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Sticky Fingers

Covering assignments in third world countries often added extra planning or strange twists.  Having your pocket picked while shoot a Prime Minister and President might be one of the wackier ones.

My knees were touching the back bumper as I tried to keep up with the moving limousine.  It was the only way I could keep my bearings and avoid tripping with my camera trained on Senegal's President Abdou Diouf and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.  They were waving through an open sunroof to the crowds lining the main road from the airport to downtown Dakar.

I didn't see the security guard drop back from his position beside the presidential limousine until I felt a slight tug on my back trouser pocket. A tall man flew through the air into the crowd.  The guard quickened his pace back to his place beside the rear door of the president’s car.  Someone had just tried to pick my pocket between the president and a dozen mounted cavalry.  It was simply unbelievable.

Welcome to Dakar!

Mulroney and Diouf in Dakara

Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Senegal's President Abdou Diouf wave to crowds as their motorcade makes its way from the airport to the Presidential palace in Dakar, Senegal on January 30, 1987. 

Photo by Ron Poling/The Canadian Press

We had arrived in Senegal just a few minutes earlier after a long flight from Zimbabwe.  I had been looking forward to the visit since I saw the prime minister's itinerary that included a drive up the desert-like coast to a leper colony. Fred Chartrand, who had worked on assignment in Senegal before, told me to expect a really colourful honour guard at the airport that would make great arrival pictures.

With arrival pictures out of the way, we climbed onto the back of a military truck parked in front of the leaders’ limousine. It was intended to give the media a good view on the ride from the airport to the president's residence.  A colourful mounted honour guard rode behind the limousine on a route lined with Dakar residents wearing brightly-coloured traditional dress and waving little Canadian flags.

Despite the spectacular scene I couldn't seem to make a good picture from the truck.  I jumped off, doing my best not to fall or whack my cameras on the ground, then moved around looking for a better angle. 

The best angle would be from one of the buildings but I would have to get through the crowd and would likely fall behind the motorcade. I had travelled enough to be leery of navigating a big crowd with my gear in a Third World country.  I opted instead to fall in behind the limousine to shoot a wide-angle view over the leaders’ shoulders that included the people-lined streets.  It never occurred to me that the wallet in my back pocket would be an irresistible target.

I worked on that picture until we passed through the gates of the president's residence.  The cars pulled up to the main entrance and the two leaders climbed the stairs into the residence.

None of Prime Minister Mulroney's handlers were around and I was the only photographer so I followed the leaders into the residence.  They had made their way to a large balcony on the far side of the room that looked out onto the grounds at the back.

Not being bothered by anyone I kept walking across the room and stopped just inside the door to the balcony.  This was now feeling really strange.  I shouldn't be here I thought, and if I go on that balcony they will likely figure that out.  I decided to obey the little voice in my head and retreated before I got arrested.  I closed the front door behind me, still unobserved.

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