on him. So I reached into my pocket and pulled out a bunch of 10,000 shilling bills – red with pictures of elephants on them – and counted out 14 and handed them over.  

“Feel better man,” I said and started to walk away until a “Ross” stopped him.  

“Pray for me.”  

“Ok I will,” and I was back in the light of the hotel. 


Part 4  


Back inside the hotel, the manager was clearly interested in his guest that had just popped outside for all of five minutes in the middle of the night.  

“Is everything ok?” he inquired.  

“Yes, a friend of mine needed to talk to me,” I replied.  

“A friend, yes I see,” said the manager. “A friend from here?”  

“Yeah, I met him the other day, he is helping me buy a motorcycle.”  

“Oh, I see. Well just be careful and don’t trust anybody." He paused, "there are a lot of people here who think that they can make money off of you. You need to be careful.”  

I looked at the ground and wondered if it would be hard to get out of Dar the next day. I didn’t say a word to the manager, walked upstairs to my room, turned off the lights and went to bed. 

An African Story Part 2

Part 2 Please start below at Part 1

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


I lay prone in my dark room; from the safety of my mosquito net I could hear the ceiling fan whirring about, but I couldn’t see it. There was a lot of noise coming off the street – even though it was night, it was also Ramadan, and so the nights were lively. After the long day though, I didn’t have the energy or interest to go out in the darkness – the jungle – and explore.  

I thought about one of the stories that Njankluddy had told me earlier.  

When Njankluddy had first arrived at the refugee camp, everyone went about looking for their friends and family. Sometimes you would find someone, but usually not because there were so many camps and so many dead. Eventually, people stopped looking in their camp, but they never stopped hoping that their loved ones were in other camps. About a year after arriving, Njankluddy ran into a neighbor of his from Kigali. The man told Njankluddy that he had been to another camp in Burundi and had seen one of Njnkluddy’s uncles there. Njankluddy got all of the information off the man that he could, and set about making his way to the other camp. He went around telling the story and asking for money to help get him there – mostly talking with volunteers, as the other refugees had no money to give. Soon, he had some money, not a lot, but hopefully enough to get to Burundi, and once he was there, he and his uncle could figure out how to get back to Kigoma. He said goodbye to his sister and caught a bus north to the Burundi border. The bus cost him most of his money…  

…Njankluddy rode eagerly over the sylvan landscape of Tanzania, near Burundi. At the border, he explained his story to the guard, showed him his papers including his refugee card, and asked for directions to the camp. The guard explained it to him and ushered him through. The directions told Njankluddy how to get to the camp, but the modes of transportation that guard had described would cost money. Because he had very little, he would have to walk or hitch a ride with passing cars in order to get there.  

He bought a few pieces of fruit and some water, his first food and drink since leaving Kigoma the day before, and began walking.  

Before long, he was able to flag down a passing truck that allowed him to ride in the back. There was little space for him among the green bananas, but he didn’t care – the progress was intoxicating. At this rate he would be there tonight, and he still had a few coins for food.  

But, the truck slowed and the driver informed him that this was as close as the truck would get, and that he needed to walk from here 

Njankluddy hopped off the truck and went over to some people walking along the road and inquired about where he was and how to get to his destination.  

They told him that it was still very far if he followed the road, but a more direct way – over some hills and through some forests – would make it much closer. It would still take some time, but it would be much closer.  

So, he set off walking along the trail, beginning to get very hungry, and the sky beginning to get dark. He passed over a few hills, and into a valley full of agricultural fields. As he walked down the path, a muscular man stood up from tending crops and waved him over. The man spoke to him in a language that he did not understand. When the man realized that Njankluddy didn’t understand, he paused and switched over to French.  

The man asked “why are you walking through here?” and Njankluddy told the man his story. The man thought about what Njankluddy said and replied, “ok little man. Are you hungry?”  

Njankluddy was of course very hungry and he told the man as much.  

“Ok, then come with me to town and we can get you some food.”  

So they walked into the village and the man bought some fruit and Kasava and water for the boy. They sat at a table together while Njankluddy ate. There were a few people walking along the dirt road, but mostly they paid no mind to the two of them. Another man eventually joined them and discussed something with the first man in the language that the boy did not understand. The new man was about the same age as the other, but smaller and much thinner. From a distance he could be mistaken for a boy of Njankluddy’s age. He had a large scar running down the side of his face from his hairline to his chin.  

The first man turned to the boy and asked “where are you going to stay tonight?”  

Njankluddy answered casually that he had hoped to make it to the refugee camp tonight, so he hadn’t really planned anything else.  

“And no one knows that you are here?” The question struck the boy as odd, but the man’s voice was not sinister, it was just inquisitive as if he was trying to understand the situation so that he could be of assistance 

The boy told him that people in Kigoma knew that he was going to the camp, but no one knew specifically where he was.  

The man thought about it and said, “you will need to stay here tonight, it is nearly dark.”  

Njankluddy thought that this was fine and told him so. He would spend the night here and continue in the morning.  

“I’m afraid that you won’t be able to keep going in the morning,” the man said this so matter factly that it raised little alarm in the boy. “You see,” the man continued, ”I know when I see a snake.”  

 – Njankluddy looked up, puzzled. A snake? He was more offended than scared–  

“…I see you little man, and I know that you are just a boy. But you are a snake. A baby snake, but still a snake. So if you see a baby snake, what do you do? You have to get rid of it or else pretty soon it will grow up and then you have a big snake.”  

The dread scar bent on the other man’s cheek as he began to grin. As if they had noticed the change in tone, a few passers-by started towards the table and sat down. They were all men in their late 30’s.  

“Now,” the first man started again, “we are going to take something from you because the snakes have taken so much from us.” He let this hang in the air for a moment and then drew a large knife out from somewhere and began motioning it at the boy.  

Now Njankluddy began to panic and yet he didn’t know what he could do. There were six of them at the table, and everyone of them, except the scar, was much bigger than him.  

He began to think how this would be his last day, and how that was ok because he had lost his mother and father and brother and he was all alone – except at this he was disgusted – he wasn’t alone! His sister was back in Kigoma, and he couldn’t allow her to be alone. 

A few people came loudly out of a hut down the road. They were play fighting and walking towards the table – shuffling really. They were loud and drunk.  

The first man began motioning at the boy with the knife. “So we are going to take from here,” he tapped Njanluddy’s knee with the blade, “to here,” and tapped his foot. He then said “and from here to here,” and tapped the other knee and the other foot.  

“And I’m gonna take an arm,” the scar proclaimed. The table laughed in unison. Njankluddy began to recite a prayer that the Jehovah’s Witness people had taught him in Kigoma.  

At that moment, one of the drunks stumbled hard and fell into the table, knocking everything over.  

The first man exploded from his chair, furious, screaming at the drunk and waving his knife around.  

With that, the boy was out of there – first sprinting into the woods and then running, running. Nowhere in particular, just away. He could hear noises all around him but he kept running. His tormentors pursued him, but soon the sounds around him grew faint.  

He found a small road and followed it. Outside of another small village he saw a Muslim man carrying water. Exhausted, he blurted out the story between breaths. The Muslim pulled him off the road and said that he would give the boy some money and a change of clothes. He instructed the boy to stay off the road. They is an army of rebels, he explained, and the come out of the woods every now and then and kill people. They had been active since the violence in Rwanda, and had settled in the forested hills around this area. The Muslim would let the boy stay at his house, but then the rebels might come and kill his family and he couldn’t allow that. The Muslim led the boy back to his house, made him hide in a bush, and then disappeared inside. A few moments later he came back and gave the boy some money and explained where to get new clothes how to get to a main road where he could get a ride back to safety.  

Njankluddy went into a neighboring shop, hurried and panicked but trying to look normal so that he didn’t draw attention to himself. There, he bought a Muslim tunic and then immediately changed into it behind the store. He hid his clothes in a bush and dove back into the woods. Behind him, he saw a group of men carrying lanterns and machetes go into the house of the Muslim.  

He ran. Without thinking about anything but the main road, he ran. He stayed off the dirt road and worked his way through in woods in the direction of the main road.  

Suddenly he was there. His heart soared, he was at the main road! But no one was there, the street was black. It was very late. He looked had in both directions but saw no lights. Njankluddy wanted to run down the road, but what if they got a car and started to drive around looking for him? No, he had to stay near the road but off of it. Besides, he just knew in his heart that a car would come by soon and carry him to safety.  

So, he picked a big mango tree, he climbed it, and he waited. He waited and prayed. The seconds ticked away slowly and no lights appeared. Time passed in darkness.  

And finally a light did appear – but with great dread he realized that the light was not on the road. In fact, it was several lights making their way slowly through the woods, along the road and in his direction.  

They moved so close that he could hear them speaking quietly in their language and he waited and he prayed.  

Soon, he could see their faces. They were so close – the first man out front carrying the big knife, the scar was smiling in the thrill of the hunt, four more men followed behind. Now he could see the tops of their heads as they walked directly under him. He did not move, he did not breathe. Silently, in his head, he prayed.  

And then he saw their backs as they passed by and continued down along the road. The lights grew dimmer and they were gone. Njankluddy tried to stay still but he shook uncontrollably. Tears covered his cheeks.  

But just then, he had reason for hope. Down the road, two bright lights moved towards him. It was a bus. He came down from the tree as fast as possible and got out into the road.  

He thought how he had heard that these buses will not stop at night, no matter the situation, as a method of defense? Well, he resigned his fate to the bus, deciding that he would stand in the street and not get out of the way. He would rather have it run him down in the street than let the mob catch himThe bus seemed to hesitate and then it braked. It stopped in front of him, the door didn’t open, and a guard pointed a rifle at him.  

He said merely “help” in Swahili and nothing happened. He then said it again in English and the guard said something and the door opened and he hurried on board and the big bus took off into the night.  

Within moments they passed a bunch of lights that had come to the road. The driver sensed the source of the boy’s fear and gained speed. The bus passed by the mob at a safe speed, but not too fast for Njankluddy to see the faces of his tormentors. The scar was no longer smiling and the first man was still holding his knife – pointing it at the bus. 

An African Story Part 1

Part 1

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania


A mosquito, wobbling feebly in the air, made its way down the alley. I traced its progress towards me, and when it was close enough, clapped my hands together and dispatched the bug. Repulsed, I looked down at my hands. Here, in Dar es Salaam, proper Africa, the vile creature had been replaced by two splatters of blood - the source of the blood unknown.  

I wiped my hands and began rolling a cigarette from a bag of Drum that I had purchased in Zanzibar the week before. I had bought the tobacco as a sort of novelty while in Africa, but I was finding it hard to follow through on using it.  

“Sorry about that ma brother, sometimes they make things too hard,” Njakluddy said to me and repeated “too hard”. He was talking about the people at the Tanzania Revenue Authority, who, after much arguing, had refused to issue me a driving permit on the authority of my American drivers license. Njakluddy had spent the day going guiding me from place to place trying to figure out how this foreigner could purchase a motorcycle, obtain a driving permit, and leave this city.  

“It’s ok. Thanks for your help anyway,” I said genuinely. “I think that I can still get an International Driving Permit from the United States and have it shipped. It just might take a while.”  

“So what are you going to do?”  

I thought about it, took a drag of his cigarette, felt dizzy, and said, “I guess just order it from the States and travel around by bus until it gets here. Will I have any problem getting around by bus?”  

Njakluddy rolled another cigarette, maybe his fifth, I wasn’t counting, and asked, “where are you going?”  

I shrugged to solicit advice but also because I liked the way it sounded to be alone in Africa without a destination. “I was thinking I would go south to Iringa for a few days – maybe go to a game park – then to this mountain park down there, I can never remember the name – Uduzanda? Ugawenza?...” I trailed off trying to remember. Then, giving up on naming the park, “and after that head west to Lake Tanganyika, Mahale Mountain Park, then north to Rwanda.”  

“Will you go to Kigoma? That’s where my sister is, in the refugee camp.”  

“Maybe,” I said, “is that the same refugee camp that you were in?”  

“Yeah I grew up there since 1995, until I came to Dar es Salaam for school.”  

"How big is the camp?” I was trying to picture the place.  

“Oh it is very big. Maybe a hundred thousand people or more. It is one of the biggest or maybe the biggest.”  

“Is it all tents or are there buildings?”  

“Oh no buildings. In the summer you can’t sleep, you just spend the night like this,” he waved his hand in a fanning motion. “My sister sent me an email last week, she was sick with malaria but I think she is better now.”  

“Are a lot of people sick there?” Immediately I knew it was a stupid question.  

“Oh, don’t say that! Many people are sick, are dying there,” he said genuinely hurt.  

Njankluddy was quiet, probably picturing the camp or his sister. “Why are people still there so long after leaving Rwanda? The fighting was in like ’94 and ’95, right?” I asked.  

“Yeah. ’94, ’95, and ’96. They are waiting for houses to be built for them back home. They have nothing back home, better for them to stay in the camp than to live in the streets in Kigali. The UN and charities say that they will build houses so they –we– are waiting. Their houses were all destroyed back then. With bombs.”  

They fell into a silence. I tried to look occupied and contemplative. I looked down at the lighter in his hands. It said “child proof 85%” and underneath showed a frowning face with X’s for eyes. I wondered what the hell the 85% meant. 

Njakluddy broke the silence. “My house was destroyed and they killed my mother, my father, and my young brother. A lot of government people lived on my street so they went there with this car, but it wasn’t a car, it had no wheels just chains –  

“ – a tank,” I suggested.  

“No,” shaking his head Njanluddy fished a pen and paper from his pocket and proceeded to draw a crude tank on it. “They drove down the street and stopped in front of each house and shot one bomb at each house.”  

“So how did you and your sister escape?”  

“We were at school, private school. So when they heard what was happening, they closed the gates and we stayed there for two days and then we moved to a church and then to ‘Hotel Rwanda.’ You know ‘Hotel Rwanda?’”  

“Yeah,” I wondered if he meant literally the place from the movie with Don Cheadle, or if it was just a phrase for places like that.  

“When we went home, the house was destroyed and no one was there, so we went to the refugee camp. I haven’t seen my grandparents, my uncles, or my aunt since then. I think they are alive, but there are many camps in Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda, Congo-Brazzaville…”  

We went on talking for a while  mostly Njankluddy telling stories of his childhood and me saying little. I was becoming increasingly aware that Njankluddy was sweating profusely even though they were sitting in a shaded alley. The man’s speech was punctuated by a repetitive cough. It was not a cough that I was used to – the throat clearing cough of a cold or the hacking cough of a smoker, but an uncontrolled, wet, deep down cough.  

Njankluddy hunched over and swayed a little every time this happened. To me, it seemed to be the cough of disease. I began taking shallow breaths as a defense and felt bad for wanting to go back to the hotel, escape my fellow man – my friend – to the haven of isolation.  

“Jean-Claude,” I didn’t even attempt the Africanized version of the name“are you ok? You seem sick.”  

“Yeah you know, I got sick a few days ago and I went to the doctor and he told me I have Malaria you know. Here in Dar es Salaam there are too many mosquitoes. You have to have a mosquito net, but I don’t have one and where I sleep there is this big window and I’m up all night like this,” he slapped his forehead as if swatting bugs off his face. “The doctor said that I have a lot of Malaria and that I need treatment, but the treatment was 25,000 and I only had 10,000. Remember how I said I am on summer break from school? So I don’t get money during the summer. So I asked him to help me, that I am a refugee, and you know, here in Tanzania it isn’t like Europe or America. He said that he couldn’t help without the money and I asked him for half of the pills and he said no because the pills won’t do anything if you only take half.”  

I listened guiltily and thought about how I had found it odd that Njakluddy was sweating so much earlier at the TRA. We had been standing in the sun but it wasn’t that hot. I had also noticed that Njakluddy had become more and more somber and quiet through the day, but I had just figured that the man was becoming bored with this vein attempt to help and American get a motorcycle. I had 60, 70, or 80,000 schillings in his pocket – I couldn’t remember which. 

“So I went and bought Dloroz, which you know, isn’t for Malaria,” I nodded unknowingly,  “and I take it when I feel bad and it helps a little.” 

I waited for the pitch but it didn’t come. We fell into silence and Njankluddy rolled another cigarette. 

“Well,” I started off slowly, “I can help you get the medicine. And a mosquito net,” I added. 

“Oh thank you brother, asante sana,” Njankluddy exclaimed.  

“How much would it cost to get the medicine and net all together?” 

“35,000 for everything.” I sighed shrugged and looked at him as if to say “why didn’t you say so earlier.” 

“I have that on me actually, so let's get you some medicine. Do we go to the Duka la Dawa?” I said pharmacy in Swahili. 

“Asana sana, bless you brother. No, the pharmacy is much too expensive. Maybe 45,000 or more. We have to buy it at the hospital.” 

I wouldn’t have minded giving the money over right there, but Njankluddy didn’t look so good, so I proposed that they go to the hospital together. We rode a crowded dalla dalla, or public bus, out of the city center and into a much more impoverished neighborhood. Looking out from my standing position on the dalla dalla, the colors of the tin roofs blended together like a patchwork quilt. 

When we got off the dalla dalla, we walked for a few minutes until they stood before a large rectangular building. No ornamentation, just a sign that read:  



And there, sprawled out in front of this great cement structure, was the class of Tanzanian that couldn’t afford the private hospital in the City Center. Spewing forth from the open doors of the hospital were hundreds of human bodies. Some were standing, some were laying down as if sleeping. Babies were wailing and adults moaning. Young men walked through the crowd selling peanuts or fruit. I saw blood, ripped and soiled clothing – chickens and goats ambling through the line. Near to me sat a man with only one arm and no legs almost up to his waist calmly waiting his turn in line.  

And suddenly I was squeamish. The whole way down here I had thought of myself benevolently helping my friend and unafraid of getting a little dirty in the meantime. I had wanted to show that I wasn’t above it, especially with Njankluddy who had spent perhaps a decade of his life in a refugee camp.  

But now I was thinking better of it. I thought about how people in the States got MRSA in hospitals. This was just a symbolic gesture anyway, the real important part was the money which would allow Njakluddy to get treatment.  

I turned to Njakluddy and yelled above the din, “ok, well here you are,” as if I had finished my duty by bringing him here. I retrieved the money and gave it to Njankluddy secretly as they shook hands, the way you might with a Maitre d’. God knows what kind of person might be lurking around in this crowd, and Njankluddy didn’t look so good.  

“Well, you have my number. I hope you feel better man. Call me when you get out.”  

“Asante sana. Thank you brother,” Njankluddy said and coughed.  

With that I wheeled around and jogged over to a dalla dalla that had just pulled up to the curb. I rode it back to the City Center.