I have been traveling to, in and around Africa since July 1981, for almost 35 years. I now look back on some of my adventures which stand out the most. Here is the first one I ever wrote about in detail.
I originally posted this story on my first blog, in November of 2008. I am reposting it here now as my first entry on this new blog that I have decided to start and hopefully to maintain and develop, unlike my previous one. I am posting it here now, unedited from its original version. I welcome your comments and hope you will continue to follow my exploits in Africa and around the world as I post them.
The first African I ever got to know to any significant extent was Yemboini Thiombiano Jean-Paul. He worked as a cook for the USAID project which preceded ours in Fada N’Gourma in eastern Upper Volta, as it was called then. I was hired by Syracuse University, my alma mater, as one of a 3 person team to study the recurrent costs of local government services in that country. The study was financed by USAID and we were closely associated with them all the time we were there, 13 months. USAID had financed the construction of a house in Fada for a multi-year project headed by David Wilcock. I no longer remember the nature of that project. It ended before we arrived; AID bestowed that house on us for the duration of our study. We were encouraged to continue to employ the 3 men who had worked at that house all the time the Wilcocks were living there: Koagli, the day guard, Angadi, the night guard, and Yemboini, the cook.
Koagli was a slight man. Friendly but spoke little French. Angadi was a more imposing fellow whose French was better but, like so many other Africans I have met in my 24 years on that continent, it was difficult for him to conceive of us white people as anything more than just a means to acquire some money. I remember that he once told me that money always flows from white to black, never from black to white.
Yemboini was exceptional in many ways. I still remember the first day I met him. He came to the house the first day I visited the house even before I moved in. He was an imposing figure: tall, muscular, good looking, with a demeanor that made everyone happy. His face almost always bore a huge thrilling smile. His whole face said smile. His most striking facial characteristic, after the brightness and joy, was the scar which ran diagonally across his face, symbolic of his tribal membership as a Gourmantche.
During the time I was in Fada and in Upper Volta I got to know Yemboini very well. I spent a lot of time with his family, in his house. He showed me everything about their life: the way he put woven straw mats, rolled into cylinders in trees to attract honey bees and provide the family with honey, the way he could pick a Guinea fowl out of a tree with a slingshot, the way he cut beer bottles into glasses, all about the life they lived then and still live now in the villages of Africa.
To call the dwellings in which most Africans in villages live “houses” would give an American an idea that is quite different from anything they would expect. In fact, most people live in compounds, groups of small round mud huts with thatched roofs, each measuring about 10 or 12 feet in diameter, none very much bigger or smaller than any other. In each hut sleeps one adult. A married woman with children would share her hut with the youngest children. A child would build his or her own hut at the age that he or she wants it. So, in essence, their huts are like the rooms of one of our houses but the house is just a random group of huts, sometimes built in a circle, sometimes less uniformly spaced, but always around a common central area where the family lives together.
Yemboini lived with his family in a relatively sophisticated compound. The round hut is the traditional favorite although if anyone has any money they’ll build a rectangular mud house, built of the same mud bricks but finished with a smooth stucco which prevents or significantly reduces erosion. The important advantage of a rectangular shaped house is that it accommodates a corrugated iron roof. Iron roofs wear out much more slowly and need to be replace far less often than a thatched roof and leaks far less. Yemboini’s house was a mixture of rectangular houses and round huts. Yemboini, having worked so long with Western people, had an income and had also developed a taste for many of the things he saw Western people use. He built gutters to catch the rain water to reduce the family’s trips to the well for water. He installed a water tank above his house to store the water and built a shower and a sink inside his house. He is the only African I’ve ever seen to build such a convenience in rural villages anywhere in my travels throughout the continent. Yemboini also had a water filter; he boiled and filtered his drinking water. Almost no African in Africa does that.
I learned more about Africa from him than from anyone else ever. I admired his ability to thrive in an environment in which the vast majority of his contemporaries were only surviving. We became great friends.
After the year I spent in Africa I started the business I still run, importing art from Africa. I made as much effort as I could to visit Yemboini on my trips back to his country. At first it was easy since I only did business in that country when I first started my business. If I couldn’t go to Fada he would visit me in Ouagadougou, the capital, where I did, and continue to do, most of my business there. But ultimately I branched out and started traveling more and more in the other countries of the region, so I was in less contact with him and his family. But I never lost touch with them and every time I would go there I was always welcomed back joyously, as an old friend.
Yemboini died in the Spring of 2003. He told no one that he was suffering until it was too late. He had intestinal parasites which could have been cured at the outset with simple, cheap drugs available at any pharmacy. He was simply not in the habit of visiting pharmacies when he was ill. Further, since the only symptom at first is just diarrhea, which is endemic, he never considered it to be anything unusual. He just didn’t know it could get out of hand as it did. And he never said anything to me or anyone else.
I was able to visit Yemboini’s family in May of 2003, the year Yemboini died in February. I found the children in the house but Sylvie had moved to her older sister’s house in Diabo. I went to Diabo to see Sylvie. She was not just distraught; she was stricken with some illness which left her unable to walk. I found Sylvie seated on the ground in one of that family’s huts. She was thrilled to see me but was unable, for a still unexplained reason, to walk. I took her to Ouagadougou to see a doctor. Julienne was living in Ouaga then so she was able to stay with her there. I don’t remember the doctor’s diagnosis and can’t even be sure that it helped her to go there, but everyone familiar with the story believes my intervention is what helped Sylvie get back on her feet. She is now walking normally.
Regrettably my African business overall has diminished gradually in the past 6 years so my trips to Africa have been less frequent. And it was always out of the way to go to Fada so I had not been back to visit Fada since May of 2003 after Yemboini died.
However, in late March of this year, 2006, I received an email from Jean-Baptiste, Yemboini’s oldest son, who is now 22. It was the first communication of any kind that I had ever received from him or from anyone in that family other than Sylvie. Yemboini never went to school so he was illiterate. Sylvie was able to write so it was always she who wrote to me when Yemboini wanted to write to me. When I was with the family in 2003 I had left my email address with Julienne, Yemboini’s oldest daughter, who lived then in Ouagadougou with her husband. (She is now 24 and lives in Diapaga, , a town an hour east of Fada, between Fada and the Niger border, still in Gourmanthche country). I anticipated a communication with her but she never wrote. She never gave me an address, either email or snail mail, so I was unable to write to her. So now, out of the blue, comes a relatively generic email from JB, suggesting that they needed money for the school fees of the younger children in the family.
His only brother, Barthelemy, now 18, lives in Diapaga with Julienne. The older of his younger sisters, Isabelle, 15, lives in Fada with her uncle, Talardia, Yemboini’s younger brother whom Yemboini always called Petit Frere. Yemboini’s only other brother, his older brother, was Nyini, whom, as I recall, lived somewhere further away, perhaps in Diapaga also. The youngest of the family is Michaeline, now 7, lives now with her aunt, her mother’s older sister, in Diabo, a village a short distance west of Fada.
Yemboini always regretted that he never went to school. It was his father who had decided that school was not necessary for him. As the father is always the head of the family everyone follows his decisions. But Yemboini, as the head of his own household, resolved that all of his children would attend school, at least to some extent. And they all have.
I did not object to JB’s request for help with the school fees, but I didn’t feel good just to send money without re-establishing some communication with the family and without finding out what the family situation was now that 3 years had passed since Yemboini’s death. I was thrilled that JB had written and I wrote back. I told him a little about our lives in America and I told him that I was planning a trip to Africa within the next couple of months. I proposed to him that he come to Lome in Togo to meet me there. That way I could have avoided a trip that is really quite out of the way for me. I wanted to meet him face to face to get back together again and work out some kind of solution to address his request. In fact, I had never gotten to know him since he had become an adult. I knew him only as a small child.
His most recent history had been turbulent, rather, relatively turbulent for a youth in a relatively isolated village in the middle of Africa.
His mother, Sylvie, was no less industrious than Yemboini. She had run a very small business along the side of the road which ran past their house. In African French that kind of business is called “tablier”. This translates roughly as “table man”, or woman in this case. She had a small wooden table constructed in primitive African fashion upon which she displayed her wares: cigarettes which she sold individually, spices wrapped in small torn pieces of paper, just enough for a single pot of sauce to be prepared for a single meal, some small tomatoes or whatever other vegetable they happened to have, teabags sold one by one, small cans of condensed milk, etc. A typical sale would be 5 or 10 CFA francs – 10 francs is equivalent to just under $.02 at the current rate of exchange. A large sale would be 25 francs and very uncommonly she might make a 100 franc sale. Sylvie had managed to accumulate 150,000 francs (now just under $300) a vast fortune to most people in that part of the world (the statistics for that country state that the average annual income is approximately that amount).
Approximately 3 years before the death of his father JB had taken all the money his mother had saved along with a neighbor’s bicycle and had fled. I visited the family a couple of times during that period and found them grief-stricken at JB’s disappearance. It was hard to know whether Sylvie was more angry at the loss of her capital or the loss of her son. Yemboini was clearly more concerned about JB than the money. Compounding their loss was the fact that someone had seen JB take the bicycle so the owner was able to compel Yemboini to reimburse him for the stolen bike. Fortunately Jean-Baptiste returned just before Yemboini’s death. Julienne told me when I visited them after Yemboini’s death that Yemboini was just waiting to see his son before he allowed himself to die.
So for 3 years no one had any news of JB or had any idea what had become of him, whether he was dead or alive. Now we know that he went to Ghana to learn English. Oddly, although most Africans speak more than one African language, the only European language they speak is the one that is the official language of the country they live in, the language of the metropolitan power which colonized them most recently. So in West Africa when you’re in Burkina Faso (the name of Upper Volta since 1984) you can always find someone who speaks French but very few people speak any English. In Ghana almost no one speaks French; almost everyone speaks English. However, in both cases the European language is virtually never the person’s mother tongue. As a result, there is a vast region larger than the United States where French is widely spoken: Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Cameroon, Chad, both Congos, Togo, Benin, Ivory Coast and Mauritania, interrupted by large regions with significant populations whose common language is English: Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and more.
It is quite uncommon for anyone from a French-speaking country to speak English or for an Anglophone to speak French as well. I have to conclude that Jean-Baptiste made a very courageous and insightful move, though ultimately probably ill-considered, when he immersed himself in English by going to Ghana. In fact, he learned English so well that he obtained a diploma in English while there and earned money teaching French to English speakers there. Indeed, to hear him speak now he speaks English as though he were a Ghanaian. Theoretically this should be a skill he can translate into a good career.
When I wrote back to JB I suggested to him that he obtain his own email address rather than using someone else’s. He had written to me using an address which I presumed was not his, as though he was sharing or borrowing that address. When he wrote to me the second time he explained to me what his true situation is, the reason for which he was not using an address of his own. It turns out he is in prison in Fada. He had been there for 10 months, now a year as I write this. The address he was using was that of Sister Genevieve Joliveau, a Catholic nun living in Fada who is associated with an organization called Prisonniers Sans Frontiers, Prisoners without Borders. I believe her main reason for being in Fada is religious although she maintains a significant interest in the plight of prisoners there.
When I heard of JB’s plight I was shocked. I resolved to add some additional time to the trip I was then planning to Africa to be able to go there to see for myself what was happening and hopefully help to free Jean-Baptiste.
Of course I had no understanding of anything legal in Burkina Faso. I only considered intervention because of my friendship with Celestin Dabire. When I worked in that country 24 years ago I established a long-standing friendship him. He is Burkinabe and worked a long time in the government of that country. Celestin had been the participant in the study which employed me, representing the government of what was then Upper Volta. Before I left for Africa I contacted him and he agreed to help me.
When I arrived in Ouagadougou, I went straight to my hotel. It was the hottest time of the year in Burkina Faso, the end of the dry season, just before the rains start, which begins the planting season. We met by the pool of my favorite hotel in Ouagadougou, where I’ve been staying on all my visits there for 24 years. We spoke of the situation; Celestin told me he had called his friend, the lawyer who would assist us. The lawyer had agreed to meet us at the hotel that evening. Celestin stayed with me until almost 11 PM but the lawyer never showed. Celestin wasn’t concerned; he said we’d see him on our return from Fada. We went to Fada together the next day to check out the situation.
We went straight to the prison to meet Jean-Baptiste. Normally the prison requires a permission issued by the court for a visit to be authorized. But since Sister Genevieve was well known there and had already told them about my visit, the prison officials allowed us to visit JB without any formalities.
JB is in the Maison d’Arret of Fada. It is a relatively small building, all on one level, completely enclosed by cement walls with apparently minimal ventilation, painted brick red. The windows are all shuttered with horizontal green metal shutters covered with bars. I estimate the size of the building to be about 2400 square feet, give or take a couple hundred square feet. I have no idea what his life is like inside; I really wanted to visit the inside and Sister Genevieve told me that there was no reason to believe they would not let me in. I would only have to ask. She visits inside regularly. The opportunity just didn’t arise on this, my first visit there.
The prison atmosphere is serious but oddly casual. Just outside the gate, as we approached, there were 5 or 6 prison guards lounging around, eating, smoking, talking under a tree, protecting themselves from the always hot sun. We went in the gate. Immediately to the right is a small office, across from that, on the left is another, larger enclosed area which I presume are offices but I never asked to find out. The main enclosure of the prison looms behind the open courtyard. It only has two small doors to enter it, one on the right and one on the left. One could get the feeling that it’s perfectly acceptable to walk around going through any doors or talking to anyone just as you would anywhere else. There were guards in uniforms with guns but most of the guards weren’t carrying guns; I was only aware of a few guns casually placed on benches – available but not threatening.
To the right in the courtyard, next to the office is a kitchen area where the mediocre food the prisoners are given is prepared, completely African style, on wood fires. One day I was there I saw a series of plates of to (pronounced “toe” like on your foot), the African millet porridge most commonly eaten in that region of Africa. It is preferable for to to be finely ground and served with a hot meat or vegetable sauce. You eat it by tearing off pieces of the partially solidified porridge and dipping it in the sauce. It appears that to the prisoners are given has no accompanying sauce. Their to is coarsely ground, reminiscent of the food we always fed to our dog when I lived in Fada, a to that no one would eat unless there was nothing else to eat, the least desirable food conceivable. JB told me that they are not even given enough of that food and families have to augment the food they get. However, when families do bring food, the prisoner does not get all that food for himself. He has to share it with other prisoners and very often the guards take a share.
The visiting area is a thatched awning held up by cut branches against the wall of the prison, in between the two doors leading into the prison proper. There is a bench to sit on against the wall and some logs for additional seating around the small perimeter of the visiting area.
In spite of the casual appearance one became aware very quickly what the acceptable limits were since all of our movements were closely watched and if we would approach any part of the courtyard they considered off limits they would immediately tell us not to go there. There were very strict guidelines in place, enforced only by close monitoring of all the guards present. We had to register in the little office to the right, then we could sit in the visiting area. On one of our later visits the visiting area was quite full so we asked if we could sit with JB on some benches that were to the left as we entered the courtyard, just around the corner of the guards’ offices. This area was slightly more private. The guard we asked said it was okay, but 5 minutes later another, more senior official approached, scolding us for disobeying the rules and told us the visit was over. We apologized profusely and he relented but we had to join the crowd under the awning, which was no more than 10 feet from where we were sitting when we were admonished. Obviously this prison was as regimented as any although the outward signs of it were few.
On our first visit we were there alone so our visit was comfortable enough. JB was very happy to see us. We spoke of his family and my family and of our trip and of our visit. Jean Baptiste told me that there are 162 prisoners in the jail. Half of them are there pending the results of investigations, as is Jean Baptiste. Neither they nor JB have been charged with any crime; they are just being held until the police investigations are complete. We were told the process can take from 1 to 5 years. Of course, the investigations don’t take 5 years; it just takes that long before the police get around to doing it. Another 40 of the prisoners have been charged, their investigations now complete; they are waiting for their trials. Only the other 42 have actually been convicted of crimes and are now serving their sentences. JB has now been in prison for one year waiting for his investigation to occur.
Our visits were not long, no more than 30 minutes each. Sister Genevieve was with us for the first two visits. She is a cute, short lady who rides a motorbike, very energetic and enthusiastic. We talked a lot with her about JB’s legal problems. Of course both Sister Genevieve and Sylvie are convinced of JB’s innocence. Celestin arranged for us to meet an old friend of his who is a gendarme, a national policeman, whom, Celestin knew, had been involved in the investigation. He was friendly but would not talk to us about the details of the evidence or the investigation. We were told that many people had been interviewed, including the family of the old man who had been killed and the neighbors. The old man’s family believes that JB is guilty.
As I understand it, this is what happened. JB was walking along the main road (indeed the only thoroughfare that could be called a road. The whole area is crisscrossed with paths leading everywhere but most are just worn by continuous foot and motorbike use and are very narrow. This is the only road that can accommodate vehicular traffic on a regular basis and actually leads to other, more distant, places. That day, JB had been in the bush, cutting firewood for his mother and took that same road to walk home. He claims to have seen nothing, no evidence of the crime for which he is in jail. He is only known to have passed that way on that day. According to him he passed that way some time before the crime took place. An old man, one of JB’s family’s neighbors, also passed that way, driving a donkey cart carrying two large bags of millet, the grain used to make to. Someone attacked the old man with large knives of the type peasant people in Africa common carry to clear brush. Most would think they meant to steal the 2 bags of millet but the millet was not stolen, apparently because the perpetrators didn’t want to be found with that evidence. This is all that anyone who would talk to us would tell us. We do not know the substance of the investigations by the police. We anticipate that the lawyer will discover all of that information in the course of his involvement.
Traditionally all the sons of a couple live with their parents together with their own families until the death of the parents. When JB’s grandparents had both died, Yemboini took his family further outside of Fada and built another house there, presumably to raise his family there and provide a home for his sons and their families. Yemboini’s younger brother, Talardia, stayed in his parents’ house. After Yemboini’s death, Sylvie moved out of the house Yemboini built to live with another man. I asked them if this was her new husband and no one would accept to use that terminology. This is the man she is living with now since it would be very difficult for anyone to live alone. She now lives with another man, in his house. Yemboini’s family’s old house is now uninhabited, largely in disrepair. Syvie’s new house is up the road from there, a much smaller compound.
Yemboini and Sylvie’s children have dispersed.
I had known of Jean Baptiste’s flight to Ghana but only learned on this trip how unhappy his life before this event appears to have been. In our conversations at the prison JB told me that he has learned a lot since he’s been incarcerated, about values and family and life. The implication is that he was floundering before that. On this trip I visited his uncle’s house in Fada, the house where his parents lived when he was born, the house where his grandparents had lived, the house where I first knew Yemboini and his whole family. Everyone was very happy to see me. I noticed one troublesome thing. Although most of the component buildings of this compound are traditional round thatched-roof huts, the family also has a couple of rectangular, metal roofed buildings. I don’t know how those are used or if anyone lives in them. One of them, the larger of the two, has a metal door painted light blue. Someone had painted on that door, in red paint and in English, the phrase, “I like the people but they do not like me”. It was not signed but it could only have been written by Jean Baptiste since he’s the only person in the vicinity who knows any English at all, much less enough to write something in English. It is obviously a call for help to a community of deaf ears since most people in that area are illiterate and those who do read and write can only do so in French.
My own analysis is, the conclusions that I draw are, that Jean-Baptiste is an intelligent, now relatively educated person living in a family, in a community, which, although it values education in principle still has no idea how to incorporate an educated individual into its social context. JB’s family undoubtedly pressured him to continue to live with them, to help them farm the land, and to live out his life in the same way that they had always done. He presumably would have rebelled, saying that he can no longer be satisfied with such a life and wanted the family to accept his individuality. Not only the family, but the entire community would have then begun to see him as a renegade, as an outcast. He may very well have antagonized people in the community to varying degrees. So that when the police came to investigate, the neighbors named him as one of the most likely suspects.
We spent the night in Fada, visited Jean Baptiste again the next day, then returned to Ouagadougou. I extended my stay in Burkina Faso so that I could meet the next day with the lawyer. We had lunch by the pool at my hotel. The lawyer, Fahiri Somda, called “maitre” (master), a title of respect, outlined the process, the activities he would undertake. There would be a cost of 75,000 CFA francs (about $145) to open the case file. He would charge 220,000 CFA francs (about $427) per trip to Fada from Ouagadougou, calculated on the basis of 25 francs per kilometer (about $.08 per mile). He would make three trips. On the first trip he would read all of the court and police documentation resulting from the investigation thus far and meet and interview Jean Baptiste. The second trip he would interview all of the people involved: the investigators and the witnesses already deposed by the police. On the third trip he would present his findings to the court and, presuming his findings merit it, present a formal request for a provisional release. Further, depending on the nature of the findings he could even request that the charges be dropped all together. There would be an additional 150,000 francs (about $291) for the documents that the lawyer would prepare. The total would be 885,000 francs (about $1,718). I explained that my involvement in the case was completely charitable, that I had nothing to gain from his freedom. The maitre agreed to lower the fee to 665,000 francs (about $1,291), a discount of 220,000 francs (about $427), the value of one trip, although he would still undertake the 3 trips.
I had $1,200 in cash which I considered would convert to 615,000 francs. I would make up the difference with 50,000 francs of the money I had already changed and needed for the continuation of my trip. I wanted to have my agent in Ouagadougou take the money, change it with the merchants I normally deal with and who offer the most advantageous exchange rate. The bank rate is virtually always much less advantageous. Celestin thought that would take longer so he suggested that he send someone to pick up the money from me. He sent Yibe, a good friend of his family’s whom I also have known for some time. I gave the dollars and francs I had to Yibe.
I met with Celestin and Maitre Somda on a Thursday; I was to leave Ouagadougou to return to Lome, Togo the following day. Maitre Somda agreed to open the case file and to begin the work the day of my departure. I didn’t anticipate that Celestin would take the dollars to the bank to change them; we didn’t discuss it at all. When he took the money to the bank they told him that one of the $100 bills I had given him was counterfeit. They wouldn’t change it. Further, they changed the remaining $1,100 at a lower rate so Celestin now had 87,000 francs less than the amount we agreed on. I was already on the road to Lome when he called me on my friend Soule’s cell phone; Soule is my agent in Togo and the guy in whose car I was traveling back to Lome. Celestin explained the exhange problem and asked me to send the difference to him, which I agreed to do. I believed there was no hurry since they already had 578,000 francs. I was at the end of my trip in Africa and the money I had left was limited. What Celestin did not tell me then or subsequently was that he did not intend to give any money to Maitre Somda until the entire amount was complete. Celestin called Soule at least twice more asking for the money but didn’t make it clear until the third time that he had not given anything to the lawyer yet. By the time I learned that the lawyer had not received any money and that he had done nothing yet I was in Accra, Ghana hours before my departure to return home. There was nothing I could do at that point.
Soon after my return home to the US I called Celestin and asked him to confirm that he had not given any money to the lawyer. He told me that the agreement we had was that I would pay him 665,000 so he couldn’t give him less. I was quite upset with Celestin. I considered him my friend. I thought he should have known that it was not my intention that he not receive the full amount when I gave the money to Yibe that Thursday night. Further, common sense would clearly indicate that the lawyer could begin the work with the money I had already given Celestin. I told Celestin on the phone that I wanted him to give the money to the lawyer and explain that I would send the balance very soon and that he should begin the work. Celestin told me that he didn’t think he could do anything with the money until I told him that specifically. He said that he didn’t think it was correct to give a lower amount than the agreed upon sum because “lawyers have their principles”. He said that since the lawyer didn’t know me he could believe that I would allow him to complete the work and never pay the balance. The fact that Celestin does know me and that it is only because of my relationship with Celestin that I agreed to give the money to him at all did not impress him, apparently.
In early June, I sent the remaining balance, including 5,000 additional that Celestin told me I had to pay to reimburse him for his phone calls to Soule in pursuit of the balance. As of now, the end of June, I have only spoken once more with Celestin. He told me that the lawyer has written a letter to the court in Fada to introduce himself as Jean-Baptiste’s advocate and to request an appointment to undertake his first trip there. I have not yet heard anything directly from the lawyer and have been unable to reach him on the phone at all.
Celestin did give the counterfeit $100 bill to my agent in Ouagadougou who took it to the merchant I normally deal with their to change my money. He confirmed that it is a counterfeit bill. So did my bank in the US give me a bill that was counterfeit? Or did Yibe or Celestin switch one of the bills? My agent took the bill to another money changer who accepted it and changed it. My agent told me she would keep that money for a month to give the money changer time to respond to her, in the event he would find it to be counterfeit. So far I have not heard that my agent has had to reimburse the money changer. If I had taken the bill to my merchant money changer myself without handing it to anyone else I would have brought it back to the bank in the US to verify its authenticity. But since I gave it to another person (in fact 2) I could not know what had happened in the interim.
According to Maitre Somda, the provisional release must be approved by both the judge and the district attorney. If either one of them would object to it, the lawyer would have to undertake further activity, i.e., further investigation, to attempt to convince the reticent party. That would imply further expense. Even if they both agree, either one could require that a bail amount be established which only I would be able to pay. No matter what the conditions, if Jean Baptiste would be granted provisional freedom there would still be a trial whenever the investigation would be complete and the court would be prepared to prosecute. A trial would cost even more money.
I wrote the above passage in early June 2006 after my return from my trip to Africa. I wrote the following in early August 2006.
I was finally able to speak with Jean Baptiste on the phone. I had received an email informing me of his release on July 20 when I was in China. It was Celestin who had emailed me to tell me. Celestin told me JB had been released on July 19, which, apparently, was the day Celestin had learned of it. I returned home on August 2 and called him as soon after that as I could. We spoke for a long time on the phone. However, JB told me that he had actually been released on June 30, his birthday, coincidentally. He was released together with one of the other young men who had been imprisoned on suspicion of the same crime. It turns out that the lawyer I hired for $1,400 did absolutely nothing to obtain the release. Both he and Celestin were completely unaware of any of the circumstances surrounding the release.
On one hand I was chagrined to learn that my $1,400 was effectively stolen and had no effect (in addition to the cost of the trip itself which was sizeable although I did not calculate it.) However, JB assures me that my visit itself, irrespective of any attempt I made to hire a lawyer, was instrumental in assuring his release. JB told me that beginning the day of my visit everyone at the jail began to treat him very differently. He told me that, in his words, he was treated like a president, a king or a great tribal chief. Exclusively as a result of the interest I expressed by my visits over the course of 2 days to JB in the jail, the court initiated an intensive review of the case and determined that not only JB but all 3 of the other suspects in jail were to be exonerated and released. This, JB says, is the proof that the lawyer did nothing. If the lawyer had been involved it would have been only he who would have been affected. Further, JB said, no lawyer could introduce himself into the case without first obtaining the prisoner’s signature. JB said that the lawyer never contacted JB in any way. In fact, when I was there I told JB that I would hire a lawyer but when none ever appeared he presumed I had done nothing. So it was a very great surprise to him when he was released on June 30 and an even greater surprise when he learned that I had actually hired the lawyer, if actually to no avail.
In fact, I got involved only because of my relationship with JB’s deceased father. I never knew JB as an adult. I had seen him at Yemboini’s house as a child but that’s not the same as knowing him as an adult. In the course of my conversation with him on the phone I was very impressed by his articulate speech and his high level of intelligence. As a result of my trip to China, where I am pursuing a business with a company in China that sells packaging machines, I have now begun to work with JB to sell water packaging machines in Africa. Hopefully this will give him some income and it will give us a means to establish a closer relationship. I want to ensure his further education preferably outside of Africa, either in the US, Europe or China.
The whole thing has not only been interesting and instructive but ultimately very exciting.