Submitted by Heather Harper-Troje
My husband is a United States Foreign Service Officer. When my son was 4 we were stationed in Conakry, Guinea *which is in west Africa). It was our first posting.
My husband is a Foreign Service Officer with the US State Department so we have spent the past sixteen years living primarily overseas and Guinea was our first posting.
My Dad and Step-Mom came to visit us and we decided to take a road trip to a hotel in the interior of the country, located in Dalaba, one of the highest points in the country.
The only thing we knew about the hotel was that it was supposed to be a beautiful, historic building owned by a man who was Belgian. The owner was clearly not used to having guests (Guinea is not a big tourist destination), but he was warm and welcoming and happy to have us there, as far as I ever saw we were the only guests. The hotel was clean, the views of the valley were breathtaking, we had a lovely, simple dinner and decided to turn in so we could explore our surroundings the next day.
There were two twin beds in the room I was sharing with my children, my daughter was two and my son was four. I put my daughter into bed with me and my son in the other bed.
After story time and before lights out my son got up to use the bathroom. He kept the door open, did his business, washed his hands, and then, from the bathroom, I heard him call “what, mommy?” before coming out and looking at me. I said “what, baby?” “You called my name,” he replied. I shook my head and told him I hadn’t.
Just then his eyes grew huge, all the color drained from his face and I said “what’s wrong?” He pointed to the floor under my bed and softly said “mommy, there’s a soldier under your bed holding a cat. He’s looking at me and now he’s going like this …” before moving his index finger to his lips and whispering “shhhhh …” He then scurried forward and took the biggest flying leap I’d ever seen a child take onto my bed, where he burrowed into me and wouldn’t move.
We slept with the lights on, me on the outside of the bed, my babies snuggled into me and each other against the wall.
Bumps in the night
The next morning we went to the dining room, where my Dad and Step-Mom were and, before I could even tell them what had happened, my Dad said “Did you guys hear all that last night?” I said “hear what?” He said “it sounded like furniture was being moved around out here all night long, I can’t believe you didn’t hear it.”
Right then our friends came into the dining room and one said something about how she hoped we’d slept better than they had, what with furniture being moved around all night. The owner came out to greet us and my Dad asked about someone moving furniture around all night. He looked puzzled and said, no, nobody had done that. The furniture was exactly how it had been the night before and my children and I, who had a room very near the dining room and had not slept well, had heard nothing.
We ate breakfast and decided to walk to the small village museum — just a one room hut, really. On the walk over I’d told my Dad about what had happened the night before. He was a skeptic but also not someone to negate an experience, so he listened and agreed it sounded terrifying. Zero clue if he believed me at that moment but I appreciated him listening and not poo pooing me.
We walked into the tiny museum and began to look around. There were some old photographs on the wall so I wandered over, leaned in to look and read the captions next to them.
Keep in mind, none of us knew the history of our hotel. This was before Yelp and other travel sites were widely used (at least by us), and our internet in Guinea was spotty at best, so internet research was not a thing. The photographs were of our hotel, before it was a hotel, back when it was a hospital for French soldiers.
The dining room was full of beds, like a hospital ward, with soldiers laying and sitting in them.
Now, at 19, he still remembers that experience. This is a kid who has lived in four countries, travelled to many others, has had experiences that would make your average person break out into hives — the most recent being when he was 17, we were living in Honduras, and he was standing in the bed of a truck with a bunch of armed soldiers speeding down the highway, hanging on for dear life, having a blast. My point is, he’s fearless. But, to this day, when he remembers the soldier under my bed he visibly shudders.
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