Wednesday, December 27, 2006

To Abeche, to Gaga Camp...

The three of us finally got on a UN flight out of Chad’s capital on Tuesday the 26th. The kind folks from International Medical Corps (IMC) picked us up from the airport and drove us back to their “compound”: a pair of rented houses with around the clock security, barbed wire and a 6pm curfew. This, we soon learned, is the norm for NGOs in Abeche, and there are a lot of NGOs in Abeche. IMC, UNHCR, MSF, SECADEV, WFP, ICRC and so on… it’s alphabet city.

On our first day here, David Majagira, IMC Country Director for Chad introduced us to the rest of the staff, which was more numerous than usual due to an attack on their primary operation in Guereda, which required them to temporarily relocate their personnel. David called all over town trying to secure us digs for the night, but it was difficult as many of the typically empty beds were being used by similarly displaced personnel. Eventually, he found us a spot at a SECADEV guesthouse: a concrete room lit by a gas lantern and a shower stall straight out of Midnight Express. Once we found out that the power was merely out and not non-existent, the place seemed a whole lot cheerier.

The next morning we were up at the crack of dawn. Wait- make that before dawn as it was the rooster crowing outside our window which got us up. The thing about roosters is, there’s no snooze, so it’s pointless trying to stay in bed. The IMC driver picked us up at 6:30 AM and we headed over to UNHCR to get their daily security assessment. Essentially, we were asking them if the road out to the Gaga refugee camp was safe enough for just two vehicles. Otherwise, we’d have to wait for a UNHCR convoy. We received the thumbs up and headed east toward the camp.

For the next two hours we were on the rockiest, bumpiest, craziest ride of our lives. It was something straight out of a video game, but much less pleasant when you’re actually riding in the back, periodically banging your head against the roof. The sites were plentiful: small villages, camels, French military convoys, buses with more bags tied to the roof than people inside, Chadian military vehicles (Toyota pick-ups) with cloth sacks of RPGs on either side and a dozen camouflaged-turban-wearing troops stacked in the bed.

At the end of this turbulent ride, we finally arrived at the guarded entrance to Gaga Camp.

(to be continued)