PROFILE Served as a courier during the civil war.
IN 1997, while rebel and government forces battled it out in Freetown, I volunteered to carry correspondence from Freetown to the temporary branch office in Conakry, Guinea.
At the city bus station, I boarded a bus with a group of other men. Gunfire echoed in the distance, filling us with fear. As we drove through the city streets, a barrage of gunfire erupted around us. Our driver backtracked and took another route. Soon afterward, we were stopped by a group of rebel gunmen who ordered us out of the vehicle. After questioning us, they let us pass. Later, we were stopped by another group of soldiers. Because one of our passengers knew their commander, they too let us go. At the edge of town, we met a third group of rebels who questioned us but then ordered us to move on. As we made our way north, we passed many more roadblocks until early that evening when our dusty vehicle rolled into Conakry.
During later trips I carried cartons of literature, office equipment, branch records, and relief supplies. I traveled mostly by car and minibus. But I also used porters and canoes to lug literature through rain forests and across rivers.
Once while carrying equipment from Freetown to Conakry, the minibus that I was in was stopped at the border by rebel soldiers. One of them spotted my luggage and began to question me suspiciously. Just then I saw a former schoolmate among the rebels. The soldiers were calling him Roughneck, and he was the most ferocious-looking soldier of the bunch. I told my questioner that I had come to see Roughneck, and then I called out to him. Roughneck instantly recognized me and ran to meet me. We embraced and laughed. Then he turned serious.
“Are you having any problems,” he asked.
“I’m trying to cross into Guinea,” I replied.
He promptly ordered the soldiers to let our minibus pass through the checkpoint uninspected.
From that day forward, whenever I stopped at that checkpoint, Roughneck ordered the soldiers to let me pass. I gave the soldiers copies of our magazines, which they appreciated very much. Soon they were calling me The Watchtower Man.