“I’m Still Alive but Sh*t Is Getting Wild”: Inside the Siege of the Amarula
When vast gas reserves were discovered off the idyllic coast of northern Mozambique, a crew of roughnecks flew in from around the world to make their fortunes. But in March 2021, Islamist rebels attacked, and the foreigners and thousands of Mozambicans were abandoned. Two hundred holed up at the Amarula Lodge, where the expats faced a choice: save themselves, or risk it all to save everyone. As oil and gas fuel a new war in Europe, Alex Perry pieces together, shot by shot, a stunning morality tale for the global economy.
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On March 25, 2021, a week before his 41st birthday, Adrian Nel woke at dawn on the floor of his hotel room in Palma, northern Mozambique, and, seized by a sudden premonition, texted his wife, Janik Armstrong, at their home in Durban, South Africa.
Janik im still alive here but shit is
going wild. We have been under
attack since yesterday. We are
stuck for the moment at the
amarula. We have a small amount
of wifi that connects sometimes. I
will update you if anything changes
and we have a plan for evac.
My babes i love love love you and
the kids forever. Please let them
know that everyday if i dont make
it out here. 05:32
When Janik checked her phone an hour later, she lost it.
Adi, don’t say that!!! 06:47
You scaring me to death 06:47
Please don’t talk like that 06:48
Love you so so much ❤ 06:51
But Adi couldn’t stop. “I love you to death,” he replied. Then, later: “I love you guys so much. Tell the kids I love them every day.”
Janik wanted more information. She also wanted Adi to be there to love her in life, and to be able to tell the kids himself that he loved them every day. Calmly, evenly, she told her husband to “stop fucking talking like that” or she would “freak the fuck out.” One of the things Janik loved about Adi was that he could always make a plan. He needed to figure this one out, too. “You have to promise me that you’ll come home safely,” she wrote.
Adi’s next messages indicated that he was trying to do as he was asked. At 8 A.M., he wrote that a few small helicopters were flying around the Amarula Lodge, where he was holed up with around 180 others, and “clearing some militants away.” At 11 A.M., he reported talk of a rescue in armored troop carriers belonging to an army battalion stationed 30 minutes away. Around 1 P.M., Adi said that there was a new plan: “We might receive some private security at some point today.” Just after 2 P.M., he hinted that he might have good news soon. “The choppers came and blew some shit up at 13:00. To clear a route for us to escape.”
When Adi stopped texting shortly afterward, Janik wasn’t unduly worried. She knew that the insurgents had knocked out Palma’s single cell tower, Wi-Fi was patchy, and Adi’s phone battery was low. Plus, she was being forwarded messages from other contractors at the Amarula who had satellite phones, and they were saying that everyone was fine and busy working on a way out.
So Janik resigned herself to waiting. She kept her phone close that afternoon and into the evening, and by her bed that night. She checked it when she woke up, and at breakfast, and on the school run, and all day at work at a travel agency. Finally, on the way home, when she hadn’t heard from Adi in 27 hours, Janik found herself stuck in traffic, staring at a long line of cars trying to get home, and without really thinking, she pulled onto the shoulder and texted. “I love you, I love you, I love you with all my heart ❤ ❤ ❤ ,” she wrote. “You can do this.”
It was 5:08 P.M. on March 26. The sun would set in Palma in another 17 minutes. When Janik checked her phone later, a double tick indicated that her message had been received.