Thursday, 30 October 2008

En Route to Abeche

At last we’re on the plane flying out to Abeche on the Chad/Sudan border. Air France it certainly is not, but then they didn’t, like Air France, tell us that “You are being upgraded, but, sadly, to a worse seat.”

It’s all one grade on World Food Programme planes – cattle-class, but frankly, you’re so relieved to be on board, no-one complains.

This morning was typical. Up before five, to arrive at the airport by six, they then decide that we’re only allowed fifteen kilos of luggage each – including hand-baggage.

With cameras, laptops, wodges of paper (including twenty copies in French and English of our project), it’s pretty impossible to be within fifteen kilos. But we got our tickets, and Simon was off like a whippet after a rat, and through the security check. I was hauled back and told I was twelve kilos overweight. I would have to wait until the very end to see if there would be room for the extra weight. I was not alone – about a dozen others stood anxiously waiting for a decision. Never mind the sheer injustice of it all – Simon weighs over twenty kilos more than me, and I surely weighed a good ten kilos more than one of the women – but that’s the system.

Suddenly, a small man appeared, with a big badge hanging round his neck – clearly a sign of his huge importance. He looked at us as if we were something nasty that had got stuck on his boots, then pronounced that we were all very naughty, and he could not possibly accept any weight over ten kilos. I knew mine weighed twelve – so while he was distracted haranguing some unfortunate, I slipped the case open and magicked away what I hoped was two or three kilos of goodies – and asked one of the security men to stand in front of it.

Then the weighing. ‘Dix kilos’ he grunted ‘Bon. Allez’.

‘Merci, Monsieur’, I called back, disappearing with the all-important permit in my hand, and recovering the rest of my stuff in a plastic bag, disappeared out to the waiting plane. Small victories, but gratifying none-the-less.

Now it’s late afternoon in Abeche. It’s been a long day, discussing and arguing, hopefully passionately (but in French, so who knows?) for our project to look after all the livestock in Eastern Chad.

It’s what we were asked to do, but understandably, with perhaps a million head – if including those of the locals as well as the refugees – it’s a huge and expensive project. Probably three million dollars a year – and of course with the global financial meltdown – this could hardly be a worse time to be looking for funding.
But still, at least everyone is enthusiastic, (UNHCR has never considered livestock before), so we’re still optimistic. And also rather proud. To be the first animal charity to be asked to work with the UN is quite something.

But of course there has to be a downside.

There is a chronic shortage of accommodation here, so I am forced to share a room with Simon.

And boy, does he snore...

Jeremy Hulme

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