Have you ever met a spy? Have you ever been mistaken for an agent of a foreign power? If the answer to either question is yes, you probably don’t want to answer the question. My answer, if you must know… is ‘maybe’ 😀
Years ago, while living on the African continent, in a country that shall remain nameless, I met a man. I was sitting in the lobby of a fabulous hotel when I locked eyes with a dignified-looking man. Why was I there? Would you believe me if I told you that I was out of cash and that fancy hotels are one of the few places you can use a credit card in a third world country?
So there I was, enjoying a drink with a friend, when I first saw this stranger, and he caught my eye because it was evident that we were both of Hispanic descent. Finding another Hispanic in California is an everyday thing, but in Africa, not so much. He was dressed in a suit, and was sitting with other men in suits. One of the men next to him looked a bit like Mr. T, with a gold ring on almost every finger. We smiled at each other, one of us spoke (I no longer remember who), and suddenly we were in deep conversation. My new acquaintance was from Havana, but now living in one of the West African countries. He told me he was a doctor for the military, and had come to town for a conference. We chatted late into the evening, and when we were done, Dr. Cuba (that’s not his real name of course), went outside the hotel with me so I could get a cab. Suddenly, he looked a bit concerned, and when I asked him why, he told me that he wasn’t supposed to go outside the hotel grounds without a bodyguard. Since the country we were in isn’t known for being dangerous, I was a bit puzzled as to why a doctor would need a bodyguard, but I didn’t ask anymore questions. We made plans to meet the next evening for dinner, and I went home.
The next day, I went back to the fancy hotel, taking my friend (I’ll call her Nina) with me. We sat in the lobby with Dr. Cuba and Mr. T, to have a few drinks. While we were sitting there, a very distinguished African gentleman came by to say “hello”. He gave Nina a smile, and said something about how she should come visit his country. “Who is that?”, I asked Dr. Cuba. He replied, “Oh, that’s the brother of the king of Swaziland. He’s got about 20 wives.” Nina’s ears perked up. She started going on about how she’d love to go visit Swaziland. I had visions of her becoming a harem girl, and I worried how I would ever explain it to the school where she worked and I volunteered.
We moved to the restaurant and talked about family. Dr. Cuba had 2 daughters in Havana, and they were big fans of Haagen-Daas ice cream. “I have it flown in once a week from the Dominican Republic, there’s no place to get it in Cuba.”, he said. Let me tell you, the brother of the king of Swaziland doesn’t impress me much, but having ice cream flown in weekly from another country, that has to cost a fortune! “So, what exactly do you do for the military?” I asked Dr. Cuba. “I can’t tell you. But I promise it’s not illegal or immoral.”, he replied. And then he added, “What about you? How come I never see you alone? You always have a bodyguard.” I laughed. Did he think I was a spy or something?
As I pondered the cost of planes, fuel and ice cream, we were interrupted by Mr. T, who explained that Dr. Cuba was needed elsewhere. The Dr. excused himself from the table and was gone for a long time. When I asked him where he’d been, he replied that he’d been to see the general of the South African military. “He was sick. I gave him a shot.”, said Dr. Cuba. I wasn’t buying it. This is the kind of line James Bond would say to make things sound normal. “I believe you went to see a general,” I replied, “But not because the man was sick.” At that time Dr. Cuba’s country of residence was experiencing political turmoil. There were various factions vying for power, and it was one of those countries where diamonds are illegally obtained, traded or exported. There was a suitcase sitting next to Dr. Cuba, and I began to wonder what was inside it. Secret papers? Instruments of torture? Blood diamonds?
Dr. Cuba asked me what I did at my volunteer job, and I explained that I was creating a computer literacy curriculum, so that teachers and students could learn about computers. “That sounds great.” he said, “If you want to do that in my country, I’ll get you a first class plane ticket and pay you a salary. All you have to do is call me, and it will be waiting for you at the airport.” I was intrigued, but I also wondered if this was a good way to disappear and end up in a body bag somewhere. A few minutes later, several men in suits came up to us and stood in a row. One of the men said “Dr. Cuba, sorry to bother you but I’m on my way to the airport to check you in and I need your passport.” If nothing has alarmed you until now, this should. Regardless of the county, Customs and Immigration tend to be sacred cows that bow to no-one. So hearing that there was a mortal who could bypass airport security lines and walk directly from the tarmac onto the plane… that’s about as impressive as they come.
Dr. Cuba left shortly afterwards, but he gave me his email address and satellite phone number. The email address was with one of the big free email providers, and his username was “Casper”, followed by some numbers. So, was he a spook (it’s a slang term for spies)? I complained once that he had no excuse for not calling because the satellite phone worked anywhere in the world. He replied that he’d been busy talking to the prince of Oman. You might think he was name dropping, but I think he was probably telling the truth or he would have said the queen of England.
I never made it to that West African country, though I heard the political situation greatly improved. Eventually, we fell out of touch, so I have no idea where “Casper” is these days. I don’t even know if he’s still alive. Mr. T, for those who weren’t paying attention, was Dr. Cuba’s bodyguard. I hope he has kept Dr. Cuba safe. And I will always wonder what was in that suitcase?!