Leo, Part 1

April 30, 2015 at 5:46 pm | Posted in Africa Stories | 10 Comments
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Dar es Salaam
April 1964

No letter from Leo today. One usually arrives each week but sometimes two weeks go by between them. When he left Dar es Salaam at the end of January, he said he’d be gone “four weeks, six at most.” That was three months ago.

I look up from my desk and my gaze lands on the whirring air conditioner that blows cold air into my face, gently stirring my blond hair. Dar es Salaam is survivable in this cool office. The work isn’t hard; my boss is pleasant.

When our United Nations bureau closes at two in the afternoon, I stroll three blocks along Independence Avenue to a door nestled between two shops; it leads upstairs to an apartment. A South Asian family resides there – a mother, father and three daughters – and I rent a room from them. I’m nearly always the only white person on the street, the commercial centre of town. Although the avenue includes a few major buildings, such as the United Nations complex and Barclays Bank, it is largely lined with small shops. Colorful clothes hang in storefronts, pots and pans rest on tables, and spicy odours drift from chai cafés. I hear boisterous voices chattering in several languages. I pass Asian women in richly hued saris and some clad in typical western dresses. I see African women with multi-coloured cloths wrapped around their bodies like sarongs. Some African women, Muslims, wear black, full-length, translucent drapes covering their heads and clothes; they clasp the black shawls, holding them up to their faces, yet seldom completely conceal their features; I often glimpse their gleeful eyes and laughing mouths.

But now I’m in my office, which opened this morning at seven. It’s around nine and coffee break doesn’t start until ten. Hearing a quick knock on the door behind me, the one leading into a hall, I spin my chair around and see my boss. That’s unusual. Generally he comes to the other door, the one that connects his office to mine. His eyes appear dazed and his lips are pulled taut. Something is amiss.

“Someone…someone wants to talk to you,” he says. “Will you please come out to see him.”

What have I done now? I probably made an inappropriate remark – occasionally I do – and am about to be chastised by a senior officer.

Rising from my chair, I walk across the room and enter the hallway. There, behind my boss, stands Eduardo Mondlane. I recognize him immediately, even though we met only once, five months earlier, when Leo took me to meet him – at Mondlane’s request – the day I arrived in Dar.

My boss gazes at him in awe. Not me. My back straightens. What does Mondlane want? He and Leo are now adversaries.

Mondlane and I never meet because we participate in different community circles. He and his wife socialize within the upper echelon embassy circle – a group that includes Tanzanian cabinet ministers and high-ranking diplomats from the U.S., U.K., Sweden, Denmark and Canada. I get together with members of the mid-level diplomatic corps, a group that includes representatives from Sudan and Ethiopia, Tanzanian junior ministers, and embassy attachés.

Eduardo Mondlane is president of Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO), a political party formed in 1962 that is fighting to free Mozambique from Portuguese rule. Dar es Salaam serves as home base for FRELIMO. Dar is also serves as headquarters for other liberation groups: SWAPO and SWANU (groups formed to liberate South West Africa, later called Namibia); ZANU and ZAPU (groups formed to liberate Rhodesia, later called Zimbabwe); and South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC). The ANC office is on Nkrumah Street, directly opposite FRELIMO’s headquarters.

I arrived in Dar in mid-November 1963. At that time, my fiancé, Leo Milas, held the position of “secretary for defense and security” in FRELIMO. Near the end of January 1964, Mondlane dispatched him on a trip – ostensibly to garner support (and raise funds) from Arab countries. Six weeks after Leo left, Mondlane arranged, through political connections, to bar him from re-entering Dar.

Mondlane is a former U.S. university professor, age 43, and almost bald, with his remaining hair neatly trimmed. Like most liberation activists, he wears the requisite khaki shirt and pants. But he looks too clean, too stately, to be mistaken for one of the rumpled freedom fighters who roam the streets of Dar. Married to a white American, Mondlane lives in a bungalow in a former all-white district of Dar (still primarily a European enclave that now includes a few prominent Africans and Asians). Leo once told me that Mondlane is a diplomat but not a warrior.
My boss leads us to a small room containing a table and four chairs but no air conditioner. He asks Mondlane if it is suitable and when told that it is, shuts the door, leaving me with Mondlane. We sit face-to-face with the desk between us. It is cool enough. The U.N. building is chilled by vibrating air conditioners in the occupied offices.

Mondlane introduces himself – as if I don’t know who he is. I politely acknowledge the introduction and, for once, say nothing more. My silence forces Mondlane to begin the conversation.

He clasps his hands loosely on the table and says, “Leo Milas. He is an American named Clinton Aldridge.”

I remain silent. Mondlane ought to know that I’m aware of this rumour. Several people have mentioned it in my presence.

“Surely you don’t still believe he is a Mozambican?” Mondlane asks.

“I only know what people have told me. He says his family immigrated to South America from Mozambique when he was young. Others say he has no ties to Mozambique. I met Leo in Los Angeles where all the Africans I knew said he was Mozambican.”

“But I have seen documents that prove he is American.” Mondlane’s voice grows more forceful. “You must believe that.”

“I don’t know the truth,” I reply.

I don’t ask to see the documents. Now is a natural opening for Mondlane to produce them but he doesn’t. Instead, he says, “You don’t want to remain with him. He is not who he says he is.”

“I still love him, no matter what. But I don’t know whether he is African or American.”

“How can you love him? He is an imposter.”

“I love him because he is a good man.”

Mondlane continues speaking, using the same words, the same sentences, asking why I don’t break off our engagement. He never follows up on my “he is a good man” comment. While he talks, I continue to say, “I don’t know.” Sometimes I add, “I still love him no matter whether he is African or American.” And this also is true.

It becomes a merry-go-round conversation. Mondlane repeats; I repeat. Round and round we go. Why does he care whether or not I remain with Leo? I’m not important.

I had always believed Leo was African until I heard the rumours. Then I mulled over our interactions and remembered a couple of incidents suggesting that he could be hiding something. Not until hearing those rumours had these incidents caused me to doubt anything he said. They are such small things. My mind must make several tenuous connections for them to signify anything, so they may mean nothing at all. I will not mention these to Mondlane. Will not give him any additional ammunition to use against Leo.

Mondlane fails to intimidate me, possibly because he looks too smooth and acts too composed. Although tall, nearly six feet one, Leo is taller, six foot five. Mondlane is black, but Leo’s skin is blacker. And Leo does look like a freedom fighter – rough, imposing, frightening. He has never frightened me. But I have observed the way others look at him and how easily he intimidates most people simply by his visual appearance and austere manner.

Mondlane persists. He wants me to say that I will break off my engagement to Leo. All the while I wonder why this is so crucial. Mondlane is a prominent man with powerful political connections. I refrain from discussing politics and don’t get involved in African political activities – unlike Mondlane’s white American wife, who is engaged in activist projects and sometimes rumoured to be working for the CIA. Recent rumours – probably spread by Mondlane’s faction within FRELIMO – have hinted that Leo is a CIA agent. But my gut feeling is that whatever he is, he isn’t a deep-cover CIA spy. During our time together, I’d picked up a number of subtle nuances suggesting he views the U.S. tendency to meddle in African politics with disdain. And, if anything, Leo is somewhat pro-Marxist.

Mondlane tries for almost an hour to get me to say something other than “I don’t know” and “I still love him.” Finally he pushes back his chair, stands up, and calmly ends the conversation.

I return to my small office by passing through my boss’s larger one, and smile. My boss smiles back and now appears placid, his usual expression. Later I would discover that Eduardo Mondlane once held a high ranking post at the United Nations New York office and was still considered an important man by many U.N. administrators. This explains why my boss was so astounded when Mondlane asked him to arrange a private meeting with me, his 23-year-old secretary.


March 2008

I want to write about living in Africa and, in particular, describe my relationship with Leo. Events remain in my memory, names do not. I remember, for instance, that during our meeting in the U.N. building, Mondlane used the American name attributed to Leo; I forgot that name soon after hearing it.

The letters Leo wrote me are useful for reference but now the internet helps to fill in missing details. Using Google, I discover that Milas is a common surname throughout Africa. After five pages of listings, with roughly 15 different websites on each page, I find three almost identical documents. All state that: Leo Milas was an American CIA agent who infiltrated FRELIMO in 1962; his American name was Clinton Aldridge; and he was expelled from FRELIMO by Mondlane in August 1964. One of these documents has been released by a U.S. intelligence agency, one is published by a Swedish “charity” foundation, and one is an old FRELIMO bulletin. All three documents probably acquired their information from reports written by Eduardo Mondlane. They provide the name I forgot, Clinton Aldridge. Also, they state that Leo was not expelled from FRELIMO until August 1964, but I know that Mondlane used his political clout to prohibit Leo from re-entering Dar in early March, thus preventing him from speaking with other party members prior to being expelled. Before August of that year, Mondlane must not have had a strong enough grip on FRELIMO to make the expulsion official.

The internet contains many articles on Mondlane: his biography; several photos, including a good portrait taken around the time I knew him; a description of problems he encountered in 1968 because FRELIMO was making little headway against Portuguese rule in Mozambique; a picture of his wife and three children surrounded by dignitaries at his funeral after his assassination in Dar es Salaam on February 3, 1969.

But nothing on the web mentions Leo’s activities after August 1964, activities he described in letters to me. During that time, he wandered from Cairo to Nairobi to Khartoum, where he lived for two years as a political activist until being imprisoned for seven months. After leaving Khartoum, Leo moved to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he became a lecturer at Haile Selassie I University in early 1968. From then on, he seemed to have abandoned his political aspirations, preferring to concentrate on his teaching career and future with me.

I arranged to travel to Ethiopia in June 1969; we were to get married. But shortly before I left Canada, he wrote, “Put your travel plans on hold.” The FRELIMO executive had accused him of being involved in Mondlane’s assassination. Following Mondlane’s death, internecine fighting – always present in FRELIMO – broke out in earnest and anyone who stood the remotest chance of challenging the main players was rendered powerless or murdered. Leo was dismissed from the university and threatened with imprisonment.

In October 1969, Leo wrote again; he sounded desperate. He asked me to sponsor his application to immigrate to Canada. He didn’t include the two required passport photos with his application, so I wrote back, requesting these photos. He didn’t reply. Our correspondence had been disrupted for months while he was imprisoned in Khartoum, but he got back in touch with me as soon as he could; this time, as well, I expected to hear from him – eventually. He knew he could contact me through McGill University where I had two more years of study for my PhD. But he never wrote again. At first I thought he had been imprisoned, but slowly, as years went by and I failed to hear from him, I began to accept that he was dead. After all, he loved me and, if alive, he would have found a way to get in contact.

When using Google, I normally scan six or seven pages and stop searching. One evening, I keep scanning. Was anything else ever written about Leo Milas? After 22 pages, I find a reference to a report written by Seifulaziz Leo Milas. I’m taken aback. Jolted. I had forgotten that Leo added a new first name in 1964. Initially it was Seif Al-Aziz, an Arabic name matching a travel document issued to him by an Arab country (he never told me which one). After leaving Khartoum, he changed it to Seifulaziz. He signed his letters, “Love, Seif” and my letters to him always began “Dear Seif” but in my mind, he was always “Leo.”

I enter “Seifulaziz Milas” into the search engine and find references to a number of websites. Several contain papers written for InterAfrica, a research group based in Addis Ababa that publishes scholarly reports on Ethiopia, Somalia, and the Sudan. Seifulaziz Milas wrote four papers between 1999 and 2007.

Possibly his son, I think. Leo was living in Addis when last I heard from him. By 1999, he would have been 66 years old – too old to be starting a scholarly career. But Seifulaziz is not an African name. Leo sort of made it up, although he could have passed it on to a son.

Then I come across a reference in a book entitled Me Against My Brother, which was published in 2000 by Scott Peterson. On page 45, Peterson recounts an anecdote about meeting “Milas Seifulaziz, a very tall, lanky Mozambican consultant with Unicef” in the late 1990s. The tale revolved around the fact that the left lens of Milas’ eyeglasses was smashed but, because of his poor eyesight, he nonetheless wore these glasses. This short passage perfectly describes Leo – older but not changed much in appearance or manner.

He’s alive!

I feel a dull ache in the center of my gut. For 50 years I believed he was dead.

To Be Continued…

(Hopefully within six months)

This photo was taken in my U.N. office by a colleague.  You can see that I am wearing the same dress that appeared in several of my agent's photos.  That means it was taken not too long after I arrived because that dress disintegrated in hot, humid Dar.  My hair was straight because I took three showers a day.  The photo was just a quick snapshot; no special lighting.   Just me as I looked in my office that day.

This photo was taken in my U.N. office by a colleague. You can see that I am wearing the same dress that appeared in several of my agent’s photos. That means it was taken not too long after I arrived because that dress disintegrated in hot, humid Dar. My hair was straight because I took three showers a day. The photo was just a quick snapshot; no special lighting. Just me as I looked in my office that day.

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