‘It is a very unusual evacuation’ thought Kacper to himself. Actually, he wasn’t being evacuated at all; he was merely not being allowed to return to Chad, until fighting eased. All the trouble in the country happened when he was gone to Kenya and resulted with him having a prolonged stay in Nairobi.
He just opened and email from Marco, who still is Abeche, along with the others from his organisation. What Kacper read, made him worried. Marco didn’t seem optimistic. In fact, Kacper found his email was slightly disturbing and alarming.
‘Poor guys’, reflected Kacper. ‘Thank goodness, Bernard is there, with all of them’ he analysed. Bernard has loads of security management experience, and Kacper trusted, he would do anything what is possible in human nature to keep everyone out of trouble. ‘Then, a war will always be a war – you can’t always predict everything’, he thought of his own experiences. Kacper was realising, how truthful one of Bernard’s wisdoms was. ‘The only certain thing in Chad is uncertainty’, he told Kacper, when he arrived to the country. This definitely seemed to be true. Still a week ago, he was in Chad, and there were few indicators, things might go wrong, and today partial evacuations are organised, and the whole team is preparing for a possible complete relocation from the country! ‘This is madness!’ went on Kacper worryingly.
When security problems, similar to those in Eastern Chad occur, naturally Kacper first starts thinking of safety of people that he knows. They usually happen to be aid workers themselves. However, he realises well that most of the time, the humanitarians manage to get through the crisis unhurt – sometimes scared and shaken, but keeping their physical integrity. People, who suffer the most, people who pay the highest bill for the military conflicts are always the CIVILIANS. It is them, who are attacked, raped, prosecuted, looted, and often killed. They do not have passports, and whole logistical machinery, which allow the humanitarians flee with cars, boats, planes or helicopters when things get really bad. The civilians are truly defenceless!
Wars made Kacper evacuate quite a few times in his career. Each relocation he went through was traumatic. What the evacuations inflict and is always very difficult to deal with is a realisation that you would leave people behind you. There were other difficult decisions to make as well, but leaving people you work with, people that are your friends, people you meet every day on streets is simply heart breaking, and nearly unbearable.
Security officers taking decisions to relocate bear a phenomenal stress and burden on them. Evacuations disrupt often life saving activities and frequently have very serious political consequences (authorities, rebels, or militias get upset with you). Your leaving often may make communities, where you work even more vulnerable to attacks, prosecutions, and suffering. Then, evacuations usually confront you with your own fears, and with fears and stress of staff reporting to you. You bear a responsibility of bringing your personnel to safety. You therefore need to take some tough decisions, even if these are not popular, even if you don’t like them yourself. ‘Being responsible for security management is definitely not my favourite task’, Kacper concluded his considerations.
Years ago, when Kacper worked in Bentiu of Unity State in Sudan, he learnt how cruel a war could be to civilians. For days, their Therapeutic Feeding Centre (TFC) was experiencing arrival of very large number of people, especially women with children, who often were so malnourished that could hardly walk. Most were only hours from extinction. In fact, there were many kids, who arrived too late, and nothing more could be done to save them. Kacper remembers the mothers reporting the increased military activities in villages around. It is their husbands and sons, who told them to flee to Bentiu – knowing they could be helped there, while they were staying behind to protect their homes and little livestock they had left.
Kacper was worried. It seemed like the frontline was coming towards Bentiu. It was logical. Bentiu was an important administration governmental base, and after all, it was the area where most oil excavation was taking place. Who had control over Bentiu, had control over the money!
At that time, Paulino Matip – a nearly legendary warlord happened to be allied with the governmental forces. His troops were preparing for something major. It was obvious. More and more militiamen, along with official military soldiers were coming to the town, preparing for its defence.
Like all militias in Sudan, also Paulino’s one extended its human capacity through so called ‘forced recruitments’. They used to choose a village, surrounded it tightly, making sure no one could leave, and visited each and every house. They picked all boys, who looked older than 14 years old – no exception – they were to become Paulino’s servants. Brothers, sons, and fathers were brutally removed from wives', mothers’, or sisters’ arms. There was always despair and screaming. Some people tried hiding, those who were found, in a best-case scenario were beaten and arrested, sometimes, they were also killed. The forced recruitment victims were chained to one another and escorted to one of the military camps, where they were to become soldiers. Sometimes they needed to walk for days. They did so with little or no food and water, they walked in unbearably hot sun, all wondering what would happen to them, all worrying whether they would ever see their loved ones again. For many it was the last journey of their lives. They died on the way from exhaustion and stress. Kacper sometimes met such convoys of these unfortunate men. It was a horrific scene. He realised, he was just watching people who were enslaved – enslaved to become dehumanised killing machines!
Kacper’s organisation had a deal with Paulino’s militia. He promised he would not recruit men nurses working for the organisation’s TFC. Paulino recognised that it was difficult for Kacper’s organisation to train new nurses each time, his militia had a need for new soldiers. It was also a way for Paulino to show to the population of Bentiu, how humanitarian at heart he was, and how much he cared for people.
Things were becoming more tensed. Matip decided to carry out one of his recruitments in Bentiu itself. That was perceived to be a desperate move. Paulino didn’t want to anger inhabitants of the town, where he was based. The militias must have had plenty of casualties in the frontline, if boys and men of Bentiu needed to be included in the forces.
Kacper will never forget that recruitment. People around the TFC screamed and cried. Sometimes, gunshots were heard. Tens of young men were chained and gathered in a large square – all resigned and aware that their lives would change forever.
‘Kacper, Kacper…’ he was called by one of the drivers. ‘Eleven of our nurses were recruited to the militia’ he came running with tears in his eyes. ‘Who are the nurses?’ asked Kacper nervously. ‘Prepare the name list… we are going to Paulino’ decided Kacper. ‘But Kacper… this might be dangerous now…’ the driver noticed, hoping that Kacper wouldn’t change his mind. ‘We will go now!’ insisted Kacper.
‘Good day, sir’ said Kacper politely to the man, who appeared to be a guard protecting an entrance to the headquarter, where Matip lived and worked. ‘We are coming to see Mr. Paulino Matip’ went on Kacper. ‘Would you be able to help us arranging an appointment’ he asked finally. The guy looked at Kacper disrespectfully. His eyes were red, and he smelled of alcohol. ‘What you wanna discuss?’ he threw in surprising good English. ‘We have got a concern over our staff that you have just recruited’ answered Kacper. ‘Phew…’ the guard seemed to be rather unimpressed. Kacper definitely didn’t like a fact of talking to a drunkard with a machine gun… There was no other way to get through to Matip though.
‘Paulino will not see you know. Come tomorrow!’ he ordered, after he had been gone for 15 minutes. ‘Please do tell Mr. Matip that we are not leaving, until he sees us, we will stay here as long as necessary’ went on Kacper, playing tough. The guard was annoyed with the persistence of a silly foreigner, but said nothing and disappeared again. He came back after a while and told Kacper he could enter. ‘Alone… your driver, and assistant will wait with me’ he prevented them from entering.
Kacper walked through a big fenced yard. Hundreds of semi-naked men were standing in lines, with their hands behind their heads. All seemed exhausted, and no one spoke a word. His heart nearly stopped beating. ‘I can’t beak… I can’t start crying now’ he tried to pull himself together.
‘You are a manager of the TFC?’ asked a man, who looked like in his 50’ies. He was well nourished, nearly fat, dressed in a brownish uniform, military boots, and a green beret. He wore dark sunglasses, and smoked a cigarette, while talking to Kacper. His face was unfriendly, and tensed. ‘What do you want from me?’ he demanded from Kacper. ‘Sir, I came here to ask you for release of staff members of our TFC’ demanded Kacper politely, but firmly. ‘We have none of your staff...’ went on Paulino. Kacper reached his pocket and opened a neatly typed paper with names on it. ‘Those are the names’, Kacper handed a list to Paulino. He took it, looked at it, and ostensibly tore into pieces in front of Kacper. ‘I will not leave without these men’ said Kacper. Paulino laughed rather amused. ‘What will you do? Take them by force?’ he enquired annoyed.
‘Sir… I am not a military man. I am just here to help people that need to be helped. Sir, you know as well as I do that our TFC saves lives of hundreds of children every week. We can’t do it without our staff’, explained Kacper. ‘I do not know what to say, how to convince you, sir… All I know is that we had a deal, and it seems to me that our deal is broken, and our staff members are here, instead of assisting dying people… If you wish me to beg you for their release, I will happily do so, sir. We need these men, you need to understand… Please!’ he concluded emotionally. Kacper knew that he had tears in his eyes, but he didn’t care anymore. Paulino looked at him. His face was like a stone. ‘Leave this compound now, and do not come back!’ he demanded.
Kacper sat in his office, resigned and defeated. His head was still spinning from emotion. ‘God, this is so unfair’ he thought. ‘What am I going to do now?’ he wondered. The situation wasn’t good. Eleven nurses, from his organisation were gone, he needed to think of evacuation for some international staff members, and of a strategy, how they were going to make it through possible fighting.
‘Mr. Kacper… Mr. Kacper!!!’ the driver came running towards him. ‘They are arriving…’ he exclaimed, rather happily. ‘Who is coming?’ enquired Kacper impatiently. ‘Our nurses are coming… from Paulino!’ he shouted. Kacper run out of his office hut… the gates of the compound were just opening, and one by one ELEVEN men were entering the yard in front of the TFC. All tired and still scared, but obviously happy. They surrounded Kacper, and hugged him. Kacper was overjoyed and moved. ‘They were safe, at least for now’ he thought with relief. ‘This is a letter for you’ one of them handed a brown envelop to Kacper.
He opened it and read:
Here are the staff members of your TFC. We will not be recruiting your personnel again.
Kacper looked at it again, and slowly, but decisively tore it into pieces. ‘Welcome back!’ he told the boys. ‘There is work to be done!’ he added.
Soon after, first international staff members were leaving Bentiu for Khartoum. Kacper with his boss in the capital had decided, it was a good idea to reduce some personnel presence, so that if real trouble came, there were fewer people to worry about.
The following days brought additional fighting not far from the town. The new recruits from Paulino’s militia, as well as soldiers from the official army stopped the rebels from coming to the town. Kacper could call-off the full evacuation for now, and allow other staff, who had previously left to return.
They later learnt, only that one fight around Bentiu claimed around 100 people lives. Many more were badly injured and left disabled. Most of those who died were just boys and young men, from whom, one day, the right to be happy, was brutally taken away. They died, being forced to defend somebody’s power, money and political interests.
Kacper was relieved things were returning to its normal but so confused and nearly shattered by his recent experiences. He felt so helpless again… as he often did before in Sudan.
Ave Maria… started flowing into Kacper’s ears from his laptop computer that evening. It was calming and relaxing. ‘May Angels look after you, wherever you are guys’ thought Kacper about the boys, who had just lost their lives…
PS. Kacper is excited to meet his friend from Canada tomorrow!