Wednesday, March 21, 2007 (Part A)
I was up at 5:00am. It was a restless night. I was eager to start our
journey to Abecha and the refugee camp. Yahya and I were joined by Muhammad
Salim and a man named Esau. I had a fruit breakfast, mangos, melons
and papaya – same as last night.
An official SUV was waiting for us. Walid, our cameraman, met us at
the airport. In the daylight, the airport’s scarcity could be
seen. Already the hawkers were gathering, but there were no beggars.
The flight was scheduled for 7:30am. We arrived at 7:00am. To our disappointment,
we discovered the flight had been cancelled. I began to think of staying.
If we didn’t get to the refugee camp, our trip would be of little
value. But, I would miss our church’s National Holy Pilgrimage
and Memorial Ceremonies. It was a difficult dilemma for me. Then to
our great relief and joy, we were told President Deby would provide
us with his plane.
It was a small propeller, seating 8 passengers, including the pilot.
In our party were Walid, Yahya, and Muhammad. There were three others,
two were Eritreans, both were stern. One was swarthy with wavy straight
hair. He wore a blue suit. The other was balding slightly, portly, with
a long face and olive completion. I learned later, they didn’t
like Americans. US had supported Ethiopia in their war, where 25,000
solders/civilians Eritians had been killed. In addition, they wanted
no American involvement in the peace efforts. Their body language and
facial expression (and they weren’t hiding it.) spoke volume of
their antipathy toward us, or me.
I thought later, they who were supposed to be open to all people, capable
of making a distinction between government and citizens of a country,
exhibited the same old dogmatic infantile stupidity of exaggerated generalizations.
I too, resented some of the US government’s policies. For all
they knew, I could have supported Eritrea. In addition, they rejected
Walid filming. They angrily reprimanded us for not seeking their permission
before filming. They were right on that point. We apologized and ceased
filming. When Muhammad offered them tobacco, or whatever it was, there
were no conversation. They took the stuff, rolled it in a small piece
of paper and put it in their mouths. The older gentleman put it in the
bottom of his lip, sat back if in complete satisfaction. I wonder what
it was that could tame this tiger.
It was a surprisingly smooth ride for a small plane. It took a couple
of hours. I didn’t see much. The sun was bright and penetrating.
The curtains had to be pulled down. Occasionally, I would peak out of
the window. I saw nothing but desert and mountains and here and there,
patches of green.
We landed smoothly in the ancient city of Abeche. It sits in the farther
most eastern boarder that Chad shares with Sudan. Rebels were known
to make their assault on N’djamena, the capital city from Abeche.
About a year ago, the rebels and the Chadian government solders engaged
in a series of clashes. The rebels won a temporary victory. But was
beaten back by the government.
Surveying the airport, it was the most underdeveloped airport I have
ever been in. Everything was old and primitive. The hot rugged desert
added to the crumbling appearance of the structures. The toilet was
a stone enclave. The ground was the commode, which reminded me of the
outhouses I remembered, when I lived in Georgia. There they had wood
houses. Here the outhouses were made of stone.
The signs of war were all around. Groups of solders watching, turning,
shifting their weapons, were everywhere. We were motioned to a pickup
truck driven by a young solider, cold black, with his weapon by his
side. I sat in the front with him. Everyone else sat in the back of
the open truck with armed solders. With great skill, he drove across
the dirt, bumpy, debris-strewn roads or pathways. There are no paved
roads in Abeche. Occasionally, the vehicle had to slow down because
of the bumps and holes, and deep cut gullies in the road. There were
no signs or lights. I commented on this to Yahya, he replied, “They
know the roads. They grew up in this area. Not only that, but they know
how to travel in the desert.”
We passed 3 crowded markets and streets. It seemed everything was in
the market and every body had something to sell, even children were
trying to sell something. Also it seemed that it was the only gathering
place. Everybody, except foreigners or those visiting, wore long clothing.
The same for children as it was for adults. There was a lot of color
in the apparel. Men wore the Emma, the turban like headpiece. They folded
it in different shapes. There is another more practical reason for the
headpiece. In addition to beautification, there is protection from the
dust and the sun. Plenty of dust blows all the time and everywhere.
It can be blinding and suffocating. I was told all the solders had to
wear the Emma. After all, they could not be worrying or hampered by
dust while they were trying to fight. The houses or huts were made of
mud, brick and stone. Looking out across the land everything was brownish
tan in color. Always there is a patch of green grass, trees, or bushes.
There seem to be a message in this – nothing can defeat life.
Our first stop was at a house, which seemed to be a guesthouse. Men
lolled around. Immediately upon our entering, a rug was brought out,
we sat for a moment, drank some tea and set out to secure a car. Walking
along the dusty road, we came to a mosque with a tall spire which could
be seemed across the city. School children dressed in blue headed to
the nearby school. Muhammad, who had hopped on a bike to secure a taxi,
returned in an old yellow car. We went to the market place where we
paused for water and greetings. Yahya insisted that I drank a bottled
liquid called guava. It was delicious, not only so, but it revived me.
I had begun to feel dizzy as we waited for the taxi in the burning heat.
I drank 21⁄2 bottles of the stuff. When the car and driver were
secured, we drove to the hotel where we were to stay.
The hotel looked like it had once been the home of a wealthy family.
Like all the buildings, it was one story. It had a stone fence around
it. It was a square maybe 50X50 feet. Inside there was a courtyard.
Two very inexpensive tables with plastic chairs, sat beneath the trees.
Underneath the extended roof were a soft, red flower design and two
chairs. There is always the modern technology present – TVs, cell
phones and vehicles. Muhammad, who had come to my room to assure my
comfort, turned to the English speaking Aljazeera TV station. “It
is the most widely watched station in the world now.
Outdoing CNN,” he said. The last time I was on Aljareeza was in
March 2003. It was in Iraqi. I was interviewed about our mission there.
I had led a multi-racial, interfaith delegation in an attempt to achieve
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