The Foreign Service Journal - March 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2018 91 REFLECTIONS Lucky That Time: Escapes fromAnimals BY JOHN P I E L EME I ER O ver the course of a Foreign Service lifetime, this author has had dangerous encoun- ters with at least seven dif- ferent species of animal—and survived them all. Here are a few of those stories. Black Mamba in Johannesburg Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, was a sleepy town with few commercial options when we lived there from 1978 to 1982. Every few months, we drove to Johannesburg, South Africa, to pick up supplies at a big box store. We stayed in a modest hotel and enjoyed a weekend of television, movies and restaurants. To carry back the purchases from these trips, we always brought a few empty duffel bags from home. One weekend, we carried our suit- cases and the duffel bags into our hotel room and headed out for lunch. We left our hotel key at the front desk—the practice in South African hotels. When we returned later and I asked for our key, the hotel concierge said that we had been moved to the fourth floor—a large snake, the poisonous black mamba, had been seen on the third floor, and all John Pielemeier joined USAID as an FSO in 1971 after serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Côte d’Ivoire. He served in Brazil, Botswana and Liberia before becoming office director for South Asia in Washington, D.C., and then USAID mission director in Brazil. After retiring, he worked as a consultant, designing and evaluating environment, health, agriculture, education and multisectoral projects for USAID, the World Wildlife Fund, the Packard Foundation and others. He coaches incoming USAID FSOs (more than 140 over 10 years). He created and updates a bibliography of USAID authors (available at the USAID Alumni Association website), and is an interviewer for the USAID Oral History program. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Nancy, an international health specialist. guests had been moved to other floors. We didn’t think more about it. I spent the remainder of the afternoon watch- ing a rugby match (a game I had never played and whose rules I could only guess at) being announced in Afrikaans (a language I didn’t speak or under- stand). I was glued to the set neverthe- less—it was sports on television, after all. The next morning, we made our purchases and had started the four-hour trek back to Gaborone when it hit me. How would a desert snake end up in a suburban Johannesburg hotel? “Nancy,” I exclaimed, “that snake on the third floor—I think we brought it!” It suddenly seemed clear: we had plenty of mambas and other large snakes in Gaborone. We were always on the lookout for snakes in our yard and on the dirt roads of our neighborhood. One must have slithered into our garage and into a partially unzipped duffel bag to keep cool. When I threw the duffel bags into the back of the station wagon and then carried the bags into the hotel I would have neglected to zip up the bag. In the cool air conditioning of the hotel room, the mamba crawled out and slithered into the hotel corridor. Nancy and I were likely responsible for smug- gling a mamba across the well-guarded border between apartheid South Africa and neighboring Botswana. We decided not to report our trans- gression to the hotel or the border authorities and, instead, let sleeping snakes lie. But we did learn to be more careful with our duffel bags. The Mama Elephant In 1976 I was leading USAID’s first design team to Chad, researching the feasibility of a range management project to improve livestock production in the Sahel region of this impoverished country. We planned to conduct our research, talk to local experts, negoti- ate the content of our proposed project with representatives of the Chadian government and write a project paper to present to USAID/Washington—all in six weeks. The weather was hot and dry, our hotel was modest and the roads of the capital, N’Djamena, were unpaved and dusty. We worked every day except Sunday. After two busy weeks, a team member suggested that we take a break to drive along the picturesque Logone River in our rented 4x4 Land Rover. A A large snake, the poisonous black mamba had been seen on the third floor, and all of the guests had been moved.