Kidnapped Texas man gets an up-close look into Nigeria's oily Heart of Darkness – Part 6

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    Collette had just returned home from a rare trip to McDonald’s with the kids when the phone rang.  It was someone from the office.

    “We’ve got him,” said the voice.

    The next day she was on a flight to London.

    Because of convoluted English insurance laws, Plake and the other men were not allowed into the tropical disease center.  Instead, they went to an urgent-care clinic.  Other than the nasty spider bite, Plake checked out OK.  Two of the other men had intestinal parasites and had to remain there a little longer that day.  But not Plake; he was ready to go.  For the past 48 hours, he’d been shuttled across two continents, poked and prodded by doctors, forced to do press interviews with the African media and listen to his employer tell him to keep quiet about everything that had happened.  All he wanted to do was to see his wife.

    Collette was sleeping when Plake finally made it back to the couple’s London hotel room.  His electronic key, though, had been accidentally knocked offline when Collette checked in earlier that day.  He couldn’t unlock the door.  He started banging and hollering, but Collette didn’t answer.  Finally, Collette heard the knocking and ran to the door.  When it swung open, she leapt into Plake’s arms.

    “You couldn’t peel me off of him,” she says.

    That night, the four men and their wives celebrated, getting drunk at a nearby pub.  They laughed and kidded each other about which movie stars would play them if their story ever made it to the big screen.  Plake claimed fellow East Texan Matthew McConaughey.  But the smiles wouldn’t last long.

    Back in McKinney, Plake was not readjusting well to normal life.  For months he didn’t want to talk about being kidnapped.  He had nightmares.  Sometimes he thought he’d heard footsteps and was ready to run over to the clearing in the jungle to hide.  Other times he dreamed of being under attack on the barge, but this time he had a gun and fought back.  He’d wake up lathered in sweat.

    Plake saw a couple psychologists, but they didn’t seem to help.  He even checked himself into a mental hospital for a week.  Time seemed to be the only cure.  Plake had surgery on his spine in late 2008 to repair two discs that had been ruptured by repeated blows to the neck with rifles.

    He now suffers migraines so bad that his vision is blurred and he throws up.  He takes a long list of medications, including pills to fight depression, anxiety and pain.

    Plake says he doesn’t trust anyone anymore, no longer has a short-term memory and has developed a dangerously short fuse.  He’s caught himself yelling at his kids over dumb stuff such as eating an ice cream cone that he’d forgotten he himself had given them.  He refuses to sit in plastic chairs and doesn’t shave.  It’s taken him two years to start working again.  He recently bought a property nearby that he’s renovating and hoping to flip for a profit.

    “Larry never regretted going back offshore,” Collette says, “because he saved our home from being sold out from under us.  But it’s something he’ll never get over.  He just has to learn to live with it.  It redefines who you are.”

    Plake still keeps up with Faller, Roussel and Gay. Scattered across Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, they couldn’t get together for a second anniversary at the end of May.  When they talk on the phone, they almost never mention what happened.  They stick to what’s going on now in their lives, their jobs and their kids.  Plake says he’s never going back offshore.  Some of the others are considering it, he says, but no farther away than the Gulf of Mexico.  The money is still as good as it’s ever been.

    For a long time, Plake would search the Internet every morning for news of Egbema One or MEND.  Not anymore.

    Earlier this year, Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua granted amnesty to a host of militants in the Niger Delta.  According to Vanguard, a news publication covering the country, Egbema One was on the amnesty list.  Yar’Adua has also reportedly directed his government to step up its efforts to rebuild and develop the region.  But still, the violence only seems to increase.  MEND has recently taken credit for a rash of pipeline bombings against Shell and Chevron, propelling Chevron to evacuate hundreds of employees from the area, according to The Christian Science Monitor.  The group continues to wage attacks against the oil companies, claiming that amnesty is not enough to solve the long-standing problems.

    The irony of it all is not lost on Plake.

    “The group I had heard about and was most afraid of, MEND, were the ones who ended up rescuing us,” he says.  “I’ve been told it never happened before or ever since.  I understand their plight more now and the reason why they do all this.  I’m very appreciative because no one else was coming to get us.  But the bottom line is that I got out.  I’m here now, and I’m staying put.”

    www.dallasobserver.com

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