Protectors

I look right over the hotel garden, or at least what used to be the hotel garden but it is now the bivouac of the military, presumably to save us in case of a terrorist attack. Watching them at different times of the day gives me little confidence in their ability to do so. They live on and around two small huts: a concrete floor of about 3 meters across with a palm leaf roof and four metal pillars that hold up the roof. Two men sleep under one roof and a third under another, probably the highest in rank. The two small pavilions are about 7 meters apart and right under my window, and so I have a perfect view from the 4th floor.

When they wake up they remove their mosquito nets, fold their blankets and stow them someplace. Their beds are the plastic (no longer white) swimming pool lounge chairs, flattened. For mattresses they use the blue and white striped covers (rather faded) that used to be for the tourists but are now worse for the wear. They sweep their living space and then sit, which is what they do for the rest of the day. I can’t imagine they are in any condition to run or attack. They have a walkie-talkie by their side, or at least one does; they are all preoccupied, all day long, with their smart phones. I am told they are on FB all day long. Even when they get up and walk away, they seem to follow their smart phone.

I got to watch a supervisory visit, I assume, by a superior, who arrived with a rifle slung over his shoulder. Both soldiers spring to attention and pick up their rifles. They were laying on the ground, dark rifles camouflaged on the dark dirt of the neglected garden.  I can’t tell from the distance whether it is a call to duty, an admonition or a reprimand. Five minutes later the man leaves again. One of the soldiers dusts off his flak jacket, dons his red beret, slings his rifle over his shoulder and stands alert looking out over the river, on the edge of one of the pavilions and then starts to move to the outer perimeter (no, correction, it’s a call of nature). The other seems to be off duty and resumed his cell phone activities.

On the front of the hotel the situation is not that much better. There too the security guards have their eyes glued to the smart phone, interrupting their phone sessions only occasionally for a rather disinterested check with their wand, applied inconsistently to me, and presumably to others. The machine to check what’s in our bags is sometimes required and other times they wave me through. Even further away from the hotel, the guards who check the underside of cars at the entrance to the parking lot in front  of the hotel don’t feel the need to check the ICRC car that picks me up and drops me off. All ICRC cars have a sticker of a picture of a gun with a large red line across it. God help us if an ICRC car ever falls into the hands of people with other motives. My colleague here says that nearly happened when armed bandits commandeered an ICRC car in one of the wilder areas of Niger. The long negotiations were not about getting the car back, but rather about removing all ICRC logos.

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