By Bob Fish
I’m not really sure what kind of gun it was, but it didn’t matter, all I knew is that it was being held by a soldier about a foot from my wife Michelle’s head.
We were riding into Ndola to pick up supplies and get some cash from the ATM. Davies was driving and Kim and Lee were in the car with us too.
Michelle has taken on the role of photographer and chronicler of our adventures, and that’s what she was doing from the back seat. Her mission on this sortie was to get some ‘everyday’ life shots from the streets of Ndola, like people riding bikes, carrying things on their heads, funny signs, weird trucks, the influence of the Chinese. You name it, she tries to get everything from her rolled down window.
We were cruising down Main Street by a very large military-looking complex when suddenly Davies said “don’t take pictures of the Zambian National Bank.” I gave Michelle a poke to make sure she heard, and she nodded her head that she got it. I guess the Zambian Bank is like the Treasury or something and they frown on anybody casing the joint.
We turned a corner, went about a half block and parked to go to the ATM. Lee and Kim jumped out of the car, while Michelle and Davies chatted. She was flipping through the pictures on her phone to see what edits to make in what was meant to be a quite moment, when I saw two soldiers running our way… I mean directly at us! One male, one female, both very serious and beelining for Michelle’s back window.
‘Hey babe’ (with my ‘urgent’ voice) is all that came across my lips…’yeah,’ she said, nonchalant (with a little bit of her ‘I’m working here’ voice). But as she looked up, a hand attached to a camouflage sleeve was already reaching through to grab her phone.
The female soldier was in charge and she immediately started speaking to us in pretty good and very firm English, asking us (in her ‘all caps’ voice) WHY WERE YOU TAKING PICTURES OF OUR BANK. Michelle assured she wasn’t, apologized, and unlocked her phone so that they could see for themselves, while the male soldier continued to point his gun at her. The interaction wasn’t more than a few minutes but it felt like 20 minutes easy, even though things moved fast. What had to be sorted out is that Michelle DID NOT take a photo of the Bank, as Davies had asked her not to, but she also didn’t lower her phone as we were driving by… so it looked like she did.
There are a lot of things that go through your mind in a situation like this. I had visions of going to jail, Michelle going to jail, a phone getting confiscated, a bribe being given, or any other scene from a movie that I could conjure up in my head.
The reality was I had a sinking feeling that everything that we know is safe and easy in our lives was just going to suddenly disappear.
Eventually they left, but the adrenaline was still going… we could have easily been freaked out, but the lesson was that as an individual you have to be painfully aware of yourself, how people are perceiving you, and what impact you are having on them.
But that’s probably just generally good life advice, no matter where you are.
For obvious reasons, Michelle didn’t take a picture of the soldiers.