I hit the ground in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, late on Monday night, sans my photographer, who was due in a day or two. Twelve hours later I was staring down the barrel of a well-used AK-47 near N’Djamena city center. I’d been carjacked.
Since I’m sitting here, wired to one of the city’s few wireless networks, describing the incident — and since I just dropped $10 on a Jack-on-the-rocks — I’m clearly neither dead nor destitute. As far as carjackings go, this one was fairly minor.
Me, my driver and my fixer were downtown changing some dollars into local currency when two truckloads of Chadian Army soldiers spotted us. One soldier grabbed my fixer and tossed him into the back of his truck. Two others piled into the car with me, guns-first. We sped off towards who-knows-where.
“C’est quoi, le problem?” I said in my terrible French. What seems to be the problem, officer?
No problem, the gunman beside me said. What he meant was, I haven’t invented one yet. Spotting my camera on the seat beside me, the soldier asked if I had authorization to report in Chad. I explained that we had applied for authorization that morning and were awaiting the passes. In the meantime, I wasn’t doing any formal reporting, nor taking any photographs. I was just a foreign guest of the government of Chad, with a valid passport and a 30-day visa.
But the soldier said that I, as a journalist, wasn’t allowed to be out on the streets without my passes. Never mind that that would require some sort of local wormhole through space and time, whereby I could get my passes before I got my passes in order to get my passes. I wasn’t sure how to translate “Catch 22” or “give me a freaking break” into French, so I said nothing.
When we stopped briefly, my fixer talked his way out of the truck and asked me for the roughly $20 we’d managed to change into local currency. He slipped it to the soldier in charge, and in a flash our captors were gone, grinning widely as they went.
What have we learned? Chadian carjackers are cheap to buy off. Jack takes the edge off. A good fixer will save your ass every time.