Thursday, December 14, 2006
In a security meeting a friend leaned over and whispered, 'so, were they [the hijackers] armed?' I was indignant. 'Yes! Of course they were armed! We might be losing a car a day but it's not yet to the point that we're giving them away to people who don't have guns!'
However, there's now talk that maybe the no-vehicle club should start hijacking our own vehicles to get them back. We're trying to think out of the box here.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
On behalf of the board of directors and members of the South Darfur Chapter of the No-Vehicles-Club we would like to extend a kind invitation to join! We are eager to get to know you and together forward the mission of delivering humanitarian relief without vehicles.
You might be asking yourself, what are the benefits and advantages of membership? Well, membership has it’s privileges. The first is our snazzy logo which can be made into shirts and worn by staff as they travel on donkey carts and hang off buses. It makes a statement and that statement is, ‘Vehicles, shmehicles! Vehicles are for wusses! We don’t need no stinkin’ vehicles to get to remote locations and dig boreholes; carry medicine and food!’ Second, at gunpoint, have you ever found yourself struggling to find the words for: ‘thanks for the kind offer to hijack our vehicles…but we already gave…’? Simply post our logo on a sign outside your compound and the roving militias will know that they’re wasting their time traumatizing your staff and promptly move on to another NGO. Third, you will save a lot of money not having to invest in those ‘no weapons’ stickers, drivers, spare tires, etc. Fourth, you’ll enjoy our mix and mingle activities with the West and
We hope you are able to join us, as we feel that you would make a meaningful contribution to our membership. Again, welcome to the South Darfur Chapter.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
I wish there was a school for humanitarian aid workers. In this school they would tell you all the things you’re supposed to know, and don’t, when you arrive in any given disaster or war. They would tell you that your job will not be even remotely exotic, adventurous or exciting. They would tell you that you will spend a great quantity of your time finding out if, and how, people are stealing, how to catch them and how to fire them. They would tell you that you are not going to save anyone’s life – that you are not helping the war you’re going to and, in fact, that you might be prolonging it. They would tell you that you will spend a lot of time with other people, exactly like yourself at coordination and security meetings. They would teach you important things that help you get by – like how to enjoy drinking lukewarm water, how to change a tire, stop a leak, tie a knot, what all those gadgets on your pocket knife are for, how to remove splinter without tweezers and how to smuggle more luggage than allowed through airline check-ins. There would be a language course in how to explain Avian Bird Flu to people whose language you don’t speak. There would be special classes on keeping your sanity in 42+ degrees Celsius, how to pretend you don’t have diarrhoea, how to enjoy drinking ORS and how to read by kerosene lamp without losing your eyesight. The cafeteria at this school would serve inedible – albeit authentic – ethnic foods that are unappetizing but the only food you’re going to get. The dorms would be outfitted with mosquito nets and the rooms filled with an amazing array of flying insects of every variety and size – just so you could become accustomed. The temperature of the classrooms would be kept at an unbearable temperature, either too hot or too cold and from time to time either sirens or prayer calls would go off over the loudspeakers. I’m pretty sure that this school would weed out about half of us. The other half should be taken away and immediately institutionalized.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
I have a chart on my wall of the militia groups, and rebel groups that have split and made up and split again and I have to update it on a near daily basis. The SLA, the SLA Wahid, the SLA Minawi, the SLA Free Will, the SLA Modern, the NRF, the JEM, the PDF (seriously) – we even now have a grouping called the ‘UAG’ – unidentified armed groups and ‘OAG’ – other armed groups. Kofi Annan described it best, ‘anarchy and chaos’ he said.
I suspect that the internet is out because there are troop movements and things are about to get ugly somewhere around here. So
And then there is the work itself. Because the conflict has been described – erroneously – as Arab vs. African, the aid agencies have favored the African tribes for distributions and support. However, a great number of non-combatant Arab tribes were completely overlooked which only increased the tension in an already explosive environment. And, how, exactly are we supposed to differentiate between combatant and non-combatants anyway. It’s someone else’s war, remember?
Add to this the demands of donors and agencies to abide by standards that are – I’m sorry to say – often Western contrived, completely out of place and contradictory in the field. Take the gender issue, for example. The Red Cross Code of Conduct states that we will not attempt to change people’s beliefs. However, standards dictate that special emphasis and influence be invested in vulnerable groups (read: women, children, elderly, etc.). So, attempting to give women a voice or to assign them to positions of decision and authority – or even gain their opinions – changes a society’s beliefs. ‘Yes, but,’ the open-minded Westerner will argue. ‘Surely it’s better that we change some beliefs.’ Is it? Which ones? Who decides? I’m fairly sure that same Westerner would argue that no culture is inherently better than any other. That no belief system is imperically more ‘fair.’ So, when something has to be sacrificed what will it be?
7:00am – The alarm goes off. I hit snooze
7:10am – Repeat the above.
7:30am – Repeat the above.
7:45am – Resign myself to the inevitable and crawl out from under two mosquito nets (one just wasn’t doing the job). Turn my VHF radio up to hear the goings on in the world that is Nyala, pull my hair back into a pony tail – the only hairstyle I now wear – look through my closet at the same six outfits I wear every week and pick something.
8:00am – Our administrator returns from taking someone to the airport, asks if I want some breakfast. I don’t and so we go to the office.
8:15am – There is no phone network meaning there is no way to do e-mails so try to get our RBGAN (satellite phone connection) working but to no avail.
8:25am – Give up in disgust and go make some coffee.
8:30am – Daily meeting with our Logistics Manager and Area Administrator to plan vehicle movements for the day.
9:00am – Make more coffee.
9:30am – Finish my ‘objectives’ for my ‘personal development plan’ that my boss is waiting for.
10:00am – Bring a cook into the office and tell her that she needs to stop making everyone’s life miserable and do her job or that I will fire her.
11:00am – Miss a watsan coordination meeting. Not really broken up about that. Work on updating the site security plan while listening to the cook rant and rave to anyone who will listen about the horrible woman she works for.
12:00pm – Update our site ‘threat matrix’ and write a visitor security update.
1:00pm – Go have lunch with all our staff. Our cook is noticeably absent being obviously still angry. Have a conversation with the staff about winter in the States and when our finance assistant is going to get married.
1:30pm – Back to my desk. Our administrator is cursing
2:10pm – Talk to
2:35pm – Find out that the price is $2,750 so call
3:00pm – Have an all-office staff meeting. Tell them not to use so much tape, turn off the fans and lights when they leave, submit their holiday plans for the Christmas holiday, and ask that the guards be instructed on how to turn on the generators.
4:00pm – Ask why there is a load of boxes sitting in the compound – they’re waiting to be shipped, I’m told. Go through a box of junk that’s been sitting in the warehouse for, literally, years. Instruct our guard to burn certain documents found in said box.
5:00pm – Go to security meeting and listen to all the horrible events of the past four days which include, but are not limited to: banditry, assaults, thefts of vehicles, burning of villages, shooting, murder, general intimidation, hijackings, and kidnappings.
6:00pm – Meet with OCHA to discuss Ed Daein and try to figure out who controls what areas.
6:35pm – Go back to the office, turn off all the lights and fans that have still been left on.
7:00pm – Go home, shower, make myself a tomato and basil salad and generally faff around for an hour and a half.
8:30pm – Go to a party at another INGO. Dance. Meet and greet. Mix and mingle. Refuse to learn anybody’s name. It’s lovely to have new people in town but refuse to learn anyone else’s name. I’ve got too many names and organizations stuck in my head already. I don’t have room for any more.
10:30pm – Curfew. We should be going home.
10:45pm – Start saying goodbye
11:00pm – Drive home trying to avoid checkpoints.
12:00am – Begin new British junk fiction about someone’s perfect life.
12:30am – Still not tired so take Tylenol PM. Make plans to redo our kitchen and make spaghetti sauce the next day.
1:00am – Check to see if the network is back on. It’s not. Go wander around the compound. There are times when I am struck by the beauty that is here. When we have no electricity and the generator doesn’t work and the compound is quiet and lit up by the moonlight. Maybe my sense of beauty has been dumbed down. Or maybe it is actually beautiful.
1:30am - Turn off the light and wait to fall asleep.
The interesting thing about