Saturday, November 25, 2006

Apple pie and evacuation management

Let me tell you the main difference between men and women. Women can multi-task.

Tonight we're hosting about 30 people for a Thanksgiving dinner. We also have intense fighting near one of our base locations. We are trying to follow which towns/villages have fallen and who controls which areas, how we would evacuate if it comes to that, and who has our vehicles. It's about as hard as trying to follow a soap opera that's updated by the minute. In one particularly amusing moment I'm up to my elbows in apple pie crust, phone tucked under my chin as I knead, and I explain to the head of OCHA how we had just been talking to one militia commander when he says to us, 'uh, can you wait a second?' Another guy takes the phone and identifies himself as being the head of another militia and declares, 'we're now in charge here and we have your vehicles.'

I relay the story and put down the phone and start making some stuffing. Another call comes in, rumours and innuendo are flying, different sides are being asked to surrender, our location is now crawling with military - it's a war. I guess this is what happens in a war. I've got a turkey to follow-up on.

I call USAID. They've got the turkey and it's dead. It's also 4pm. Dinner's at 7pm. I don't think they're going to make it but let them know that the extent of my ability to manage the world ends with simultaenous evacuation planning, vehicle negotiation, and apple pie and stuffing making. I simply cannot manage to get the turkey cooked as well. Multi-tasking, no matter your gender, only goes so far.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A Thanksgiving Update

So, after my last posting my Thanksgiving day got decidedly worse. We lost contact with a convoy in an area where there has been increased fighting. Turns out that last night 10 gunmen broke into the house and took the vehicles and all the communications equipment. Our staff escaped by taking donkey carts to another town.

Spent most of the day running between OCHA, UNDSS, and the AU trying to get a secure way to get them out. Things are still unclear. Not shaping up to be a good weekend.

I need a normal job.


Today is like pretty much any other day in Darfur. It's sunny and hot. There's not going to be any turkey or mashed potatoes or pumpkin pie. Half of the people I talk to maintain that the real Thanksgiving was about a month ago. The other half have no idea it's a holiday. (There aren't too many Americans here). So, I got an e-mail this morning from a friend who works in Geneina. She wrote:

happy thanksgiving. i assume from your email that today is in fact thanksgiving for you. seeing as the day is called THANKSgiving I think that you should have to send me 10 things that you are thankful for....
i'm waiting.....

So, here they are:

1. Sunshine and plenty of it
2. Good coffee
3. That I am not hungry, don't live in poverty, am not chronically ill, don't live in an IDP camp
4. FG Wilson - our generator. With it we have light and have connectivity to the outside world. Without it we are in darkness and alone.
5. Word just in...USAID has found a turkey. I repeat, USAID has found a turkey!! (it's not quite dead yet...but locating a bird is half the battle!)
6. Clean water - enough to drink and to bathe in
7. Phone calls and e-mails at just the right time from just the right people who cheer me up, make me laugh and generally give me the will to go on.
8. All the things that could go very, very wrong on a daily basis and don't.
9. My mosquito net.
10. That every day is a new day. That the sun keeps coming up and that I'm guaranteed that it will not be boring, always be interesting, and will not be like the last.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

My pretties

For all those who know that I've taken up gardening and painting as a means of retaining my sanity I wanted to show you how things are coming along.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Kayaking the Nile

When I think of the Nile I generally think of it as a river in Egypt. Flat, placid, calm. A meandering river that slowly winds its way to the Mediterranean. I have never thought of it as a wild river and I am glad for that. My friend wanted to go white water kayaking and, not knowing any better, I thought I would go along. I should have been scared, but didn’t know it at the time, as our guides showed us how to strap into the tandem kayaks, how to paddle, how to stay centered, and how to roll. It all seemed a bit mundane. Another experience that one should have because one could.

The rapids on the Nile varying from one to six. One being little more than a bump and jostle, six being rapids that will kill you within a minute. We never did anything more than a five and nothing really prepares you for it. Nothing can prepare you for being underwater, upside down, with water beating the air and life out of you, clinging to the kayak hoping that your guide will flip you back upright because you cannot breathe, you cannot think, you have no idea where you are, which way is up, and you are sure that you are not going to make it. You have no more air, the water has filled your sinuses, and there is absolutely nothing you can do but hold on. I’m sure there’s a metaphor for life somewhere in there if you’re dumb enough to want more metaphors for life.

In the nights afterward, just when I am falling asleep I will wake up startled remembering not being able to breathe. Remembering what it was like to be pummelled underwater, to know that you were completely out of control. I suppose some people like it. I did not, particularly. I like the deception of control in which most of us live our lives. I like thinking that, in the day to day humdrum of life, I am not particularly in any danger. And kayaking the Nile is not like that. A few days afterwards the friend and I meander down to one of the rapids rated five – and one at which I was underwater for a particularly long time. The water is pounding down the gorge a breakneck speed. It is almost impossible to hear each other talk over the sound. ‘Wow,’ she says. ‘That is something else!’ I shrug and nod and we walk away.