Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mending Fences with an Alleged War Criminal

Our neighbor, Hissene Habre, is wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague for human rights violations during his rule as President of Chad. (Yes, for real)

He’s also ticked off at Kelly and me for putting garbage into his trash cans.

Last night, when Kelly, I and the boys returned home from sipping sundowners at a seaside bar, we were handed a sealed envelope by our guard.

“This is from Habre’s wife,” said Sonko.

I opened it up and unfolded a handwritten letter:

Dear Sir,

I am writing you to request that you make arrangements to acquire sufficient trash cans for placement in front of your home.

Since you moved here, your house cleaner has routinely put garbage into our trash cans.

My gardener asked her to stop and to tell you to buy your own trash cans.

Up to this day, you have done nothing.

Could you remedy this, at the very least, by giving your house cleaner instructions not to use our trash cans.

Thank you,

Madame Kerin (Habre)

Truth be told, we had indeed been using the Habre houselhold’s trash cans. They have lots of them and they are usually empty, so we didn’t think it would be a problem.

Besides, they have bigger issues to worry about. Habre, who is enjoying the tentative protection of the Senegalese government, has been sentenced to death in absentia in Chad and is a constant target of human rights groups who have called him Africa’s Pinochet, and are demanding his extradition for trial.

But having an angry former dictator as a neighbor isn’t a good thing, so we’re on the case for a new can.

(Note: Trash cans in Dakar are old oil barrels, too heavy to steal but also unavailable at the hardware store. You need to go to a gas station to buy one, bring it to a metal worker to have the top soldered off and transformed into a lid, and then you have to drag it home. We’ll have ours Monday.)

Here are the trash cans that we have been putting garbage in.

We’re also planning to send the Habre’s a note of apology. Maybe a pie.

Here’s a picture of the Habre’s sprawling villa, as seen from our roof. Look closely and you may spot some of his peacocks, or his rotweiler who has been carefully trained not to eat peacocks, just people. And of course… the trash bins.

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