An interesting encounter today at a small café near the outskirts of town. I stopped in to organize my notes over tea. The café was crowded and I grabbed the last empty booth. A man soon appeared asking to join me. He was a young American in his 30s with a weathered, leathery face, a Chinese AK-47 slung over his shoulder and two pistols strapped to his legs. He wore a heavy bullet-proof vest that had clearly been doing its job. I could count the number of times it had saved his life. Three.
We sat together in silence for a long while. I’ve met enough mercenaries to know how they think. He was a man who would talk to me - otherwise he would have chosen another table, but he’d talk when he was ready.
After starting his second coffee he asked, “You a reporter.” More a statement than a question.
And so we began to talk. His name is Fred Willis. He’s 23 (he looks so much older!) and he’s been here for 2 years. He just recently joined up with the UFLL. When I pressed him for a reason, he simply said, “I never ran an African country before. Sounds like fun, right?” And that, I believe, is what draws most of the mercs to this place. They see a chance to live out a fantasy. Be an African King with unfettered access to the coffers of the people.
Willis showed a great deal of interest in the stories I’m writing. Perhaps I’m easily flattered but he seemed genuinely curious. I gave him the URL address to some of my stories. Who knows, it might open his eyes to the consequences of his actions. Though I doubt it.
After his second cup of coffee, he said, “See you round, Reporter Man”. And just like that, he was heading out the door. Classic social skills of every good merc.