At first the convoy seemed as confused and disorganised as any we had previously seen, but when we finally came to leave Kousseri the following morning I was shocked at how seriously the army were taking the whole situation. Two minibuses loaded with soldiers armed to the teeth formed up around us, one to the front and one to the rear. No sooner had we left Kousseri the convoy stopped. Soldiers poured out of the minibuses forming a defensive ring around us and the other vehicles. The officer in charge, a black Rambo figure, belts of ammunition criss-crossing his chest, calmly made his way towards us.
“You want to ride with the convoy you pay.” Neither of us wanted to argue.
“I think it is better,” he went on, speaking only in French. “Safer. Money is less important than your life, and that of your wife.”
I looked at the soldiers as we paid him his money. They seemed nervous, on edge. One of them took a leak by the side of the road, still clutching his weapon. For some reason it had me thinking ‘This is no game. What are we doing here?’
“Stay in between the two minibuses. You see this one?” The boss man pointed to the lead vehicle. “You stay with it, where he goes you go.”
I watched the men re-board the buses. They were well supplied with camouflage uniforms, lightweight boots and plenty of ammunition and hardware. The barrels of their rifles poked from the windows as we followed along, doing as we were told. They travelled fast, faster than we were used to, up to 70 or 80 mph. Perhaps the long, straight stretch we were on was particularly dangerous.
It struck me how ‘matter-of-fact’ about all this we had become, maybe too much so. I found myself imagining a hit by the bandits and actually believing we could dive to the ground, lie low, keep our helmets on and somehow survive. How ridiculous, to even be contemplating a strike by armed rebels and believing you could live through such a thing. But then here we were, it was happening. How else do you cope with the unthinkable? Better to be in some way prepared I figured. It did cross my mind that being sandwiched between two heavily armed vehicles was possibly not the best place to be in the event of a hit; at the centre of the fire-fight so to speak. We had both become very good at drowning out any such negative thoughts. Adaptation was an integral part of what we did. You could not ride a bike across Africa and spend every minute of every day worrying about what might happen, what might become of you. We slowed for a police post. Someone appeared from inside, frantically waving us on.
We raced through a low-lying marshy area, barely able to see over the long grass, nothing more than a blur by the side of the road, the perfect ambush spot…