I promise it gives a lot more of the flavor of backward parts of the Dark Continent than reading some report put out by the IMF.
For the first time in my life, I am asked the question, "Would you like to come with us to the jungle and see the gorillas?" The assistant minister isn't joking. With a proud smile on his face, he leans back against his chair behind his desk, expecting my affirmative answer. I stare back at him for a concerned moment. I'm not really a dog person, nor am I a gorilla one. He adds, "It's not really that dangerous." Really now? I want to make a friend, and I don't want to be impolite. I know that in Rwanda, they love their gorillas, so I begin quantum-calculating the danger percentage this proposition entails. With a disturbed 300-pound gorilla chasing me in the jungle, my life expectancy is zero minutes. "Yes," I nod, "I've seen that in a Hollywood movie many years ago. Looked like fun." Suddenly, the office door swings open, and a secretary appears. "The minister is now ready to see you," she tells me. I leap up from my chair. I walk toward her and smile. She's dark and lovely, clad in a tight yellow dress. She reciprocates with a professional smirk and does a graceful about-turn, offering her beautiful, partially bare back. After a second of motionless admiration, I march behind her straight out of the office, scot-free of the gorilla meet-up.
I'm flying to West Africa again to see a gold-mining area, and I'm glad because Rwanda was mostly just talk. First, I need to make sure I get out of Gabon. I have a seven-hour layover here before catching a connecting flight to the west of the continent. "What do you mean, you are keeping my passport?" I stare down at the airport official behind a large windowpane as he puts my passport aside. "We don't want you to go anywhere," he answers. I look all around myself for a beat — I'm in Libreville, inside its crackerbox airport — "Where can I go—I'm in Gabon!" Before I walk off, he tells me, "Go to the lounge upstairs—before your plane leaves, we'll find you and give you your passport." The windowpane looks bulletproof and definitely fist-proof. All I can do is glare at the man a long beat in disbelief as I suffer the unexpected indignity of being separated from an important personal belonging.