The Obnoxious African American
You would always have one of these guys that would be over the top and seemed to get off lording it over these [African] people who had nothing. He would have photographs on him so that he could show someone a picture of his car, or house, something they would never have and he treasured so little that he kept the picture in his sweaty coveralls—hideous, directed bigotry, picking on people that were weaker than you.
They had segregated eating areas. He went down to eat with his brothers and found out they were eating things he could not eat and, more to the point, they all wanted to kill him. These [deckhand] riggers are eating with their work knives and the place is filled with guys with daggers by their plates.
Once, we brought in a different tribe to work, and they ate with us, because if they went into the indigenous galley, they would literally kill each other. That was just the way it was. So these guys would have to eat in the white side. I saw very little hatred of black people over there. We didn’t mind them eating with us, but our food didn’t suit them. It was segregated but it wasn’t. It was not from segregationalist feeling, but just because it wasn’t practical.
There was absolutely no theft [by indigenous deckhands] on the barge, not so much as a bar of soap. The captain ruled that village and they saw what happened to the guys in the canoes.
The one African American comes upstairs, a tall, noble-looking and loud person. He couldn’t operate quietly, so he came into our galley and says that they’re are eating shit down there. He was so unpleasant that you couldn’t talk to him. He managed to insult the black men in the kitchen, telling them they should be working on their own, not slaving away for The Man, basically a racial agitator. There is no sense in sending him home, for he would be replaced by another like him. The majority are just making money, but some brought their attitude with them and all the Africans hated the black Americans and found them intolerable—jumped up too much by half. That particular fellow stayed in the wheelhouse, because he wasn’t safe anywhere and he would play solitaire on the computer. If he had to work on his gear, he’d run down and tell his assistant to finish it and run back up, hoping no one would ambush him.
Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea
The Brits, the first thing they do, any time they find themselves in a tropical environment, is take their britches off. Bioko Island is where the first King Kong movie was made, one of the homes of the Mountain Gorilla. The island itself is a series of volcanic cones. One top of the major volcano was blown off in antiquity and there is a beautiful lake in this crater. The Russians used to use it as a beach area. They will give you a gorilla tour and part of the tour was this recreational place, a nice building, where you could walk through these echoing corridors, like the final scene of a movie where you’re walking through these abandoned halls, haunted by the spirits of these isolated Russians, a psychically powerful place to be, a gorgeous beauty and this decay. The trail of another bunch of white guys that pulled some crap off and went on home and all is left is their spore. There are rotting planes the Russians left at the end of the strip—pretty historic.
The British guy: he was a typical, cocky diver, good shape, strong guy, with his daisy duke shorts and hiking boots—they just do that, put on shorts. He was outraging public decency, acting like he was on the Riviera. You can’t do that—probably never met a religious person in his life so he didn’t understand it.
We were walking around the town in these Daisy Dukes. We turn up a street. The dwellings are better, a nice view, you can see the Ocean. We are passing this particularly large, freshly-painted place with a tall wall, with a large central gate, big enough for a limo to pull through. There was a sub door down in the corner and these four elite looking soldiers come out. They were snappily uniformed, berets, all had identical Rayban sunglasses, pressed uniforms, brass and boots shined, obviously security troops, not field troops, armed with the latest in “rattle” guns, H&Ks, I think.
They are expressionless, not mad, not sad, totally expressionless and they snatched him up and marched him out of there quick. I started to say something and one of them looked at me and I stopped saying. They kept him for two days for outraging the public decency. The company went and paid some money and promised he’d learned his lesson and wouldn’t wear Daisy Dukes no more.
(c) 2017 James LaFond