The Man with the Spear

“Stop!” screamed Alice, her voice filled with fear.  A man brandishing a spear had stepped into the road, blocking the path of our car.  He was dressed in shorts, boots, a uniform shirt and a heavy winter coat. We held our breath and stared in front of us, terrified.

In the early 1970’s my father had been assigned to the N.A.S.A tracking station in Tananarive, Madagascar.  My father and step-mother, Alice, had decide to take my sister and I on a day trip, outside the city.

Following a route along the river, we traveled on a rain rutted, red-dirt road.  My sister and I were having fun, as we slid from side to side on the rear seat of our van.  But when Dad saw the armed man and the huge spear, he slammed on the brakes. The fun came to an abrupt end.  

The man with the spear gestured for my father to get out of the car.  Dad turned to Alice and said, “If anything happens, just GO. Get the girls out of here.”  He told my sister and I to listen to Alice and do exactly as she said. With slow movements Dad rolled up his window, stepped out, and firmly shut the door.  Alice slid behind the wheel.

The man spoke both Malagasy and French, Dad spoke neither. The man repeatedly tapped his chest, showing the badge pinned to his shirt. Dad stood quietly, nodding and raising his hands, to show he meant no threat.  The man spoke rapidly and began to smile.

Slowly we began to understand that the man was an officer of the peace. He was there to welcome us! We could breathe again. He gestured to the small boat strapped to the top of our van. He wanted us to know the safe spot to enter the water.

After much nodding and smiling, he and my father shook hands. The man referred to Dad as “mon ami,” my friend. He wished us “bon voyage.” Dad started to get back into the car. Then he turned to his friend and gestured, would he allow his photo to be taken? The man became suddenly shy.  He looked down at the ground and shook his head, no. No photo.

Dad walked to the rear of the van and retrieved two bottles of the local beer, called “Three Horse Beer.”  He offered them to his new friend. The man accepted the beer, and nodded his consent to the photo. Alice, my sister and I got out of the van. He struck a pose beside us, standing proudly in his uniform, his spear at his side.

We resumed our journey that day, rehashing every minute of the amazing experience.  To this day we reminisce about our encounter with the man with the spear.

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