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Monday, March 26, 2007

The Problem with Almost Going Home

We have done our part, spent a year in Darfur as promised, but now we have to wait for news on when we go home. All we have to go on are possibilities and rumours. We have successfully cleared out so we are officially off the AMIS system, but we have to wait to be paid and then we should know for when our airline tickets have been booked. Since we have to be paid up to the day we leave they have to know when we leave for us to get all our money, so it is ligical that when we get our money we will be told when we fly out. All we are certain of is that it will probably be with Ethiopian- or Kenyan Airlines with stops over at either Nairobi or Addis Abbeba respectively.

General consensus has it that since outgoing Ghanians were paid the day before yesterday and Senegalese yesterday we should be paid today if there is enough money left. That would mean that we were booked on the first available flight that had twenty two seats open, which could mean that we could be flying anywhere from Tuesday to Sunday, but the fact is we just do not know.

I have no real problem with not knowing when we fly out since every day I stay the AU has to fork out more money to pay me and the others, but I am not married. Those guys who are married have absolutely nothing to tell their wives and their wives, it seems to me, are tired and frustrated with their husbands not coming home. We have a number of guys who are going home now who had children just before or while being deployed here and their better halves have had to take care of their new family members' upbringing all on their own. It is understandeable up to a point, but now AMIS could go through some trouble to inform us when we go home so that we can begin planning realistically. Our lives did not stop when we came to help the people of Darfur.

As one could imagine every day we spend here we are double paid with the new South Africans who are here to replace us so again money is wasted. It is also a fact that the longer we stay the more money will be needed to pay us, which in turn means that every day we stay here the chances of there being enough money in El Fashier to pay us becomes slimmer. Once again the situation could escalate into a massive over payment so I hope that they know what they are doing.

To the people who constantly ask us when we come home we can only say that we really do not know. We will inform everybody who should know as soon as we know.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sunset Farewell
















At the beginning of the rainy season in El Geneina I snapped this photo.

Short Halt
















South African Casspirs next to the road during a short halt somewhere in Sector 6.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Howzit, my Camel!
















Lt Col Lloyd assimilating the available transport in Sudan. Eventually he decided to stick to Land Cruisers and aircraft. I doubt if there is any South African after his or her year in Sudan who does not have a photo near or on a camel.

Coochie Coo
















A South African female soldier getting to know a young Sudanese National a little better during my deployment period. I do not know her and the photo was probably taken by one of the South African soldiers deployed here as well.

El Fashier Burnout
















During the unrest in December the shop outside Zamzam was burnt out. This photo was taken by one of the South Africans at Mellitt base as their convoy happened to be in El Fashier that day. The South Africans were also pelted with rocks, but a rock does nothing to a Mamba.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Thank You
















I would like to thank the Egyptians, the Brits and Colonel van Staden for preparing this great going-away meal for us a few days ago. It was absolutely delicious. I would have posted this earlier, but I have had trouble with the memory card on which this photo was.

Our Relief
















Our relief have arrived from South Africa. We will be leaving Sudan as soon as the AU gives us our money. This year is coming to an end and we feel absolutely brilliant about going home. The day I left South Africa it was raining and as we looked out of our aircraft windows as we taxied out of Johannesburg International I remember telling myself that a year would be long, but that the longer we were away from home the better it would be to return. Now that day seems to be a mere days away unless the AU springs a nasty surprise upon us.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Pictures vs Words
















They say a picture is worth a thousand words, especially when you are unable to read most of it. This sign is visible in El Fashier.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Potjiekos
















On Friday it was my turn to cook and lately we have acquired two British guys in the house so I decided to go through some trouble to prepare a traditional South African dish. "Potjiekos" if translated directly means small pot food. It is basically a stew prepared in a cast iron pot over an open fire. The cast iron pot provides the unique flavour. Usually "potjiekos" takes hours to prepare so it is a very good way to socialise while waiting for the food to be ready. For recipes go here.

Further news is that the South Africans to replace us are currently in Addis Abbeba and will be arriving here on Wednesday. We will leave when the African Union pays us.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Death of a Soldier
















Today we sent off the bodies of two more AU soldiers who were killed last week in Sector 8. The late Pte Andrew Adaidu and Pte Musa Wahab are from Nigeria. Our condolences to their families.

Yesterday in El Fashier Market
















Yesterday I went to the market with Colonel Ahmed. It may be one of the last times I see El Fashier Market. We may be leaving within ten days. Tomorrow, 12 March, the South Africans who are to relieve us are flying to the AU HQ in Addis Abbeba. Realistically speaking it cannot be long from now before we leave unless the AU is unable to pay us in which case we will stay until we receive our money.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Bon Voyage Colonel Yassie
















I took this photo last night, but today his smile is wider since the AU has paid him and his colleagues today after they had to wait 92 days. Yes, they had to be separated from their families for 92 more days since the AU simply did not pay them. Nobody knows the reason and nobody is telling either. The problem is however not yet resolved since the rest of the AMIS personnel, except for the top structure, have not yet seen a cent since October 2006. In South Africa and Kenya there are also many who completed their missions dutifully, but are still waiting for their money. We really need the EU to do something about this situation.

On a lighter note I would like to bid a semi-permanent farewell to Colonel Yassie and wish him all the best for what the future holds for him, his wife Hala and their son and daughter. Thank you for being a part of our house and making those tough days so much easier to handle with your lightheartedness and jokes. We will miss you, sir.

Ezhab Fe Salaam.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Marsland Rest
















Last night we went to El Fashier's new restaurant. We were pleasantly surprised.

Pizza Heaven
















Last night at El Fashier's new restaurant I had my first pizza in months. I died and went to pizza heaven.

Monday, March 05, 2007

El Fashier's Own Indigenous Reporter

An inspirational story from El Fashier by the Los Angeles Times.

For Awatif Ahmed Isshag, covering Darfur is the story of her life. Nearly a decade ago, at 14, Isshag started publishing a handwritten community newsletter about local events, arts and religion. Once a month she'd paste decorated pages to a large piece of wood and hang it from a tree outside her family's home for passersby to read. But after western Sudan plunged into bloodshed and suffering in 2003, Isshag's publication took on a decidedly sharper edge, tackling issues such as the plight of refugees, water shortages, government inaction in the face of militia attacks, and sexual violence against women. Her grass-roots periodical has become the closest thing that El Fasher, capital of North Darfur state, has to a hometown newspaper. More than 100 people a day stop to check out her latest installments, some walking several miles from nearby displacement camps, she said."I feel I have a message to deliver to the community," said Isshag, now all of 24 years old.

The petite reporter is an increasingly common sight around town, her notebook and pen in hand as she interviews local people for her articles. Last week she roamed El Fasher asking people how they felt about the International Criminal Court's recent accusations against two war-crimes suspects in Darfur. Critics have attempted to intimidate her and force her to shut down. Instead, Isshag is expanding this month with a new printed edition, enabling her to circulate for the first time beyond the neighborhood tree. "She represents the only indigenous piece of journalism in Darfur," said Simon Haselock, a media consultant with Africa Union in Khartoum. "She's got energy and drive. It's exactly what they need." Readers say her magazine, called Al Raheel (which roughly translates as "Moving" or "Departing"), is one of the only places they can read locally produced stories about issues touching their lives."It's the best because this magazine shows what is really happening in Darfur," said Mohammed Ameen Slik, 30, an airline supervisor who lives nearby.

Isshag complained that despite international attention, the suffering of Darfur remained vastly underreported inside Sudan. There are no television stations in the area, and most newspapers operate under government control or are based hundreds of miles away in Khartoum."The local media don't cover the issue of Darfur," she said. "We hear about it when one child dies in Iraq, but we hear nothing when 50 children die" in Darfur. Through articles, essays and poems, Isshag frequently blames the government for failing to protect the citizens of Darfur. A recent story titled "What's Going On in El Fasher?" compared the government's tightening security vise in the city to checkpoints in Lebanon. A thinly veiled poem told the story of a sultan who blithely tried to reassure his long-suffering subjects. Isshag said government officials had so far largely dismissed her as "just a young girl." But during a recent trip to Khartoum, she received an anonymous phone call from someone who warned her to "stop writing" and "take care of your education" instead. She shrugged off the threat. "I'm not afraid," she said. "Journalism is a profession of risk. I'm not doing something wrong. I'm doing something right." Her passion for giving voice to the region's victims stems in part from her own family's losses. A cousin walked for three days to escape attacks by Arab militias, known as janjaweed, after her village was burned down. Her grandfather died in a displacement camp near Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state. About a dozen other relatives still live in the camp, unable for security reasons to return home.

Darfur's crisis began in 2003 after rebels attacked government forces. Government officials are accused of responding by hiring the janjaweed to attack Darfur villages and terrorize civilians. The government denies supporting the militias. More than 200,000 have died in the conflict, and 2 million more have been displaced. An advocate for women's education, Isshag credits her parents for allowing her to avoid being tied down by housework and pursue her interest in writing. But she occasionally uses her columns to lecture other women on pet peeves. A recent "For Women Only" article lambasted those who took off their shoes on the bus. "It's wrong," she said with a laugh. Isshag hopes to complete a master's degree in economics at the University of Khartoum and one day to lead a development company, building schools and houses in her long-marginalized homeland. But for now she's focused on improving the magazine. After a local Khartoum-based newspaper profiled her, Isshag received a new computer and printer as a gift from a well-wisher in Qatar. She's also looking into launching a website. She said she would never charge readers for the paper or turn it into a business. "I don't care about the money," she said. "I would fast to get the story."

edmund.sanders@latimes.com

Good luck to you, Isshag. In our eyes you are an inspiration.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Greyed
















I am lucky enough to have left El Geneina, but Sherif who is still stuck there is currently on transit at our house on his way to Egypt. I took this photo to show the world how grey AMIS and the situation in Darfur tends to make us. When I first met him a year back he had dark hair. Don't worry, Sherif. I am told that women find old greying men more distinguished. In the background you can see Colonel Ahmed. I can only imagine what his hair will look like when he leaves since he has been here for little more than a month now.

Stuck
















Colonel Ahmed managed to get the right rear wheel of his truck stuck a short distance from the house earlier tonight and still has to put up with our jokes. Good luck, sir.

Escalating Problem in AMIS

The inability of AMIS to pay its people is causing a situation where individuals’ lives are in danger now. The chief finance officer was held up at his house a couple of days ago by armed men who wanted their MSA. In the end after threatening to kill him if they did not receive their money the men left with a mobile phone and his vehicle, leaving him tied up. Apparently they told him that they will return his vehicle to him upon receiving their MSA. The situation is becoming critical now and is worsened by the inability or reluctance of the top structure of the AU or AMIS to rectify the situation. The top structure receives their money religiously every single month, but the rest of the AMIS personnel have only received money up to November.

In the process of rectifying this AMIS may want to explain why there is no satisfactory answer to the question of why its members are not paid on time. Good communication may yet prevent an escalated violent situation that all of us do not want to see happen. The lack of a satisfactory answer may also create the perception that the top structure of AMIS do not care for their people. I am sure that the fact that they receive their money on time does not detract from their genuine concern for the ever-escalating situation and that they are doing everything in their power to extract the funds from the responsible person.

I am also convinced that there are thousands of people who are currently employed by contract by AMIS who would want to know exactly who the responsible person is with regards to non-payment of its members so that future peaceful inquiries may be directed towards him or her. It is an understanding in the military that if the responsible channel of command cannot provide a satisfactory answer to a grievance that the next channel will be followed. It is therefore not unlikely that inquiries will soon or has already been directed at the responsible person at DITF.

It is disgraceful that the people who are risking their lives daily for the people of Darfur should be neglected in this way. I would like to remind the AMIS commanders and political leaders that when AMIS personnel join this mission they assume in good faith that every reasonable effort will be made to ensure they are treated with respect and that compliance with their contracts is a priority. They do not expect more than what they are entitled to and after being absent from their loved ones for extended periods and risking injury and death that at least they will receive the money they earned on time or that a slight effort will be made to communicate the reason for the absence of timely payments to them.