We turned onto a main road when I heard the pop-pop of a high-powered rifle. We all collapsed behind a barrier and Peter instantly had the camera on me. In a punched whisper he said, “Go, go!
Along with Peter and Michael, my new crew, I had been walking down the main road of a small community called Dogon Village. Michael, our resourceful P.A., heard about a raid on this place the previous night. So this morning we loaded into our beater and made the short 15-minute drive here.
We found a ghost town, or at least it seemed as much at first. We couldn’t find any evidence of an attack. It appeared that we’d chased a rumour. We decided to track down a resident for a quick interview, then back to Port Selao. That’s when the shooting started.
We hunched behind a concrete barrier, the video camera trained on me. Peter said, “Go, go!” Meaning I should start the report. His precise professionalism in the circumstances was impressive even by my standards.
This was my first report on-camera while under fire. I was scared but something inside me kept focus. I heard my voice as if it was someone else’s. I set the scene, pointing towards the gunfire, ducking for extra effect when I heard another pop-pop.
Then footsteps. Running fast near us. We spotted a man, a mercenary, sprinting across the road away from us. And then a single POP from behind.
The man screamed and collapsed in the middle of the road. He couldn’t move, but we could see he was still alive. Whoever shot him knew precisely where to strike.
He cried out. The man was in agony but you could hear he was nowhere near death. After a few minutes of quiet, he started shouting in French, “De l’eau!” Water.
Was he alone? Had his comrades been killed? Or worse, had they already fled?
“De l’eau!” He was whimpering now. I could see he’d been shot in the gut. It wouldn’t be much longer for him, but it wouldn’t be pleasant either.
I grabbed the water canteen from Michael and made a run for him. I did it so fast, I had no time to realize my stupidity. I only knew I couldn’t be party to such a brutal death.
I crouched beside him. We were utterly exposed. He was older than I expected. Maybe 45. His whole body shook as his blood stained the dirt around him. He blinked madly. Again he said, “L’eau”.
I removed the top and held it close to his lips.
Before a drop reached him, the canteen exploded in my hand. I fell back unsure what had happened. I stared at the man. He was shaking. The shattered canteen lay 10 meters away from him. Someone shot the canteen from my hand.
I stared up to the hillside where the shot must have come. Whoever fired, didn’t shoot me. They only wanted to take out the water for this dying man.
Again his voice, quieter. Weaker. “De l’eau, l’eau.”
I couldn’t make sense of this. What kind of animals had we become? What kind of savagery could we sink to?
I stood up, staring into the hills, “What do you want?!”
I heard my voice echo.
“When has he suffered enough for you?!”
I was staring hard into the hills. He was there somewhere. I wanted to see this man, to see the beast behind the gun. Before I could, I felt someone slam against me. I collapsed behind a barrier and looked up to see Michael atop me. He’d run from cover and tackled me to the ground.
We lay there quietly. I couldn’t hear the French man any longer. When I looked, I saw his dead eyes staring into the dirt.
I peered over the barrier to the hillside. I could see no one. But I didn’t need to see him to know. I’d just had my first encounter with the Jackal.