Monday, 3 November 2008

Occupational Hazards

I'd have put money on there being problems about us getting out of Abeche, it was all but inevitable. It was only the relative euphoria of a successful series of meetings that allowed us to ignore the lack of running water at the UNHCR guest house (mistakenly named as "Villa Rosa" - it didn't have running water when we were there in March 2007 either).

We were assured that unlike the last occasion, when we had the flight tickets in our hands but were not on the passenger list, there would be no problems. This was a foolish thing to do. This time we were on the passenger list, but we didn't have the right form from UNHCR. Unless we had it, we were not going anywhere...

There then followed a series of frantic phone calls (all unnecessary since the plane was due to leave 2 hours later than we'd been told..) after which the papers arrived, we got our tickets and then sat on the steps for hours, quite literally watching the world go by.

Jeremy and I got back into N'Djamena at dusk, discussed the meetings, wrote our reports and sloped off to our respective rooms. On any trip like this a moderate amount of, (how shall I say this to avoid upsetting those of a nervous disposition...), lets say, indigestion, is an occupational hazard. However, lets say then that we were both affected by an immoderately bad dose of it. Since Friday 31 October was Halloween in any case, fellow guests in the hotel must have thought that we had joined in the celebrations early by dressing up as the undead even before breakfast. We managed to pull ourselves together for a de-brief meeting with the genial Serge Male , UNHCR's representative in N'Djamena - his genuine support and enthusiasm for the SPANA project made us both feel better.

Ploughing back to the hotel in an elderly and decrepit taxi, (the UN drivers being unavailable), the traffic first slowed and then stopped while up ahead about ten uniformed soldiers were busily engaging themselves in methodically beating a man to the ground with the stocks of their automatic rifles. Our taxi driver began reversing, the soldiers shot us nervous glances - they knew that while their countrymen expect this, even they knew not to beat a man to death in front of white aid workers - they ambled back to their vehicle and clambered on board. As we drove past, the man was slowly picking himself up, looking worse for wear but nonetheless alive.

I'll always wonder what might have happened had we not come past...

Simon Pope

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