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)
Wednesday June 18, 2008, 4pm El Geneina, West Darfur, Sudan
Mike, the area coordinator for Tearfund’s Geneina operations, has a cell phone, a satellite phone, and a Motorola radio, and all of them have been going off all day long. Most of the time more than one at a time. A day of wars, rumors of wars and insecurity. Everyone here has a Motorola radio for security reasons. I don’t, but I am never away from someone who does. I even have been assigned my own call letters – “Victor, Zulu, Yankee, One, I read you loud and clear. Over”
At noon today the Motorola radio squawked with an official voice, not just requesting to speak to someone on the talk channel, but an announcement restricting all movement in town. It appears the rebel group known as Janjaweed (meaning “devil on a horse”) were returning from Masteri where they had had a revenge skirmish because 300 of their herd, camels I think, had been stolen. They rode through the main street in town in a long phalanx of pick-up trucks loaded with armed men, riders on horses, on camels and on stolen chopped-off-roof Land Rovers, fitted with machine guns or rocket propelled grenade launchers. In a macabre sort of way, like a funeral procession. Break into it, and it will become your funeral.
Anyway, the staff and vehicles that were out were ordered by Motorola radio to return to base, were parked inside the compound, and the big metal doors were locked shut. The walls here are the customary 8 feet high with 5 loops of barbed wire on top, and in deference to the fact that El Geneina has worked hard to earn the title “one of the most dangerous places in the world,” there are shards of glass embedded in the concrete on top of the wall. Today it looks safe to be in here; yesterday it looked like the inside of a prison. The living compound was done by the same decorator.
After the restriction was lifted, it was later reinstated. It seems that some of the Janjaweed were still around, in a foul mood, doing their stocking up, in the market, and elsewhere ‚Äì read that, looting. So until a few minutes ago – the coast appears clear now – movement was again restricted. It does not affect me today because I stay very tied down in the compound. Tomorrow I am scheduled to leave, however, and I shudder to think about missing that flight. The next one is three days later, an eternity here. It would also mean rescheduling the rest of my itinerary.
Our work compound is on a cross street, several blocks from the main street, not exactly where these devils on a horse would be going. In fact the mile or so to the living compound does not even cross that street. The street where we live is littered with bricks, garbage, piles of dirt, and looks like an obstacle course. Its lack of attractiveness, an understatement, is a blessing in this case.
I finished my work today, completed the consultant report, and finished teaching the Baeda nursing staff. Haroun, Paul, and Besena are interesting people, quick learners, and they rolled with everything I sent their way. Haroun gave me a wrapped sample of some little twigs that the local traditional healers make a tea out of and give to children with diarrhea. He wants me to get it analyzed in the States and let them know how poisonous it is. That could give me one more flying worry, along with my unlicensed BGAN. I cannot imagine trying to convince Immigration, ‘I brought from Darfur, I am bringing it in to get analyzed, and yes, they make anti-diarrheal tea out of it.’ Right! Particularly, since it has a pleasant, sweet smell to it, a little like what I would imagine cardamom to smell like. I have taken a picture of the magic twigs. That will have to do. For all I know you can also smoke this stuff with beneficial collateral damage.
Mike’s fourth phone just rang, the team sat phone, from Baeda. Bombing is happening near there, on the other side of the border. Different war. Chad vs rebels, not Nomads vs camel-thieves. Not much of this makes the news because reporters need high-tech stuff, it would be stolen quickly, and they have to stay where the action is. Besides, if even the brave-hearted, well-armed, 3700 strong, Irish UN-peacekeepers step aside when these desert devils come through, what chance would a reporter have? News travels by satellite phone here, one NGO to another, field offices communicating with the main office, local nationals calling who they know for on the spot reports, with occasional UNAMID warnings to stay inside.
I know so many are praying for my safety ‚Äì that humbles me, and also fills me with hope for tomorrow. Thanks to all of you. Please continue to pray for the people of Darfur.
Blessings from Darfur