The morning after

Checked out the damage in the hotel lobby this morning - not much of it, but it seems that the soldiers did fire shots inside the lobby:

Also thinking how lucky I am that they didn't smash my little camera, as this is what they did to the CCTV camera at reception:

Anyway, you'll be pleased to hear that I'm off to the airport now, out of harm's way.

Soldiers that loot hotels in the night

I posted the last blog rather too soon. Just a few minutes later I heard gunfire. I looked out the window but saw nothing, but then it came again, really loud this time. I assumed they must be in the street outside the front of the hotel, so I grabbed my camera and raced for the stairs, thinking that I might get a sneaky photo through the front doors of the hotel, or perhaps through the window of the bar. I was on the phone as I went down, as a colleague had called me to ask if I had heard the shots.

As I got to the lobby, I realised there was no-one there (maybe the staff were out the front of the hotel watching what was going on?), but I saw a spent cartridge on the floor which looked like a good souvenir. I picked it up, then as I stood back up a soldier came out of the hotel's office! I ran back towards the stairs, crying out to my colleague on the phone that they had come into the hotel, but of course the soldier had seen and heard me and came charging after me. It didn't seem like a good idea to run from a fit young soldier carrying a machine gun so I stopped, put my hands up and turned towards him. He grabbed the camera, and I initially resisted but then realised that was also not a good idea so I let him take it but asked, begged, him to please give it back.

He beckoned me to follow him then when we got back to the lobby he said "Wait!". I stood there, waiting, until a different soldier came in and I explained that I was waiting to get my camera back from his colleague - that it had little value to them but much to me. He motioned towards the chairs so I went and sat down, and continued to wait while the soldiers ransacked the office area and the till area in the adjoining bar. One of them saw I was watching and snapped at me to look away. My heart was thudding and it occurred to me to give up on the camera and quietly leave when they were not watching and make my way back to the stairs, but that wasn't without risk and I had the feeling they were not going to hurt me so I waited.

Eventually - well, it probably wasn't long but it felt like an age - I sensed the soldiers walking up behind me. I wasn't sure if I was allowed to turn round to them at this stage, so started to turn slowly, but then realised that one of them was holding the camera towards me. I took it, smiled and thanked them, and walked away slowly, back to my room, heart still pounding.

Well I wanted adventure but perhaps that was just a little too close for comfort!

Soldiers that pass in the night

Soldiers in the Presidential Guard mutinied here in Ouagadougou last night. In the centre of town I think the gunfire was heard early on, but at my hotel out in the distant suburbs it wasn’t until one in the morning when the noise woke me. I got up and went to the window, and there driving slowly along the street beside the hotel was a 4x4 army pick-up with soldiers in the back firing their guns repeatedly into the air.

Two weeks earlier there had been trouble in the capital, so I guessed the grievances had resurfaced and things had sparked off in the night. But the soldiers drove off and the sound of their gunfire faded away. I opened the window and leaned out to see if there was anything else going on, but there was nothing other than a fairly strong smell of what I guess must have been gunpowder. So I went back to bed.

Then in the morning, waiting and waiting for the office car to turn up at the hotel, I asked someone at reception what was going on. “No problem, Madame, don’t worry, all is calm” was the only response I could get. Impossible to get across that I wasn’t in the slightest bit worried (except at being late to a meeting), I just wanted to know what was going on. Eventually I got hold of a colleague to find that the office was closed (and the meeting was off) as it was deemed too dangerous for people to travel. She had heard lots of gunfire and spent most of the night on the floor of her hotel room in case soldiers fired at the hotel windows!

I turned my phone on and there was a missed call from the security officer. When I got through to him he told me about gunfire throughout the night, the president having fled the capital and soldiers looting shops and stealing cars in the centre of town. We were to stay in the hotel until further notice.

It all sounded very exciting, but in fact has been very dreary. Our hotel is far out of town, and there is no action here at all. Wouldn’t you expect to hear more gunfire, people rushing about and lots and lots of sirens as emergency vehicles speed past? Well there’s nothing. Just silence, broken by the odd local trundling past the hotel on their bicycle – like being out in the streets in the UK on Christmas Day, only it’s in the mid-40s centigrade here.

So I shall go to bed tonight with my camera left out just in case … probably unable to sleep through fear of missing something, when in fact nothing whatsoever will happen. & meanwhile wondering what on earth to do about the report we were supposed to finish today (after three weeks’ work) in collaboration with the country team, knowing that my team all fly home tomorrow.