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First Steps to Darfur United

By Mark Hodson / March, 29, 2012

The flight to France, despite it’s length was pretty easy going…apart from the over zealous pilot hitting the runway in Paris at top speed and waking up some of the plane’s passengers from their slumber with an early morning shock!

The second leg was plain sailing. I managed to sleep for about 3 hours in total and figured I might as well force one last baguette down before arriving in Chad, and the feeling that I might be less confident with the fare they might have on offer.

The airport was an interesting experience, showing our Yellow Fever certificate to a “Guy” in a doctor’s jacket, who meticulously scanned the document, despite the fact he clearly did not speak or “read” English. Once past this stage, we showed our document “again” to a soldier positioned approximately 3 feet from the first guy…I think he could save himself a lot of additional work by trusting the Doc!

Collecting bags was something that I could only liken to a back street, underground auction. A bag would appear, someone would grab it, another guy would take it off him and then a scrum of activity would ultimately and hopefully result in another guy ticking his piece of paper and waiving you through. It seems like everyone so far in N’Djemena has a very important job in this airport…follow the process or do not pass Go.

Unfortunately one of our bags failed to check in with us. Hopefully its segregation from the rest of the luggage is only temporary. I have a sneaky feeling it might be a little lighter when it finally arrives. I get the feeling the same will go for me on my return to LA.

The bags that did make it safely were then passed through an X-Ray Machine close to the exit of the airport, that I would guess would have a hard time seeing through an empty glass. Those working the machine then proceeded to take a look through the various duffle bags that we have travelled with. I did get a kick out of one of the guys taking out a pair of my soccer cleats and measuring them against his foot……My Chadian isn’t really up to scratch so I willed him subconsciously to put them back………Thankfully we clearly weren’t the same size, the cleats were tossed back in the bag!

After a great nights sleep (I have young child at home!) we headed to the UN compound in N’Djemena. Gabe’s stories of soldiers shooting at any car who dares to stop or breaks down in front of the palace made the ride a little more exciting….I saw one guy on a motorbike who was clearly having engine trouble using his feet to keep the bike moving past the gates….he must have heard the shooting story too!….I swear I saw one of the soldiers nudging his buddy as the bike spluttered, in a gesture of “get ready…we’ve got one!”

The route to the UNHCR headquarters seemed vaguely familiar to me based upon my memories of a visit to Curacao a few years ago as people industrially went about their day…..Later in the afternoon we would head into the market place and I finally realized how far away from home we were. For me it was the moment that the magnitude of this trip really hit home. Things are very different here, the pace, the activities, the people, the opportunities…….Our car passed through the market place on a track that Donkey’s would struggle with and we were practically consumed by the locals in a swarm of bodies….I’ve no idea how we didn’t knock anyone down…I also half expected James Bond to coming running past me in the other direction being pursued by a bad guy on a motor bike.

My second realization of the day was that getting things done in a hurry, was only our priority. Gabriel has performed minor miracles in ensuring that everything that we require for this trip is already in place. For the most part it has made our trip to date relatively seamless, but I have this underlying feeling that that’s not always going to be the case and we need to be prepared for that. After a day of sitting, waiting for meetings, more sitting and on occasion fulfilling those meetings, we finish the day with permission to fly east and a seat booked on the UN flight at 5.45am tomorrow morning. The excitement in the camp is rising as we get ready for the first stages of Darfur United.

Our UN liaison Idriss notified us, that the first of the players will arrive tomorrow from the most northern of the refugee camps. For most of the players it will be the first flight of their life……I wonder what must be going through their heads as they take the first steps on their own adventure…..No country to call home, no house to call their own and getting on a flight to try out for a soccer team to play in the Viva World Cup coached by a coach they can’t understand……..Sounds to me like a recipe for magic!

Mark Hodson
Darfur United Coach


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