I’m somewhere high over the Atlantic, on my way to Chad via Paris. It’s my thirteenth such trip, the first one being in 2005, which seems a lifetime away. I’ve been staring at a blank document for over an hour, not knowing what to say. It feels like I’ve said it all—too many times.
Sudan is spiraling out of control into what could be the bloodiest African war of the decade. For Darfuris, another year has gone by, and millions remain displaced with little to no hope for a better future anywhere on the horizon. I’ve said something similar to this on each of my previous twelve trips.
This trip is different.
N’DJAMENA (NDJ) AIRPORT
I have four big duffle bags, filled right up to the weight limit, something we’ve become experts at doing. They have all the travel gear for our players, plus my food, clothes, and tech gear. Everything arrived at the NDJ airport, and I’m feeling well. The feeling did not last long, as we try to make it out of the customs area, which is a fourth of the size needed for the amount of people it now holds. The customs officials are checking everyone’s luggage, and James and I are moving oh so slowly, pushing an overloaded cart that wants to go anywhere but straight.
When we get to the luggage-inspection area, a woman officer opens my carry-on and touches every single item in it. When she gets to my satellite phone rental, she puts that to the side. Then the fun begins. She wants my “authorization” for carrying that phone, the same type I have brought along on my twelve previous trips. My UNHCR friend, Amos, begins arguing with her in a calm but persistent way, telling her about i-ACT’s humanitarian work, and that we will be in an area where satellite phones are needed. The thing I do not understand is how do you get a satellite phone authorization? And where?
She keeps it.
As we are walking out, Amos is holding James’ tripod. An official at the door asks for it. “Where is your authorization for this?”
He keeps it.
Everything else makes it out, all four duffle bags plus another four smaller ones. Amos is not done. He tells me to go back inside with him, so we can fight for the phone and the tripod. The official that now has the phone, a young looking guy in a room that has a desk and a bed, is smoking and looking like he’s not going to budge. After about ten minutes of arguing, he does not budge.
We go over to another office, with the guy that now has the tripod. He wants to see the camera that belongs to said tripod. “Umm…it’s gone,” I say. I did not want the camera to end up in the hands of some third official, who would then need something else, in order for us to get it back.
The phone and tripod stay in the offices.
When we are out by the street, waiting for our UNHCR ride to the hotel, the smoking officer that has the phone comes out and has another chat with Amos. He is still smoking but looks calmer and less official. A few minutes later, Amos hands me the phone.
We are still missing the tripod, but I have a feeling we’ll get it back. Amos is good.
THE STREETS OF NDJ
The capital of Chad has changed so much from when I first came in 2005. The immediate, visible difference is that the streets are paved and lit. They also have imposing monuments and statues at different major intersections or areas of the city. A large plaza has been constructed in front of the Presidential Palace, and there are gardens and even areas with grass. There are only a few signs of the 2008 all-out fire fight that took place between the former rebel force and the national army. Bullet holes adorn some of the buildings. It’s a different city, one that has experienced something, the feeling of which most inhabitants have forgotten – a long period of peace.
We will be moving up and down these streets for the next two days. My good friend, Victorien, is doing what it takes to get us our permits for traveling to the east and for using our cameras. I know Victorien from my second trip out here, back in 2006. He’s the only one from UNHCR or any other organization that was around since the “good old days.” The refugees were there from the start, so we keep coming back.
If everything goes right, we head out to the east to meet up with Darfur United players at the refugee camp Djabal. The people in the camps have been hearing all the bad news from Sudan. They hear of other people now experiencing what they went through some years ago—the destruction of their lives by war. They now also have something positive to think about. They have a team that will represent them before the world. I’m getting excited with them. I still see obstacles and challenges ahead, and I can’t completely relax or feel like “we’re there” with the team. We need to get them from a refugee camp, to NDJ, to Iraq.
As our young refugee friend, Rahma, says: Let’s move!