AN INCREDIBLE STAGGER START TOWARD CAR, WITH THIS TEXT BEGUN IN AN UDPF CAMP, AS I AM HOSTED BY THE AFRICAN FORCE IN PURSUIT OF THE LRA JOSEPH KONY IN HIDING IN THIS TROPICAL BUSH, AS I HAVE HAD LUNCH WITH COMMANDANTE STEFANO AND BETWEEN AN MER-8 AND AN AN-2—THE FORTY FOUR YEAR OLD AIRCRAFT THAT IS A SOVIET ERA BIPLANE WITH PAINTED SHARKS’ TEETH AS OUR NEAR COMIC AIR CARRIER BY UNDF, A WILD RIDE BETWEEN LIGHT MACHINE GUNS IN PICKUP TRUCK THROUGH RED DUST ROADS ENDING IN NAIVASHA HOTEL IN YAMBIO
February 23, 2011
No one would believe where we are and what we are doing just now; I am in a tent in the military camp as a guest of Commandante Stefano—a burly fellow who is the chief of the camp here set up to pursue the Number One Bad Guy in all Africa—Joseph Kony—hiding out in the tropical bush all around us here in which his scattered guerillas are allegedly on their way to Darfur to join the forces of the GOS—an unusual alliance for a fellow who is claiming to be Messianic. The large unique vehicle that just rolled up is a Military mule with a machine mount on the top. The solders have all saluted us as they went out to set up a large tent next to the airstrip. It is an unusual setting for a lunch offered by the Commandant, who offers us tinned Argentina Corned Beef and tins of dried biscuits with bottled water. As we are here “our chariot awaits!” The options for aircraft? A forty four year old Soviet era Antonov AN-2 (fourteen generations before the current AN-16) and maintained by the Ugandan Air Force and flown by Ukrainians and registered in Lithuania that gives its number “LY-12” for…Lithuania.
Our alternative aircraft may be a large Soviet MER-8 helicopter. It just rolled up in a cloud of dust. The third—and it appears to be least likely—is our own 5Y-PAP (A Kenya registry) Caravan owned by AIM Air which so far has not received the clearance to land in Zemio, the small glitch in a single letter that has kept us two days and nights on the ground in Werkok and now has had us waiting in Rumbeck for hours, and now all afternoon in a border town air strip further west than Jon Hildebrandt has been so he is in unfamiliar country also, as we edge out of the barren Saharan sands of the Nile River floodplain, we are edging on into the rainforest of the Central Africa—the terrain I know of CAR and DRC and The Sudanese border—the territory for which Commandant Stefano is responsible. He said to us he knew a “church woman” once in Zemio, he was not sure whether Catholic or Protestant, but her name was……I asked “Did she ride around on a motorbike?” Yes, Wendy Atkins! Oh, tell her from me that her friend Stefano is wishing her well!
It is also the case that we have used up most of the batteries of most of the cell phones and sat phones is that all contacts have been used. The one man who might be most helpful is Ron Miller, Suze’s brother and the brother-in-law of Scott. Ron Miller went to school in RVA with both Jon and Scott and then was head of the US Army AFRICOM at Kigali Rwanda who had organized sending the Rwandan Army up to Darfur. We have several phone numbers for Ron and have tried all of them and not yet connected since he seems to be on holiday. We have all the US State Department contacts in Zemio and in Entebbe and in other places all of which are putting pressure on the three sources that can get us moving again—at Bangui in CAR capital where the cabinet meeting with the president of CAR in session is awaiting the clearance pares to be forwarded to us.
Next is the pressure on the UNDF through AFRICOM to carry us into Obo where Ambroise –our clinical officer who was moved for our first three days of operation, now as two full days have been used up sitting and waiting for clearances despite our visas for each person in CAR while the aircraft is not yet cleared. And then we are waiting on the Zemio contacts all of whom are absent. But we have talked with Suze to get to her brother; we have called Will McNulty to rally the US State Department to get the medial team back to work. It is a shame to have all the equipment and personnel here on the runway in an aircraft that cannot be moved for a slip of paper and on the other side 82 cases who were preselected, and the personnel already in position to be trained by their absent leadership who are parked along the border watching Al Jazeera in the Commandant’s tent as an earthquake devastates New Zeeland with over 75 deaths, as Libya explodes after the Tunisia/Egypt/Bahrain/Yemen and all other Arabic states are trying to prevent an overthrow by violent repression—can you believe condemned as anti-democratic by Iran’s President Adanemajab. He is on laughing gas as he is condemning Miramar Qhadafi for the murder of his people which he had done just before. But, the world is upside down, and today I have lots of proof.
WESTWARD HO, HO HO, THROUGH RUMBECK TO NZARA
Our progress—or lack of it—can be marked by takeoffs and landings so far today to bring us to a Ugandan army camp for our latest wait and watch. We had breakfast and a testimonial sendoff form Werkok and MCH this morning, despite the lack of the final clearances as we hoped to get more information closer to each source—like the control “towers” often no more than a hand held cell phone by an army officer from some other nations (Kenyan Air Force, or Ugandan special Defense Force, or CAR defenses) So we left from WERK=06* 20.02N, and 031* 33.44E. Our sendoff was a valedictory as I encouraged them to continue the network of aid to the other tribes of their rivals and include PiBor and Akobo as well as the other sites where I have worked in South Sudan. As reported in the 11-FEB-D-3, Dr. Ajak had gone to see the Commissioners and Director as well as the Governor in Bor the day before and they all expressed gratitude for the container that had been delivered to MCH and they wanted to come in and claim their share. What is it that the “referral center” to which MSF evacuates its “emergency cases” needs most? They have NO SUTURES! So this is the place that is going to be doing the operating according to the MSF mandate. I made sure that not ALL of those sutures which came from my basement were given over to Bor hospital since it would simply be throwing kerosene on the fire of corruption to have high value items added to their stock which has all vanished before. Then came the big event of the evening when a poison blog arrived on the TR site saying that the crazy group of a Christian Paramilitary band had disparaged the only people who knew what was going on and the only groups really helping the people—MSF and the UN—each of which were reported by the people who most know “They have done nothing to help our people and we expect them to be expelled without a trace of loss to us.” But our proudest moments were the last tutorials, which were 100% Sudanese teaching Sudanese, as 28 of the 32 topics we have recycled each year that I have been here. It is not quite true that 100% were Sudanese input last night since I did warn them to find all the young children with “amblyopia” (“lazy eye” or “squint”) so that they would get cortical blindness to prevent a lifetime of diplopia (double vision.) We were congratulating both Dr. Ajak for the CME program he would delegate to all Sudanese next time and would take over the training of Elijah and the other trainees from PiBor here at MCH when I will not even be here as they are being trained!
Off we flew with all of them hoping for next year’s schedule to reach a new plain at a higher level. We flew west, across the large green oxbows of the Nile, the only giver of life in this otherwise barren land. It had also given death as it flooded everything during the last extreme rainy season. That which is remaining in the floodplain is the fertility that might support the Sudanese and much of Africa if they can only break their fixation on the cattle culture which has a worship of cattle as its focus and the reason it goes to war on a regular basis.
We flew an hour to Rumbeck, the capital of the Lakes District—puddles of the flooded Nile. RUMB= 06* 49.86 N and 029* 40.37 E. This is a time warp. It is like Loki II. It is a UN base which was the capital of all GOSS during the long period in which the GOS occupied Juba. The UN bulldozed main thoroughfares and re-enforced a good airstrip. They even built a control tower. We pulled up next to three MER-8 Soviet helicopters wearing UN colors and next to a large WFP tent city with food sacks piled up high in tents. There is a “Rapid Impact Emergency program VIP Toilet” in the air strip with the price tag of it: $40,000 US and next to it is another with the price tag was $6,100 US which was the price for the rehabilitation of the VIP toilet just six months later when it was so trashed as to be unusable.
We were sitting in the shade, as two vehicles rolled in—a shiny white new Mercedes SUV, and then a Lexus from this year as an SUV—a $100,000 car in America, and being driven by the profiteers off the UN largesse. The single source of excessive income in the Rumbeck airport is of course the UN and to prove that a DASH 8 came out of the sky marked WFP and several well-dressed French speaking people came out of the plane to be driven away in the luxury vehicles. A lot of people are doing VERY WELL by DOING WELL. Even the guards here got international salaries of over a hundred dollars a day. When the war stopped the salaries dropped off and the Sudanese refused to work for anything less than what they had got before, so they brought in Kenyans for $30 per day, which was still ten times higher than they could get in Kenya and they effectively “exported the salaries.” There are a lot of people involved in “Infrastructure Overhead”—like that VIP toilet. Many people are living luxuriously off the miseries of the world and have every good reason to see it continue.
Off we go toward the edge of the forest and head into the landing strip of NZARA—familiar to both Scott and me as the name of the Swamp where we hunted outside Assa= ZARA. We made contact only when we were within ten miles of the hand held phone that the Ugandan military allowed us to land at NZARA. NZRA= 04* 38.02 N and 020* 16.20 E. And now we are here, watching Al Jazeera about Arab repressive nation’s revolts as the group here is helping us get to the poor people suppressed by the LRA for which this military is armed, locked and loaded.
A WILD RIDE BETWEEN LIGHT MACHINE GUNS IN PICKUP TRUCK THROUGH RED DUST ROADS ENDING IN NAIVASHA HOTEL IN YAMBIO
Incredible! I have just arrived with the “Barbarossa” in a burgeoning border town capital of West Equatoria named Yambio. The ride we got came after a couple of hours waiting for the results of a meeting between the aforementioned British High Commissioner in Bangui CAR who finally caught up with the President of CAR to ask for permissions for our landings and he went to consult with his advisors. So, with little time before sunset, we decided to take advantage of our offer from Isaac Mwira the Ugandan executive officer who has taken Africom courses in Entebbe and is pro-America since the USA is eager to get Joseph Kony (see “The Sorcerer of the Nile”) and will not put “boots on the ground” but has arranged for PAI a State Department contract group to do all logistics to support this mission. For the one year of their encampment here at Nzara, there has been no acidity of the LRA here, but there are still small groups of the scatter LRA who are marauding as they had in Assa, and they are still on the hunt and detailed on a full-out mission to get him. Africom trailed twelve Guatemalan commandos to go in and get him and none of them survived, which added to his Messianic credentials.
We got a pickup truck and a ride to Yambio—and what a ride!
I was in back between Ishmael and Ahton, each armed with 7.62 light machine guns with two hundred round drums. I hung on as I got pounded down the road and had to hang on over each big bump lest I be launched out of the pickup bed. A source of great mirth when we stopped in Yambio to check into the Naivasha Hotel was that I was completely covered in red dust, especially the red beard which Brittany could not stop laughing about.
YAMB=04* 35.35 N and 020* 23.95 E at elevation 2,220 feet at the Naivashu hotel.
SO, I got a dunking in the cold water shower before we had a Bell’s lager and came to the Peace Bar and Restaurant for dinner. We watched as several big white SUV’s rolled up and two officers with a variety of uniforms, but all carrying Czech SKS (the knock off of the AK 47’s) hopped out with some fat cat who also emerged—a total of three such vehicles each populated by the single Big Man and a pair of motley armed men, to be the only ones other than us who are in the Naivashu Hotel. Remy and Elise, the bar and restaurant girls took care of us with a chicken and chips dinner, the fries being dunked in palm oil for that extra yellow look.
As we sat, the sun went down and a large grass fire was seen beyond he walls as the generator came on. I can see all around us at this 2200 foot elevation which keeps it from being as insufferably hot as it promises to be tomorrow if and when we get to Obo, most likely on the Russian Mer-8 chopper as Jon H stays with the Caravan and follows to pick us up wihen the delayed permission is finally granted. This has been a long and wasteful delay on the way to do a list of patents that has no doubt grown from when I knew it was 82 hernias for repair. Ambroise, our CO trainee had gone by road to Obo and was waiting for the past several days, and we have not been able to get a message to Wendy Atkins or to any other on the ground source to let them know about the trivial interruption in our forward progress, but this would already be apparent to them as they live in Africa.
I am now if not cool and clean (neither) at least not covered in red dust from the pickup truck ride on the dust road at the washboard eject speeds from Nzara to Yambio, and will next try to let you know if our Ugandan friends have arranged to fly us in to Obo by whatever means AN-2 or MER -8, either of which will be an exotic experience. As Josh Webster said to me today as he was hanging on to the speeding pickup truck bed lurching between light machine guns and a full stalk of bananas, “I wanted to say to you sooner or later, but I have always wanted to come to Africa and you have provided one hell of a ride!”