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Pohl had a mosquito story. I knew of the story, but I did not know the details.
We were waiting for a meeting of Ukrainian farmers to end. They were trying to figure out how to sell their wheat amid the ongoing Russian naval blockade. We had been waiting a couple of hours. We wanted to get pictures of farmers bringing in the wheat harvest. I was having doubts the farmers would do any work after the meeting, and a whole day would be wasted. I stood apart from the crowd under a tree, trying not to get sunburned. Security came over to chat.
“Pohl doesn’t like mosquitoes,” I said.
I added, “He was in prison somewhere, and a mosquito kept biting him all night. Now, if there is a mosquito around, he goes crazy.”
Security nodded. That was all I knew. I wasn’t going to ask Pohl about the mosquito. It was hard to imagine him going crazy. I had worked with him a long time ago but did not remember the country or the war. He did. The Iraqis were putting prisoners in small metal cages.
“We did the standup inside a cage,” he said.
Like our late cameraman Pierre Zakrzewski, Pohl did not tell war stories. For 30 years, he had been to some places. But, at a long, slow Soviet hotel dinner with me and security, the mosquito story started to come out. I was at my own little table on Pohl’s right. I looked straight ahead at the empty chair and the wall across from me, not saying a word, hoping the mosquito story would come.
Kinshasa. Been there but forgot the country. Looked it up on my phone as the story continued.
Democratic Republic of the Congo. Fixer spoke Portuguese.
“Ah,” I said.
Pohl looked over and smiled, his eyes bright. Portuguese meant Angola meant rebels meant prison.
It wasn’t one mosquito; it was thousands. It was a cloud you could not see through for meters. Four nights in a Kinshasa cell with a lightbulb on overhead and an open window. Outside the window, a pile of 20 or 25 bodies shot to death, rotting in the sun. During the day, the mosquitoes weren’t bad, but at night, they came in around the light.
“You tried to put your arms in your sleeves but it didn’t matter,” Pohl said.