i am writing this in the newly renovated
khartoum international airport. it resembles very much the older, less
renovated version. it is nearly 3 in the morning, and many other
passengers are curling up in their chairs, trying to find space to
sleep. i scan the scene occasionally, looking for a familiar face from
check in, watching how others respond to the arabic announcements. so
far, no movement.
the last two days, however, have been full of it. i left for
khartoum yesterday in a darkening sky, hopped from airport to airport,
and after several hours, landed here. from the frying pan into another,
even hotter, frying pan. on the ride to the guesthouse, i rolled and
unrolled the window several times, trying to decide which was cooler,
the stifling temperature inside the car, or the hot wind. when i closed
my eyes, i could feel with the inside of my eyelids how hot they were.
"does it ever rain here?" i asked my driver. he shook his finger back and forth.
yesterday, i was in agok, waiting for the plane. every so often, a mechanical drone. WFP [World Food Programme]? nothing. mafi. a call came over the radio.
"mobile 11 for alpha bravo... mobile 11 for alpha bravo...."
i answered, "alpha bravo, this is mobile 11, go ahead."
"mobile 11, we need the car back in abyei for an urgent medical
transfer. can you see if you can get a ride back with someone else?
"well copied. stand by."
i walked along the landing strip to an idling WFP car. i knocked on the glass, and it rolled down. i explained the situation.
"oh. it must be from the shooting... ...yeah, didn't you hear? ...at
11:30... just now, in the market... ...no, no real details... my staff
is standing by at UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan] for possible evacuation."
when i left, things were calm. i shook hands with my field
coordinator, newly recovered from malaria, and drove out of abyei at
11:25. i rolled down the window, and watched the countryside slide by.
abyei, as it can, changed completely in five minutes.
i was torn. do i go back and help? do they need it? they would have
asked me, right? what if we were evacuating too? is it wise to move
when the situation is unknown, possibly evolving? likely not. and we
could not discuss things over the radio. i sent the driver. i stood by
the air strip, carless and radioless, wondering if my team was ok.
one of my fellow passengers had a satellite phone. it was her staff
that was standing by for evacuation. every two minutes her phone would
ring, and she would update me. news started to trickle in.
ringring. four bodies. policeman. ringring. the
shootings were non-military. an arrest gone wrong.
ring. there was to be no evacuation. the souk was chaos,
but was settling. so were we. there were no more rings. we
sat together, under a grass roof, and listene for the plane. it
"masaly? get on the plane."
a day later, and things are calm in abyei, as they are in this
airport lounge. 3:30 am, and this flight is nowhere to be seen. not yet.
ahh, people are standing. movement.
abyei. tiny, rickety place, tilting toward an uncertain future.
yesterday, i watched it fall away and soon, perhaps it will fall
away further, leave me some space of my own. at least my backpack
is where it feels best, snug on my back, and i am leaving for kenya. i
will send word from there. good night.