Darfur Day 2: Hot as Hell

Just checking in to say that I made it to Darfur and while the Internet here is painfully slow, I’m delighted that I can still email and blog (although not use Facebook).

So what to tell you? Firstly, it is hot as hell, even in winter. And this internet room smells like a soldier’s locker-room. At first I thought it was the guy sitting next to me and then I thought it might be me but now I think the room may have absorbed the odours of countless sweaty soldiers over the years. Or perhaps it really is the guy sitting next to me.

It’s too hot to provide much by way of details but I’ll try. I arrived on Monday after a marathon journey from Bloemfontein. The endless weigh-in (each of us was allowed 45kgs) saw me throwing food away to make it under the limit. Then the long wait at Johannesburg international. The long, cramped flight on Air Jordan. Land at El Fasher airport which has a strip of tar, a few buildings and several UN helicopters. We’re met by the big Colonel.

“Today is going to be difficult,” he says. “It will be very hot and some of you will be here until 8pm. Please be patient.”

We’re given a bottle of UN water and we buy some Pepsi. Off to the UNAMID (UN and African Union Mission in Darfur) headquarters in El Fasher to get our UN IDs. Scramble to get on the first helicopter to Kutum. I generally hate flying but this is scary and fun at the same time. The Russians flying the helicopter are very serious (and thorough). It doesn’t help that I watched Black Hawk Down the other day. I’m scared of crashing but reassure myself that it’s very unlikely. We fly over a brown, dusty landscape dotted here and there with homesteads, some hills, some greenery and a lot of sand. The sand seems to shimmer in the heat.

When we land I want to say Nostorovya to the Russians but they might take it as an insult. I’m already thinking of the Cold War and James Bond. On our descent I catch sight of some rebels, armed and dangerous-looking on the back of a small truck. We touch down and they’re nowhere to be seen. Instead we’re greeted by SA soldiers with their R4 rifles, flak jackets and steel helmets. And big smiles. They’re happy to see us. I’m happy to see friendly faces and to be safely on the ground again. I realise that we are really here.

On the way to the base, I realise how rural this place is. This is probably the most rural place I’ve ever been in. I taught for two years at a black private school in what was then the Northern Province of SA and that was pretty backward. As soon as you turned off the main road and the secondary road you were into dongas. The supermarket has a guy with a shotgun standing outside for protection. Here the women ride donkeys and the guys sit under trees. The base itself is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s over-crowded (built for 200, currently catering for 800). Lots of tents, makeshift buildings, sand and rocks, generators, overhead wires, big satellite dishes, stray dogs, goats, local women working as cleaners. The smell of dirty water. Bored soldiers. Different nationalities. The hum of air conditioning. Watch towers. Piles of sand bags. Ammunition casing. Faces friendly and foreign. The sound of arabic over loudspeakers from the village.

The psychologist who I’m replacing has been very helpful and I think that two months here will definitely be do-able. I’ll check in again when I manage to upload a few pictures. By the way, this is my 200th post. (Happy bloggiversary to me!) Hard to believe it’s been that long since my first post here from my first military base. Thanks for all the comments and friendship since then! Chat soon.

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10 Responses to Darfur Day 2: Hot as Hell

  1. effendi says:

    Congrats on arriving, Pete. I’m glad to hear you sounding positive (ish) about the following two months. Good luck with settling in.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Effendi. It helps having an air-conditioned office to sit in during the day. Now I just need a room of my own (I’m currently sharing a room in the sickbay with two others). Trying to take things one day at a time. Under 60 to go I reckon.

  2. doctordi says:

    Wow, this makes for absolutely riveting reading, Pete. You’ve so succinctly captured those telling details that speak volumes. I am also happy and relieved that you’re sounding totally in command of the timeframe – good for you. And what an experience.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks Di. Not sure that I can ever be totally in command of the timeframe here but I’m doing my best. And the great thing so far is that I do have time for reading. Maybe I’ll even manage some reviews. Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. litlove says:

    I can imagine it and I can’t at the same time. But I’m so happy and relieved to hear you sounding optimistic about your two months. This is already such a profound growing experience for you – really proud of you and all you’ve managed to accomplish on and around this secondment (if that’s the right term…). Take very good care of yourself.

  4. Pete says:

    Ah thanks, Litlove. I’m quite safe for the moment. I find my mood fluctuates a bit more here but that’s to be expected. I was so happy to finally hear L’s voice for example. There’ll always be many things to be negative about (supper for example) but I’ve got more than enough to read (and watch) for the two months that I’m here. It will be great to actually do some book-blogging for a change instead of this survival stuff.

  5. I’m glad to hear you’re safe and sound there. It sounds like a vivid experience, and will make good stories when you’re back.

  6. Angeliki says:

    Happy bloggiversary! I’m always looking forward to your posts.

  7. Smithereens says:

    I’m catching up quite late but I still want to wish you a happy blogiversary. I hope you have settled a bit better in your new surroundings by now. It seems all so adventurous. Take care!

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