Near Goka Falls
“Want a Kit-Kat?” This was Yuri, a Russian reporter still chasing the stories here. We are two of a small handful of the press that haven’t fled the country. I passed on the chocolate and aimed my camera out the passenger window catching some shots of the zebra in the distance.
Yuri was driving us to Goka Falls, a tall majestic waterfall. We were scheduled to meet with a local commander of the APR. I’m not sure what we expected to find. For me, I’m always searching for the personal angle. Who are these people who can do such horrible things? What does it take to choose the life of a mercenary? In fact, is it even a choice for all of them?
Goka Falls sits high atop a large cliff. A narrow winding road leads up to the APR’s complex beside the head of the Falls. We arrived at the base of the road and were waved through the checkpoint. We drove on up, Yuri carefully navigating the twists and turns. The foliage was thick with trees and vines. We could barely see the sky beyond.
Then out of nowhere: POP POP POP POP!
The window cracked with two bullet holes. Yuri swerved to the side and slammed into a tree.
And again: POP POP POP!
We crouched low in our seats, but the bullets kept coming. Yuri flipped the car in reverse and hit the gas, but the wheels spun. We were stuck.
POP POP POP POP!
“I’m hit! I’m hit!”
That was Yuri. He held his right shoulder where blood was spilling out.
I shouted out the window, “We’re reporters! The press! Press, press!
POP POP POP!
Glass shards splintered around us. We both huddled low. “Press! Press! Press!” But no matter what we shouted, they kept firing…whoever ‘they’ was.
We heard another vehicle rumble up to us. This was it, we had to identify ourselves fast or we were dead.
I threw my hands in the air, clearly visible and shouted, “Press! Press! Press! Press!”
I heard some shouts near us – Zulu. The shooting had stopped, and then I heard another voice much farther off. Again, in Zulu.
They both shouted back and forth while Yuri and I huddled low. Yuri’s shoulder was bleeding badly and I handed him my jacket to press against it.
A man approached the car and opened the door. It was the guard at the checkpoint below. There had been a misunderstanding. The guards up here didn’t catch the radio message about our approach. He actually laughed and said, “Lucky for you he’s a terrible shot”. That was enough for me.
“Are you mad? He’s shot my friend! I need medical attention right now. He’s been shot in the shoulder by your stupid man out there.”
That seemed to wake up the guard. He nodded and helped to move Yuri into his vehicle. We then drove to the compound where he received treatment. The wound was not serious fortunately. But the entire episode tainted my meeting with the APR commander.