Dr. Henry Reitzug of Puyallup, a member of the board of directors of Lakewood’s Northwest Commercial Bank, is on a mission to Darfur, Sudan, as part of Tearfund, a leading relief and development charity, working in partnership with Christian agencies and churches worldwide. Dr. Reitzug has been sending his observations of the country and people and we are reprinting them (in a series) with his permission. Read the other installments (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen)
Nyela, South Darfur, Sudan – Tuesday, June 10, 2008
George, my roommate for the last 12 days, and a Water and Sanitation advisor for Tearfund, had a point to make. In fact, a number of points! He was sitting in the living room of the compound talking to David, the director of Water and Sanitation for Tearfund in Ed Daein, and was going on and on. Problem, it was 11 am, David was to fly with me to Nyela at 11:30 am!
I politely found a way to make it known that it was getting to be time to leave, but they had files to transfer, an e-mail to send, a computer to transfer ‚Ä¶ By 11:20, several of us were involved in getting David and his things together and us on the road. The driver knew the urgency and blistered down a road that had ceased to be a road in the rainstorm after the haboob. He spent more time off the road, skirted unbelievable holes and lakes of muddy water, barely missed two donkey carts, caused me to alternately pray for safety and for keeping my stomach’s contents inside. We pulled into the airport parking lot at 11:35.
There were three Land Cruisers there, a former building that looked like a rocket hit it ‚Äì it was split in two in the middle with the roof collapsed. And there was the crushed rock rolled smooth runway, but no helicopter or plane. I was not sure whether to be glad or sad that I missed my flight.
Thirty seconds later, I heard the familiar turbine engines coming from the east, and the WFP helicopter appeared, landed and people got out. We went into the outhouse – appearing building, the contents of my backpack got a general re-arranging by a young guy, we walked under the rotor of the 16 person chopper with its wash of hot air (it was hot enough already), climbed in the back stairs, dumped our bags, and found a seat. At 11:40 am we were in the air. Tightest connection I have ever had.
The flight to Nyela at 1000 feet was hot but uneventful. If the pilot had not thoughtfully opened the cockpit door a few times to allow some flow-through ventilation, it would have been a very long sweaty hour.
He took a more direct route to Nyela this time since there was no intermediate stop. He followed the railroad line between Ed Daein and Nyela. A few days ago, we crossed the railroad in the car. It was anything but straight when looking down the tracks. They weaved and wobbled like air shimmering off a hot metal roof, and at the time I wondered how any train can stay on tracks like that.
Half way to Nyela I saw 10 or 12 freight cars stopped on the tracks and at the head of that a boxcar, lying on its side halfway down the embankment. It could have been there awhile the way it looked. Several miles farther, the sand had obliterated the tracks entirely. Not sure if the sandstorm last week did this or if this is part of the general neglect I notice everywhere. George told me that in checking on some of the wells, some drilled as recently as two years ago, there has been no maintenance, and they are starting to show signs of neglect. The Sahel, the area between the arid Sahara to the north, and the tropical south, the troubled zone that we are in, is tough on equipment, buildings, people, cars (and war magnifies that)‚Ä¶ The donors who were kind enough to make water possible for many of the refugees would be sorely disappointed by the neglect of their humanitarian investment. Once things get turned over to the government, it gets sketchy here. They often are not up to it and there is a lack of organization, very little efficiency.
Tonight I will be staying at the compound in Nyela with the little courtyard that was so charming in the early morning hours a week ago. Now that seems like a month ago to me! Tomorrow I leave at 10:30 for El Geneina and the next day on to Beida. In Darfur a lot of time is spent getting there, more time talking about it, making sure your personal paperwork is in order, approved by HAC, properly stamped, etc, packing and unpacking and re-packing the 35 pounds of stuff you brought, and other inefficiencies. My western mindset is gradually getting used to rolling with it.
I am also gradually learning to roll with the food. Meals always have rice, a bean dish, some porridge whose genealogy I have not yet explored, an oily potato dish, a gravy to die for (you will, if you put that on your food), and meat. The meat varies between mutton, goat, or short-legged chicken (very suspect, not sure if it is fowl or foul). Sometimes there is a tomato salad with cucumbers, often there are oranges, and for a while we had the short stubby sweet African bananas. We also had Pepsi in Ed Daein, but after 3 days of drinking it I had gastritis. Yesterday they brought in 2 cases of little bottles of Mango juice (yummy). I’ll see what the house here in Nyela has. The living compound here is several blocks from the work compound. For the next few days I will be re-adjusting living arrangements daily. Pray for help in rolling with it and for help in focusing on the people and the work, not the life and the amenities. Thanks for your prayers. They help immensely!
Blessings to all of you