The Major was leaving so he invited me for dinner and drinks and to introduce me to his replacement. Another American from another organization was on mission and staying at the guesthouse so I invited him to come along.
The Major is with the State Department, which keeps a presence to monitor the developing situation. He stays on a large compound beside a church where several NGOs and a couple of ministers rent houses. It had been a bad, hard day as many of the recent days had been bad and hard and I was in a rubbish mood. The compound is near but we went in the vehicle because we might come back late if we started drinking.
We pulled to the gate of the compound and I sounded the horn. The guard came out and approached the window.
‘It is closed,’ he said ‘You must come during business hours.’
‘We do not come for business. We were invited by the Major.’
‘You are welcome but the vehicle you leave here,’ he said.
‘But here is not safe for the vehicle.’
‘Nothing can happen here,’ he said.
‘Things do happen here,’ I said. ‘Right here the vehicle was broken into and the fuel was stolen.’
‘Here it is safe and you cannot enter with the vehicle.’
‘But I was invited and I have entered with the vehicle before,’ I said, which was true.
‘You know two ministers live here so there is a policy,’ he said.
Often when you are a foreigner and you press them they will relent. This one gave no sign of relenting but I decided to press harder. I said I wanted to speak to the supervisor.
‘It is a bad policy,’ I said and I knew it was a mistake as soon as it was out.
‘So my policy is bad?’ he said.
Damn, I thought, now he has taken it personally.
‘I don’t agree with the policy,’ I corrected but it was much too late now.
‘No, my policy is bad,’ he said and now it was a statement.
It was a statement and it was a damning statement. It was the worst statement that could have been said ever and at that moment. It was a statement that you said and regretted saying as soon as you said it but knew that there was no undoing it.
‘Now you cannot enter,’ he said. ‘It is my bad policy.’
'Neither me nor the vehicle?' I said.
'No,’ he said. ‘Because it is my bad policy,'
He repeated this several times and I tried to smooth it over but there were no words in his language or mine that could fix this now.
I called the Major.
‘Hey, Major. We’re here at your gate but we can’t come in. It seems I have insulted the security guard.’
The Major came. He is a big man, heavier and wider in the body than you would expect from looking at his face. He came and the guard told him that we may not enter because it was his bad policy.
‘What policy?’ said the Major.
‘The policy that the vehicle may not enter.’
‘OK, let’s speak privately a moment,’ said the Major.
Major put his arm around the security guard and drew him into the compound. We waited and when I glanced back at the colleague that was with me I said something about two people catching each other at the end of a bad day. He smiled. He is good at withholding judgments or at least appearing to. In a few minutes the gate opened and we were allowed to pull the vehicle in.
We parked and followed the Major to his house at the far end of the compound.
'Jesus, man, you're causing me a lot of fucking grief tonight,' he said.