“Immediately when you arrive in Sahara, for the first or the tenth time, you notice the stillness. An incredible, absolute silence prevails outside the towns; and within, even in busy places like the markets, there is a hushed quality in the air, as if the quiet were a conscious force which, resenting the intrusion of sound, minimizes and disperses sound straightaway."
~ Paul Bowles
I was at home in Arizona, when I got a call from a recruiter about a job in Darfur, Africa, I would be working as a weapons armorer for a Military contract company. Subcontracted by the UN to perform maintenance on the weapons, used by the African Union Soldiers who were providing security for the food convoys. UNMID or United Nations Mission In Darfur. And AMIS, African Mission In (the) Sudan, were responsible for security in the region.
It took me less than a minute to say I was very interested in the position and could deploy immediately.
After the mountain of paperwork was completed and my shot record was in order, I boarded a plane in Tucson for Atlanta, of course the flight was late so I nearly missed my British Airways connection to London, I was in fact the last person to board the flight.
We flew into London and I had about ½ an hour to make my connecting flight for Nairobi, Kenya. I barely made that flight also but eventually after 22 hours total flying time from Tucson I finally made it to Nairobi.
As bad luck would have it my bag did not arrive at the same time I did so I had no clean clothing, no camera, no cell phone, and no power cord for my laptop. Bummer!
After letting the airport baggage folks know my bag was not there I proceeded through customs and passport control and was met by the company representative who had a car waiting.
He drove me to the Safe house in Nairobi and I took a nap for a few hours. After waking up and feeling a bit rested I searched out the kitchen and pilfered some coffee to make a brew.
That was a million dollar cup of coffee as I recall, and I went out to the garden, sat on the patio and watched the local folks walking by going to work.
As I sat there drinking my Javva I realized that I was finally in Africa - “the continent of adventure” as one of my friends once said. The neighborhood was pretty and I noticed that every house had a fire place and a garden. The homes looked more like cottages. This neighborhood must have been left over from the British colonial period.
Anyhoo, having no shaving kit and no clean clothes I went to see the company rep who gave me a $500.00 advanced per dium payment.
I swung my timbuk2 messenger bag over my shoulder and headed for the compound gate. After exchanging pleasantries and asking a few questions of the local Kenyan security guard I went out the gate turned left and went searching for a taxi.
After walking about 20 mins I located a mall and a currency exchange where I converted my US dollars to Kenyan shillings. There was an Ethiopian restaurant across the way so I went there and bought some breakfast, good coffee and good food but I didn’t know how to eat in the Ethiopian style so I had to get a spoon to continue my meal.
After the meal I went to the taxi stand and hired a driver named Rufus, he quoted me a price for a 2 hour tour of the city which sounded reasonable so I agreed and we headed out.
Nairobi is a pretty city and I saw lots of gardens, and we did a drive by of the Massai market then went to a smaller market where I could buy some clothing.
Then we drove to a department store where I bought some towels, razors and other toiletries.
After farting around Nairobi for a while I asked Rufus to drop me back at the company house so I could check on things there and find out my status.
After speaking to the company rep again she informed me that I would be in Nairobi for 4 days until my Sudanese temp visa was approved by their embassy.
Damn! The prospect of staying at the company house for 4 days was pretty grim to me. It was a dirty shit hole full of dissatisfied company employees and no privacy at all.
My luggage still had not arrived so I grabbed my timbuk2 bag and headed out . I walked to the Mall again, found Rufus and asked him about accommodations like a bed and breakfast type thing.
Rufus told me he had a cousin that managed a time share condo and I might be able to rent one for a few days, so we went there and I managed to rent a room for the remainder of my time in Nairobi.
After dropping off my junk in the condo, I took a long shower, put on my new clothes then hit the door, I walked around for a while and located a net café where I printed out some papers I needed, bought some lunch, had a cup of coffee and did a lot of girl watching.
As I recall Kenya had a lot of pretty ladies of all colors.
Feeling a bit tired I returned to my room, made a gin and tonic and flipped through the TV channels for a while, I must have passed out from either exhaustion or from the booze but I woke up several hours later feeling hungry.
It was pretty late or early depending on your perspective but I was extremely hungry and tried very hard to locate an all night delivery service via the telephone. The security guards told me that there was nothing close by and all shops were closed, Damn! But, I was told there was free food and coffee in the main kitchen of the condo complex.
I went to the kitchen and got a few rolls and some coffee and returned to my room. Later on I walked to the company house to check in and see if my luggage had arrived.
The rest of my time in Kenya was about the same, my luggage didn’t arrive until the day I left for Sudan and in fact I had to pick it up at the airport before checking it in for my flight to Khartoum.
I checked into Kenya airlines for my next flight to Sudan then went on a stroll around the airport shops. I bought some wine gums candies and a rough guide tour book about the Sudan, it was a good book but I cannot remember the title.
Upon arrival in Khartoum I passed through immigration and customs and was immediately accosted by all types of local guys bugging me to carry my bag.
There were 2 Nepalese gentlemen Mr. Krishna and Mr. Podel who were traveling with me who were working for the same company. We went outside and finally found our company representative who was suppose to meet us inside at baggage claim but who was of course late!
Man, I remember the heat of Khartoum and all of the noise; I was reminded of other countries like Kuwait and Qatar. I cannot say I really liked it very much.
The driver dropped me off at my designated safe house then took my Nepalese friends to their accommodations in another neighborhood.
I introduced myself to Randy who was the manager of the safe house and our Maid Rose Leku Lojong, a very nice and pretty Sudanese lady.
There were also some other employees there who were in transit to and from the forward operating bases. I met Hermie from the camp I was going to; he is one of the greatest welders and metal smiths I have ever seen.
The other guys were from different FOB’s and camps around all of Darfur. I was heading for the camp at Nyala Darfur which was the largest camp in the southern sector of Darfur and the town of Nyala is the capitol of southern Darfur.
After a couple of days in Khartoum Hermie and me along with several other folks boarded a Russian AN-26 airplane and flew to Al Fasher the capitol of Northern Darfur.
We had a lot of supplies and groceries to unload so upon arrival we were met by other people from our company, after loading up the vehicles we headed for the tiny camp of Zamzam.
Hermie and I ended up staying in Zamzam for 5 days, it was ok for me tho because I got all of my reimbursement paperwork turned in and took care of all of my admin stuff.
I had a tent to myself an, air conditioner, plus the Internet technology guy hooked me up with a wireless sign in code. I was in business!
I was working on a Canadian Department of defense contract so there was a small detachment of Canadian Army guys and gals there. We were allowed access to their vast DVD movie collection so I just stayed in my tent watching movies during the hottest part of the day.
My habit was to wake up early and go for a run around the perimeter on the camp inside the wire. I was surprised to feel how cool it was in the mornings there in northern Darfur. Being from Arizona and having worked in the Middle East for 2 years I was use to extreme hot temperatures; Darfur heat was nothing thus far.
After about 5 days or so we boarder a soviet made An-28 STOL aircraft and flew for about an hour to the airport at Nyala, Darfur. We were met by Andrew in the company vehicle and after loading all of our plunder we headed for the camp.
I was given a tent which had an air conditioner, a wall locker a small file cabinet and a really shitty bunk which squeaked each time I moved.
After stowing my gear/plunder I met the work shop manager and was given the rest of the day off to get my things sorted. I cleaned and mopped out my tent, hung my mozzy net, set up my laptop with an internet connection; thanks to the IT guy.
We had a communal kitchen, weight room/gym, TV and internet room and our own Toilet and shower facilities which we kept locked at all times to keep out the rif raf.
I was liking what I saw so far.
Later on in the day I went to the mess hall and got signed up with a meal ticket and met the lead cook/catering manager – a cool guy.
After making myself a cup of stout coffee I took a walk around the camp perimeter inside the wire to lay out a jogging course, after pacing it out I found that according to my pace count, the perimeter was approximately 1 mile(1,700 meters) in length, that was good, I only need to jog it 2 or 3 times to get my workout in.
I slept pretty good that night but I can recall hearing lots of gunfire outside the berm toward the area of the refugee camps. It was pretty much the same every night, sounded like AK-47 and Chicom .50 mostly. You kinda got use to it. Also, I was again surprised to feel how cool it got after dark, I rarely used my AC at all during the night.
At night and in the early morning Even tho the temperatures were in the upper 60’s to low 70’s I would see The Nigerian soldiers dressed up in wooly pully sweaters and watch caps like they were experiencing winter in Montana, I kinda got a kick out of that. I also saw them wearing the old ww2 style British army issue wool great coats.
Anyhoo, I flew out the next morning on my first weapons inspection mission to the camp at Zalinje via an old soviet MI-8 (widow maker) helicopter.
It was a pretty camp and we were able to buy some decent citrus fruit due to the fact that Zalinje was famous locally for its fruits and veggies. We stocked up on many varieties.
Over the next few months I went on many missions all over southern Darfur where I encountered many good and not so good people. I was very impressed with the high standards of military soldiery which the Rwandan troops held them selves to; their weapons, equipment, vehicles and uniforms were always maintained to the highest standards. It was in stark contrast to the way the Nigerians acted as soldiers.
Anyway, the town of Nyala which is the capitol of southern Darfur is about as 3rd world as you can get. It had one paved road badly in need of maintenance, one stop light that everyone ignores, scores of horse and donkey carts and people galore.
I kinda liked the chaos tho and got a chuckle out of the vendors selling foods clearly stamped “This food is a gift from the people of the United States” – “Not for sale”.
I guess they could not read English.
One thing I found annoying about Sudan is that cameras were illegal except with special permit. We had a camera for taking pictures of damaged equipment and as my partner was checking it inside the helicopter before we took off, a Sudanese special police officer came on board and confiscated it. My partner was subsequently fired for having the camera even tho it was a company camera used for work purposes – go figure.
I really enjoyed my stay there and would welcome the opportunity to return to The Sudan or just anywhere in Africa –“The continent of adventure”.