Ambassador Morrison looked at me and asked, “Do you know something that I don’t?”
“Apparently,” I replied as I handed both of them a bullet-proof vest and a helmet.
We were belting in as the turbines were firing up. The Blackhawk had two, one on each side; that was why the thing sucked fuel like a dog. Seven dollars worth of fuel per mile; the 407s were a lot more fuel efficient.
But the Blackhawk could carry a lot more people and freight. The department requested Blackhawks at some sites and paid the bill – no questions asked.
The flight was and hour and fifteen minutes. Ambassador Morrison was on the Satellite phone talking to the field hospital as we approached.
Nimule was a third world town – by a big stretch of imagination – fourth of fifth world was more like it. It was dilapidated, poor and showing the ravages of decades of civil war. Sheets were attached to all sides of anything standing to get shade. There were hundreds if not thousands of pitched tents. The stench of feces and urine was everywhere; even from the air you could smell it.
I had made Camp Smith to look like a third world town; compared to this place the camp was the Hilton.
An old backfiring jeep made its way to us with a horde of people following. We had landed well away from the old Korean War M.A.S.H. tents. I did not want the rotor wash to blow them over or cover everything with the rancid dust.
Doctor Mengal Palermo climbed out of the jeep wearing a bloody gown and had a surgical mask dangling around his neck. Ambassador Morrison made the introductions and explained what and who.
I thought the doctor was going to shake my hand off. When I glanced up there was a ZNN reporter who looked as haggard as the rest of the people here and a camera man. I wondered why he was even in the area at all. Then I realized that the Sudan – Ethiopia – Congo wars was his assignment.
Boomer and Sidney had unloaded the generators into the back of the jeep along with a couple of the gas cans. It would take another trip to get the rest. Sidney stayed with the chopper and the pilots while the two ambassadors, Boomer and I walked behind the jeep.
I could hear their generator knocking and sputtering before we even got close. CPR and TLC were not going to help; it had the death rattles.
Boomer and I unloaded and carried the Honda and placed it next to the dying one. I checked the oil to make sure it was to the full mark and Boomer filled it with gas. A turn of the switch and it was running.
There were enough plugs for the electrical equipment they had; it put a lot of load on the generator but the Honda purred like a kitten. We put the other generator beside it and checked it out, then fired it up to make sure it would run.
We poured the gasoline in to a 55 gallon drum when the jeep made the return trip. There were several there and I shook them to see if they were full. They were, so they had enough gas to last several days at least.
By luck, the three of us were able to get a few minutes to talk to the medical staff. I asked, “How are you getting food? It looks like they are several thousand people here.”
“One of the aid agencies drops corn every few days, a couple times a month there are missionaries who drop off things. Every little bit helps but the kids are still starving,” Dr. Palermo replied.
“I was always told that corn was just filler, that kids needed something else to grow,” I replied. “Like soup to go with it.”
“If I had a can of Kamgells vegetable and beef soup to split between three kids just once a day, they would slowly get better instead slowly withering away,” he replied.
“Obviously meat and such are non existent and if you could get it, you have no way to store it,” I replied.
“It has to be canned or dry,” he replied.
“What is your water supply? I asked.
“A well company from South Africa drilled a well a year ago, it has a hand pump, but there is always a line. It was never big enough to supply this number of people. There is a small river a couple miles away but the water has to be boiled; it is full of bacteria and other nasty things,” he replied.
“Do you have problems with insurgents?” I asked.
“We haven’t been bothered here too much, but every now and then someone comes in who has bullet wounds. The army is patrolling the border aggressively, trying to keep the war from spreading to Uganda,” he replied.
“How about meds and medical supplies – how are you getting them and quantities?” I asked.
“Big pharmacies sell the stuff that is soon going to be out of date and they donate other things; hospitals do the same thing. All the drugs and supplies are accumulated at our French head office and dispersed from there.”
“But there is never enough. We are out of antibiotics and pain meds for surgery today. We are hoping for more by mid week,” the doc replied.
“I can’t guarantee anything but write me a list. It will not hurt to make some calls and ask,” I replied.
The whole time the doc and the three of us ambassadors had been talking the ZNN reporter had been following us around and filming. As we bid the staff farewell, the reporter stepped forward and asked Ambassadors Morrison and Fauntroy for an interview.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I stepped out of the camera and waited so we could leave. While I was waiting the doctor came back out.
“Forgive me Ambassador, but I neglected to offer you a tour of our facilities and to meet the rest of the staff. Please follow me,” he said as he handed me a mask.
The M.A.S.H. tent was actually three pieced together; under one section were two 40 foot shipping containers. One was used to store medical supplies, the other had bunks for the doctors and nurses to sleep in. There was a hole cut in one end with a fan running to keep those sleeping cool.
Another part was the makeshift operating room. The hospital stickers from John Hopkins hospital were still on most of the equipment. The last and larger part was WW2 cots as patient beds. I only counted two empty but there was space for another dozen more at least. The people in there were very sick and malnourished.
When we had finished I walked to the two ambassadors; I thought the interviews were over, “We need to be going,” I said.
“Ambassador Jones, may I ask you a couple of questions?” the reporter said. Well, I didn’t escape after all.
“Sure!” I answered a dozen questions about donating the generators and gasoline, the chopper flight and my impressions of the refugee camp and conditions. I gave credit to Ambassador Morrison and Fauntroy for coordinating the effort to aid the doctors.
The haggard reporter then asked, “How are you coping with the first week of being an Ambassador?”
“OK, I think. I have not started any international incidents yet and I have not humiliated myself either. I think there are some people who lost some money on that wager,” I replied with a smile and laugh.
A few minutes we were on the chopper headed back. I confirmed that we had plenty of fuel for the return trip and talked through David Clarke headsets to the ambassadors. It was too noisy to talk any other way.
As Kampala came into view, I asked the pilots to make a loop around the city. I never had taken the sight seeing tour and my two guest could point out everything.
As we made the loop back to the embassy I could see the flag wall going up; from my point of view the angle looked right.
The ambassadors left and I had plenty of time to finish my day and get ready for the Ambassadors Ball tonight.
Edit by Alfmeister
Proof read by Bob W.