It is Friday, November 12, 1982 in the Village of Obouo, Southeastern Gabon. I awoke that morning to the sound of rain pounding on my roof. I looked at the clock: 5:30 am. Not bad, that is usually when the roosters woke me up. I drank coffee, ate a baguette and listened to the BBC, half hoping it would keep raining. No one wanted to work on Fridays anyway. By 7:00 it quit raining. By 7:30, our normal starting time, none of the workers showed up. Half an hour later, I decided to go looking for them.
All the workers came from the Pygmy Village up the hill three kilometers away. My truck was broken down again, so I changed into my running shoes and started up the dirt road. It was still early in the morning so the heat was not a factor yet and I kept up a steady pace. I said "bon jour" as I passed the women walking uphill carrying heavy loads of firewood. I greeted the children on their way down hill toward the old schoolhouse across from the construction site. As I neared the village, I saw more children peeking around the corner, who squealed when they saw me and scurried away. By the time I arrived it seemed the whole village already knew I was coming, and everyone came out to greet me and shake my hand.
I asked to speak with the village chief, and told him none of the workers came to the site this morning. I reminded him of the deal we made and he nodded. As we talked, the workers began coming out of their huts one by one. I spoke to them, scolded them gently, and challenged them to run with me back down the hill to the construction site. They all agreed to come to work, but only Gilbert took up the challenge to run with me. Gilbert was barefooted and carried a long machete, as usual. We took off together, and right away he went ahead of me by about thirty meters. Then, he turned around, laughed at me and started to walk. When I caught up to him, he started running again, and again went far ahead of me. He did this several times, each time sprinting, tiring out and walking, and each time laughing and smiling when I caught up to him. I knew we were getting close to the site, so I started sprinting. I caught up with Gilbert, passed him and then went ahead of him by five meters or so.
Now, what I want you to do is pause right there, literally press the pause button and tell me what you see: an American running as fast as he can followed in hot pursuit by a barefooted Pygmy brandishing a large machete. The American appears to be grimacing because of his unfortunate predicament. Of course, I was not grimacing but smiling and hollering as Gilbert, one of my trusted workers and I raced toward the school we were building together.
Jack Godwin, Gabon, 1982-84