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Appointment in Samarra

Life is pure chance, a miracle renewed at every moment I wonder how much of it is left to me, and what's in it

A few weeks ago Manu Leguineche died; a master who worked many veins of journalism, and a generous man. He was a first-rate war correspondent who had often lived dangerously. But after all that adventure, death laid its trap for him at home, making him suffer quite a lot, too. An irony like that in the famous One Thousand and One Nights tale about the servant who sees Death gesturing at him in the marketplace in Baghdad, and in terror borrows his master's horse and rides all the way to Samarra, only to meet Death again there. The Reaper explains that he had only been gesturing because he was surprised at finding him in Baghdad, when their predestined appointment was in Samarra.

I remember meeting Manu Leguineche in Managua during the Nicaraguan Revolution, two or three days after President Somoza had fled the country, but fighting was still going on. There were bodies in the streets; at night it was advisable to sleep under the bed in case the windows were blown in.

I had entered Nicaragua by land with another journalist, Ana Cristina Navarro from Colombia. Somoza's flight found us in Guatemala, and we caught a ride to Managua with a Jesuit who was supposedly taking back to Nicaragua a girl who had spent the war as a refugee in Guatemala. I say supposedly, because indeed we took her to her family; but, arriving back in Guatemala, the priest told us the car had been carrying "dangerous" cargo (most likely weapons from the Sandinistas for the Guatemalan resistance). And with this stuff we had crossed El Salvador (under a bloody regime and in a state of emergency), innocently risking life, liberty and somebody's pursuit of our extreme unhappiness if we were caught. I hated that priest, and I still hate him.

In Managua there were bodies in the streets; at night we slept under the bed in case the windows were blown in

I remembered other occasions when I had narrow escapes. When Sol Fuertes and I almost drowned in Lake Titicaca, and spent hours in a small boat that was not seaworthy or even lakeworthy, with freezing water up to our knees, desperately bailing it out with a single bucket (by the way, any kind of work at 4,200 meters' altitude is exhausting). Or the freezing trip in a little train, also in Peru, in the Sacred Valley of Urubamba, perched on the running boards because the train was full, with a bottomless cliff under your feet and your hands getting too numb to hang on (obviously I hung on).

Or the Iberia plane that the photographer Chema Conesa and I were to take to Rome to interview the then Italian President Sandro Pertini. The night before we had talked on the phone and agreed to take another flight later in the day (this was in the big-spending days when the paper gave you tickets that could be changed with no fuss). Well, the plane we were supposed to be on crashed into another one on takeoff: about 200 killed and the rest seriously injured.

Or the time when four young hoodlums in an apparently stolen upmarket car cornered me on a tract of vacant land outside town, and I was saved by Trasto, my German shepherd, who snarled at them until, weighing the pros and cons of it, they backed down, got back in the vehicle and drove off. My thanks to Trasto, who now resides in Dog Heaven.

There are other stories, those of an average granny or almost-granny, that I might tell. And all this without telling the times when I came near to kicking the bucket and didn't even know it; the times when I wasn't run over because I stopped on the sidewalk to tie a shoelace instead of crossing; the car accidents I might have had but didn't; the flower-pots that might have fallen on my head but didn't.

Life is pure chance, a miracle renewed at every moment. I wonder how much of it is left to me, and what's in it. How many more times will I be saved, and where and when will my final appointment with the Reaper be?

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