ANOTHER DAY OF WAITING AS WE MOBILIZE EARLY TO ARRIVE AT NZARA FOR NEAR-EMPTY UDPF MI-8 CHOPPER FLIGHT TO OBO AIR STRIP AND MISSION STATION BUILT BY RUSS MILLER, SCOTT’S FATHER-IN-LAW, AS EVERY BIG ORGANIZATION (UDPF, UN, MSF, CAR GOVERNMENT) TEMPORIZES AS FIFTH DAY DELAY OF REFUGEES ALL ORGANIZATIONS’ CONSTITUENCIES
February 25, 2011
It is the fifth full day of standing and waiting in a bureaucratic delay of the kind that is tragic and also typical. For every big organization, the procedure is more important than the substance, since each component of the organization is covering its backside, and does not want to create any proactive waves, so any crisis that may be allegedly addressed is long since passed, and there is NO HOPE in major organizations finally getting around to taking ownership of the problem that has flared and consumed all of the intended target aid recipients. Today, we are talking again to the Obo Commander who says he would be happy to help, but has no authority to allow us on the near empty MI-8 chopper that the Ukrainian pilot welcomed us to stack our stuff and come aboard with the three ton airlift capacity, and he had two passengers, named David and Warren, UDPF soldiers with their backpacks and AK-47’s only. Everyone from all along the line, US Embassy Defense Attaché, the officers here including the Flight Operations controller Isaac Mira, and all the people from Ron Miller, Ron Pointier and all along the course of the UPDF except the Obo Commander here has given permission for the UDPF helicopter to carry us to Obo. Ironically, the UDPF is here to care for the LRA refugee victims we are attempting to reach, but he says he could help us and then face a court martial. We are all of us, from UN to US Army to UDPF to AIM Air to the Mission and the local church and pastors are all here for the refugees and their assistance, and we are here for that explicit purpose and cannot get there.
Who built the base the UDPF are using at Obo? Russ Miller, Suze’s father, Scott’s Fatter-in-law, and all the mission station that is now the HQ of the Commander of the OBO station of the UDPF means it is “all in the family.” Yet, the first affirmative proactive act of his life can ruin his military career if it makes any waves that can come back to haunt him. So, like the enthusiastic reception we had from the local MSF in PiBor allegedly there to take care of the poor patients of PiBor whom they seem to have never met, to the UN at Rumbeck, who are fling in large teams of WFP personnel to feed the hungry masses—but make large overhead salaries for the internationals who came in carrying briefcases—and the UDPF are all here in their self-interest and not eager to jeopardize their cushy privileged salaries and life styles by doing something and risking being out of regulation. So, here we are as the small and quick TR team, or even as me, a solo operator without a Board to report to and seek permission’s for command we are being “assisted “by the official organizations which want to first make sure of the legality and the conformation of the regs on each subsystem before doing anything, and the whole list of the pre-operative selected patients go begging for care. Our equipment is packed in redundancy to treat and to train. Our team has been sitting for five days so it could respond in a flurry of activity that would be helpful. If you consider it, the Friday morning we woke up and went to PiBor to work until Monday afternoon was a short stay and huge expectations preceded it and the results of the mission were beyond even those hopes. It is conceivable that we could rescue this mission as we had that brief stay and we might be able to pull it off on a landing on the run for a fast forward mission.
So, like “fish and visitors after three days” we are getting to reek in the nostrils of the UDPF command since we keep reappearing here in their encampment, and there is no progress on the single permit that counts—the AIM Air to Zemio or the UDPF AN-2 or the MI-8 into Obo—all of which are cleared and have been for twenty years but the specific single sheet of paper for this particular landing states we are only to enter through Bangui–an oversight that should have been corrected and has been brought to the attentions of the officials all around. But there are casualties in Somalia from pirates, there are hostilities between Obo and Zemio secondary to the LRA which is the reason both this camp is here, they are patrolling the three sovereign states through which we are traveling to help the refugees. All of this brings us to an expensive on-the-ground air charter with a team that is running out of stories to swap.
The next possibility is to fly all the way south to Entebbe using up all that fuel and tie in order to get on a UDPF flight from Entebbe to Obo, which is three hours closer to us here, but the US Army defense attaché and Ron Miller and the Africom fore’s all have greater influence there than out here on the remote border of Sudan/CAR/DRC. But, the moment we take off on this fuel-expensive diversion (somewhat like Scott Downing’s 778 km ride from Am Timan to N’djamena to fly to Addis Ababa to fly to Entebbe to be picked up there to go with us to Werkok, his first ever entry into Sudan!) to fly to Rumbeck and Nzara to wait with us for the same delay that has Wendy Atkins, Amboise and Jean Marco and all our friends in CAR refugeed from Assa waiting and wondering why we have waffled out on our promises. It is kind of hard to explain to them—or to us.
INSTANT SPRING—THE OVERNIGHT RAINS HAVE CAUSED A BLOSSOMING OF ALL LIFE IN THE DRY LAND, AS I HAVE CONTINUED TO BE MAKING PLANS FOR OUR NEXT YEAR’S “RETURN ENGAGEMENTS”
The new life in this military camp is springing forth as the dawn birdsong all of it rejuvenated by the overnight rain. The insects were almost instantly out and about in response to this first rain, and now the birds are warbling in their “bird party” feeding frenzies, as the flushers are spooking insects up out of the ground cover to the tree trunks where the gleaners (like shrikes) pick them off, and if they escape into the air the interceptors can catch them—like the “flycatchers.” (Moscraptors) The toads should be coming out of hiding places as the insects pile up often in a cone shaped pile under lights, and they lap up as much as they can hold. The snakes are the next day after the toads. I had witnessed the complete cycle of re-awakening once on entry into Nyankunde where I had stayed for a day awaiting an AIM Air flight into Assa to see the same pope whom I hope to meet their survivors, in response to my promise not to forget them after two decades absence. This would also be true for Scott Downing, but he has already witnessed many of these rainy seasons’ rejuvenations in his current post in Chad, adjacent to the big National Park—Zakouma.
We had talked in the air as we had made plans assuming this mission had already been concluded. Meaning, we would work ten days in South Sudan next year in the second or third week of January, beginning in Werkok then going on to PiBor and to Akobo, then a flight through Wau for refueling, and an entry into the eastern border directly into Am Timan. We will order four barrels of Jet A now to be trucked over in the dry season, and then get to the mission postponed by our planned stop in Ndjamena.
But there was a prohibitive long fly around since the only legal way to enter Chad at that time was the capital Ndjamena where we would have to fly to and could not reach with a westward flying Caravan which would not have enough fuel or endurance to reach the capital and would have no permissions to land along the way to refuel. That has just now changed. I learned that it is Scott’s landlord who has assumed a political role now and has given the permission to fly directly into the eastern border of Chad across Darfur to arrive in Am Timan for our postponed mission. It would take three barrels of Jet A to get there and back, and an extra barrel would allow us a half hour flight to go to a second site Haraz while we are in AmTIman to set up the clinic there. This would also allow us the chance to visit Zakouma as the holiday at the e conclusion of our work. We have made all such plans assuming we would have completed our work here in CAR for the Assa refugees. But, now, if we continue to be tripped up on the expensive technicalities that have interdicted our entry into CAR, we may have to schedule a complete repeat mission to this area of the world, and that would get expensive as well as lengthy in time.
I might be going east from this area to re-jig the Philippine mission if the MMI schedule of Tiboli at TECH around February 4, 2012 which would mean the first week in Mindanao and then the second week in Palawan. If this is part of our next year’s “eastward circumnavigation” it is getting a lot of competing claims for my return. This failure of our completing the mission in CAR for Assa refugees is a special claimant for our attentions beyond our ongoing work in South Sudan. We may be able to do a few days in CAR on the way back from the Chadian mission next year as a substitute for the days we are missing here now for the bureaucratic delay.
Word has just reached us that the meeting in Bangui has just joined all the ministry to discuss the options we have for getting in with the AIM Air plane to enter so there may be progress of the original plans while awaiting news from the Kampala commander over all the UDPF. So, we are not doing “nothing” but it is a lot of satellite phone time and charges as we are awaiting for things to proceed on African schedules. . .
LATE AFTERNOON IN THE NZARA AIR BASE—STILL FIELDING PHONE CALLS REGARDING PENDING PERMITS
We have had our only major entertainment of the day after sitting and swapping stories now going on the third or fourth repetition of the stories that scored well on earlier tellings. The big moment of the day was the takeoff of the AN-2 with the Antonov carrying Commandante Stefano, a Falstaff Ian fellow who is twice over ideal body weight and swings a swagger stick while laughing uproariously at almost every modestly humorous exchange. He is now flying to DRC from which our partisan had been refugeed, and on the return it is possible that we may be flying overhead of Assa to see what is to be seen. But the AN-2 took off and pulled right on takeoff over the MI-8 and a wing-waggled for show and I captured video of this flying circus. We are impressed, that an aircraft older than each of us here except me is making such an agile jump up and off to carry on its short takeoff and landings and slow flight to do jungle deliveries of people and material – an old Russia tool in the hands of the African troops running it.
The alleged bomb craters behind me are filing up with trash, and it seems that there are no trash barrels or other ways to control the random pollution that clusters around human settlement. In our rooms at the Naivasha Hotel in Yambio that were very nice plastic trash containers with a cover, and each were picked up and emptied into a wheelbarrow and wheeled out behind the Hotel and the wheelbarrow tipped all the trash into the environment. Case closed. Recycling completed.
We wait as we read, and I typed up as much as I could with the laptop battery holding its own if I limit spell checking. But, we are now considering what will happen if and when the call is returned for the meeting we have been assured is being held next in Bangui to discuss our permit. It now seems likely that we will be going, if at all, on the AIM Air when it is opened to us, but the UDPF access assured us by a score of individuals has not yet allowed us to lift off. So, we will be here and we will tell you what it is that happens when it does.