The temperature must have exceeded well over 50 degrees Celsius in Abeche today. ‘This is only a start’ said Marco. ‘It will increase another 5 degrees, by the end of the month’, he added without much of encouragement. Kacper burnt his fingers, when he tried to unlock the door to his office, after returning from lunch, earlier on today. The door’s knob got so hot that it was impossible to touch it. He needed to look for a piece of cloth, wet it and only then pull the door open!
Theoretically, there is not much time left for Kacper to stay in Abeche. He got deployed to complete a very specific task of helping his organisation prepare the Contingency Plan in case of a possible influx of refugees from Sudan. It should take Kacper another month at most to finish the job. Then, he will move forward to his new deployment, wherever and whatever it might be.
Over a month ago, the Sudan’s President expelled over 10 humanitarian agencies from his country, as punishment for their alleged cooperation with the International Criminal Court, which had issued an international arrest warrant for him, for war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The expulsion of the NGOs created vacuum in humanitarian service delivery for 1,5 million of people. This vacuum, combined with insecurity, which is always present in Darfur, might cause thousands of people move westwards, to Chad in search for safety, and humanitarian assistance.
Kacper thought for a while about this troubled part of Africa. He always was puzzled, whenever Sudan was on his mind. He spent over 5 years in various parts of the country, and despite a fact that Sudan sometimes felt like hell on earth; he loved the place! Kacper remembers, when he was leaving Khartoum and Sudan years ago, on completion of his mission, he was extremely moved. ‘I will always keep Sudan in my heart, and I will always be Sudan’s ambassador’, he promised to the Sudanese personnel of his organisation.
Certainly Kacper has lots of memories from Sudan (some of them can be found in Posts 4, 6, 7 & 8). Many were wonderfully hilarious, some were moving and touching, while the others tragic. Somehow, Kacper was not sure, whether he would like to, or even if he ever was able to live in Sudan again. He remembers Sudan in his very own way, he remembers its wonders and horrors, and does not want these memories to alter. He still has many Sudanese friends, whom he would like to visit one day. So perhaps, he will return after all?
Once, for some time, Kacper worked in the areas of Rubkona and Bentiu of Unity State, the oil reach areas, west of Old Fangak. He was in charge of a project that provided treatment for severely malnourished children through its Therapeutic Feeding Centre, or TFC, as it was often referred to, and basic health services through its Mother and Child Health (MCH) clinic.
The whole area, as well as the road, and the oil pipe leading northwards to Khartoum and then Port Sudan were real security hot spots, and battle fields for various pro-governmental militias, as well as the Government of Sudan’s Army protecting them on one side, and Sudan’s People Liberation Army, and its allied militias, trying to take over control them, on the other side. Things were actually not that simple. The militias kept on changing their political alliances, depending on political favours and financial support that they were being offered at different times. Someone, who was pro-governmental, could become pro-rebel next day, to become pro-governmental again 6 months later! To make things more complicated, there were constant splits within the militias, and formation of new ones too. Adding the usual inter-tribal fighting over water, grazing land, or cows and you can easily imagine that following security and safety of patients and personnel was a daunting task and experience.
Security management fell under Kacper’s responsibility. In order to do it well, he needed to learn many unusual tricks and techniques. Probably, the most important were related to obtaining information. Kacper used to make ‘friends’ with as many individuals as possible. The more people you knew, the more informed you became. You start with the drivers, and guards of your own organisation. These people are always the best and often the first source of information. Drinking tea together, and discussing all spheres of life, not only was an interesting fun, but also provided you news that could save your life! Then, there was the local market. Talking to traders, who knew just about everyone, was simply invaluable! Just observation of the bazaar, how people behaved, what prices of fuel, or commodities were, could give you clues of what was happening.
More official techniques involved Kacper talk to his colleagues from the other two NGOs working in the area, and exchange information with them. Meetings with the officials from the Administrator’s Office, sometimes proved useful, and definitely became a ritual that Kacper could not neglect.
Finally, sometimes Kacper talked to the militia leaders! These conversations were not aimed at gathering information. Obviously none of the warlords would tell you his plans related to politics, or military manoeuvres. Kacper was there more to ensure that he explained to them as clearly as he could, what his organisation was doing, and how they were serving THEIR people. Building such acceptance of his organisation was as important as gathering information itself. As the militias kept on changing their alliances constantly, Kacper wanted the warlords to respect his organisation for its work, regardless of which side they currently decided to support.
Of course, there were also other procedures that Kacper needed to supervise. Radio checks, follow-up of whereabouts of all personnel, or curfews were just some among many.
Not always everything went smoothly, but luckily everything always ended well.
Kacper and his team lived in a compound of mud, small, African huts, which were thatched. The compound was surrounded by a fence made of dry grass (grass was the main building material). One could enter the compound through its gate, made out of wooden boards. All was extremely basic and rough.
One evening, Paulino, their Nuer driver, just before the curfew came over to their compound for his favourite ritual of drinking tea. Like most people of his tribe, Paulino’s lower front teeth were extracted, while the upper ones were deformed. People deformed their teeth, as it was regarded to be beautiful. A perhaps unwanted side effect of this was not being able to pronounce sounds of B and P. They all sounded like F. Therefore, ‘Paulino’ became Faulino, or ‘Pepsi please’ turned into Fefsi flis.
Before his tea, Paulino decided to check, where his fellow colleagues were. Paulino was a team leader, and therefore was responsible for security of other drivers. He took his radio handset and started calling one of his colleagues, using a very specific jargon, enriched with Nuer F sounds:
- Paulino (P): Fafa Kilo, Fafa Kilo for Fafa Fafa over... (Paulino [Papa Kilo] calling his colleague [Papa Papa], please answer [over])
- Response (R): Fafa Fafa for Fafa Kilo reading you, move channel three. (Papa Papa for Papa Kilo I understand you [reading you]. Please move to frequency number three, where we will be able to talk.)
- P: Moving...
- R: Moving...
- P: Fafa Kilo, flis confirm, you are reading? (Papa Kilo, please confirm that you can understand me clearly? [you are reading])
- R: Fafa Fafa, I am reading five on five. (Papa Papa, I can understand you very well. [I am reading you five on five])
- P: Well cofid, flis confirm your fresent fosition. (I understand you very well [well copied], please tell me where you are at the moment? [please confirm your present position])
- R: Fresent fosition is the fasar near the fase, over... (I am in the bazaar near to the office, did you understand? [Present position is the bazaar near the base, over])
- P: Well cofid! What is your ETA? (I understood, when will you arrive here? [ETA – Expected Time of Arrival])
- R: Ten mike, ten mike… (Ten minutes [ten mike])
It went on, and on. Kacper just loved it. These wired radio checks without Ps and Bs were just a part of Bentiu, which he would never forget.
That evening, Paulino drank his tea, and mentioned that it was quiet in the area, and there was no major security concern. ‘Good night’ he said and left home, so he could manage to reach it before the official curfew.
After the dinner, Kacper felt like acting silly. He therefore suggested that they would all play a game with their toothpastes. With a chalk, he drew a circle on a wooden board, to which all of the team members were supposed to aim with their toothpaste tubes. The idea was to squeeze their tubes in such a way that the paste from inside was ejected towards the circle. Whoever’s paste was closest to its centre, won, and could have two pieces of chocolate, as a prize.
It seemed like everyone was up for the game, and minutes later, five grown-up, and otherwise responsible people, were squeezing their tubes, making everything around them quite messy – to much of amusement of the guard on duty. It was Kacper’s English colleague and friend Patricia that won, and was allowed to eat her extra chocolate. ‘What a shame!’ she said sadly… ‘I am on a diet’, and put her chocolate in her mouth with a big smile on her face! After fun, they dishwashed and tidied the place together, and went to their tuckles (mud huts) to sleep.
Kacper woke up nervously. Was it his dream, or did he just hear a machine gun? Pap, pap, pap, pap… that followed right after made him realise that it was not a dream. The shots seemed to be dangerously close. ‘S..t’ he swore, even if there was no one in his tuckle to hear it. He slid from his bed on the floor, and crawled towards the door. He opened it carefully, and while still on the ground looked around. It was dark, but the moon gave enough light to see that others were up, and looking out of their huts too. The machine gun shots intensified, and soon, even more guns were heard. ‘All to Patricia’s tuckle!’ ordered Kacper, and they all sprang out of their houses and run as quickly as they could towards Patricia’s. Her hut was the biggest, so they could all squeeze in.
They were on the floor, under Patricia’s bed. All half-naked, and squeezed like sardines in a tin. They were scared. Kacper was sweating and his mind was frantically thinking of possible action, which they needed to take now… He also felt very guilty. ‘Now, what did I miss? How come, I was not aware of rebels coming?’ he blamed himself. When the sound of the machine guns came even closer, they clang to one another, without thinking. Only a moment later, he realised that Patricia’s foot what on his nose, and that he was nervously squeezing Albert’s arm, each time the new shots were fired.
Patricia started sobbing, and in the same time, kept on whispering that she was sorry to cry, and she would stop in a moment. Kacper’s was convinced that were reaching the end of their existence, and it was him that should be blamed for it!
It came to the point, when the bullets started flying over their compound. There was shouting going on, and they could hear people scream. The nightmare went on, well over one hour. Suddenly more shouting, very close to their compound was heard. However, strangely, the guns went silent. It felt like a moment of relief to their ears, and stress.
Then, they heard a noise of approaching people from the direction, where the gate to their compound was. Someone started knocking at it forcefully. No one answered. The poor guards must have tried to hide themselves, and did not dare moving at all.
‘Mr. Kaaacfer… Mr. Kaaaaaaacfer’ he heard. ‘Ms. Fatriciaaaaa…’ the voice went on. ‘Hang on a second, isn’t it Paulino?’ noticed Patricia. Paulino was obviously inside the compound searching for his colleagues. He finally opened the doors of Patricia’s hut, looked at five khowadjas (foreigners) squeezed under the bed, and laughed.
‘I am sorry Mr. Kacfer, nothing to worry about, this is me Faulino!’ He did not appear to be stressed at all, on a contrary, Paulino was in a good mood. ‘What is happening’ asked Kacper with a relief in his voice. Obviously, things were not so bad. ‘We are sorry!’ – said Paulino, and explained that there was a party at one of the neighbour’s houses, the previous evening. During the party, one of the participants found out that his wife had been unfaithful with his cousin, who lived just near to their organisation’s compound. The guy, whose wife was unfaithful decided to settle the matter the same night. He called for help from his mates, and came over to ‘discuss’ things over. Of course, all arrived armed with their Kalashnikovs. Somehow, his opponent managed to find out, he was to have ‘visitors’ and prepared for a fight along with his mates, he had managed to call. This is how a mini-war broke out, just over the heads of five innocent khowadjas.
One hour into the fight, and running around, they all realised that the khowadjas were nearby, and actually thought, the foreigners may be scared. They therefore decided to stop fighting, and agreed they would only carry on next evening, in a different place. They also called for Paulino, so he could come and apologise to their village guests on their behalf. ‘They are all very sorry’ announced Paulino. ‘They will slaughter a goat and come over tomorrow with dinner’ he added. Then he advised that there were still 2, or 3 hours until the morning, so everyone could go back to their beds. ‘Ms. Fatricia, it is going to fee very quiet, flis do not worry anymore.’
Khowadjas did not feel like sleeping anymore. They returned to Patricia’s tukle and sat on her bed. Someone reached for a bar of chocolate… the new day in Bentiu was about to start. ‘What will it bring?’ they wondered.
PS. Kacper is preparing to go out for a beer with his friends.