Saturday, 11 April 2009

Mad men and their horses – Post 4

Kacper has known madmen on horses for years. There are many militia groups on horses or camels across Sudan and Chad that fight their local wars. One of the most feared groups that Kacper heard about is called ‘the Janjaweeds’. The Janjaweeds are known in Sudan, but also, it seems here in Chad too (though to a lesser degree). As members of these groups are extremely gruesome and cruel, villages across southern and western Sudan, as well as eastern Chad are genuinely scarred of them. Hardly surprising! They loot, torch down the houses, kidnap little boys (to train them become members of the militia in the future). Not very kind people at all! They are easily recognisable; as they always move around on horses (or camels), wear turbans, and long ‘jalabas’ (kind of dress).

Kacper first met these fearsome people in southern-eastern Sudanese town of Wau, where he worked for quite some time between 2000 and 2003. He, and his two colleagues: Marie Clare and Sophie were well prepared for their arrival. The whole town had talked nothing but the Janjaweed for entire 2 weeks, as the rumours spread that they were looting villages around the town. It was mainly Jospeh, the guard of the house, where Kacper, Sophie and Marie Clare lived, who fed the three foreigners with all kind of stories. He would tell them that all Janjaweeds had super-human powers, and that no one has ever managed to kill a Janjaweed, as bullets would not hurt their bodies! Joseph claimed that the whole town knew about it, and people would not resist their will, as nothing, absolutely nothing could be done to stop them from doing what their wanted. Joseph would advise that the best protection from the Janjaweed was just avoiding them!

Kacper was in possession of other information about the expected visitors from the security meetings that he was attending regularly together with his colleagues from other aid agencies. They would all meet with the head of the governmental agency responsible for liaising with NGOs, commonly known as HAC. The boss of HAC would assure all aid-workers not to fear, as the government negotiated and agreed with the Janjaweed to spare the population of Wau from any trouble. Nevertheless, he thought that all foreigners in Wau should ‘keep low-profile’ – just in case.

One of the following Sunday morning, Kacper and his two colleagues climbed the roof of their pharmacy, to enjoy their weekend coffee (as they usually did on Sundays – drinking coffee on the roof was one of their favourite leisure activities in Wau) just to freeze in horror. They saw hundreds, literally hundreds of men on horses, entering the town. The Janjaweed were coming! However, they did not look like people, whose intentions were to kill, or loot! They seemed to be rather in good moods, obviously pleased with the results of their looting activities in the neighbouring villages. They must have robbed an office of one of the aid organisations in the bush, as Kacper noticed on a back of one horse, a half-open laptop computer – still with a sticker bearing a logo of its former owner.

As it turned out, the Janjaweed decided to stay in the town longer than everybody had anticipated. Avoiding them for all these days would not work, Kacper and his team needed to go on with their lives and work! They were there to provide medical and nutritional services after all. Patients could not wait, until the men on horses leave again. The team decided to leave the safety of their home, and work as normally as possible, remembering about ‘keeping low profile’ as advised by the caring boss of HAC.

Their daily business brought Marie Sophie and Kacper to the local market. They needed to buy some fresh vegetables, and intended to stay there only a few minutes. Of course, as soon as they left the car, and started choosing their shopping, out of nowhere, a Janjaweed appeared in front of them! He stood in front of Marie Clare and Kacper with his Kalashnikov hanging on his shoulder. Without speaking to each other, Marie Clare and Kacper decided to pay for their tomatoes, and slowly, without panic move towards their car. The Janjaweed moved in their way, forcing them to stop, and smiled to Marie Clare in the dirtiest possible way. Kacper felt pins and needles on his back. ‘Great’ he thought. ‘Now, we will have a problem!’ The Janjaweed slowly reached his hand to his pocket, and then took it out again holding a note of 20 Sudanese dinars. The note was worth literally 30 US cents, not more. He then, with a smile on his face, handles it to Marie Clare, and with a broken English says: ‘buy yourself whatever you like in this market, honey’. Poor Marie Clare hesitated, not knowing, what to do! ‘Just take it’ – whispered Kacper desperately! Fortunately, she heard that, and politely accepted the money, saying ‘thank you’ in the same time. The Janjaweed pleased with his generosity grinned and disappeared as mysteriously as he had previously appeared! He was gone! Marie Clare and Kacper were free to go, which they did rather quickly, without completing their shopping.

‘The Janjaweed’ – thought Kacper – ‘why did I think of them?’ Yes, he remembered. Kacper has just returned to Abeche from Goz Beida, and found out that when he was away for a few days, there was a rather unpleasant incident in the town. One of the French Peace Keepers based in Abeche got mad and without any reason shot his three colleagues dead (two Frenchmen and one Togolese). Then he run on the streets of the town, and shot dead a first met Chadian with a horse. He stole the horse, and went hiding to the deserts. It was the tragedy of the incident that reminded Kacper of the Janjaweeds of Sudan. He however hoped that he would not be meeting any madmen on horses for some time, neither Sudanese, French, or any other at all…

PS. Kacper is wondering how much of the present economic crisis is fuelled by media writing about it?

The picture of the Janjaweed, the courtesy of

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