I was in the Hilltop Hilton restaurant at 0400 finishing my first cup of coffee with Robin when all my men that were going with the truck and trailer came down for breakfast.
I was surprised that Robin was up but she had been full of surprises ever since the class. As soon as she heard the covers move and the bed squeak she was up. I guess it was the early morning hunter instinct.
Another surprise was that she had very liberated opinions about some things and rock-hard conservative opinions on others.
Another was that behind closed doors she was a nudist – clothes went flying immediately – and I had no problem with that. The first night it was midnight when we got to the room, but I was too tired to notice. I wanted to get into bed and asleep quickly.
As soon as we were in the room the next evening, off they came. To be liberated that far; still, I was amazed that she was sporting a full bush. When she saw that I was smooth, she said “I thought only young girls did that.”
“Always kept it smooth; I like it that way,” I replied. “Try it sometime, you will like after you get used to it.”
I did tell her the secret we used at home with over-sized tee shirts and sweat shirts by the doors in case anyone knocked.
The men ordered breakfast sandwiches to go; they were that anxious to get started on the trip. Robin and I rode over to the embassy with them to see them off.
I input the IDs of everyone going into the JBG card system. Then I demonstrated how to track the convoy to the people working the duty desk so they could respond if there was an emergency and described the pecking order of people who were to be notified. I also left one of the satellite phones and a call list for everyone that had one.
I had brought JBG ID cards for the guests with us and one each for Ambassadors Fauntroy, Morrison and Bernardi, but did not tell them why.
Back at the hotel I was having my second cup of coffee when the rest of came down. There was enough time for them to get a quick breakfast and then we met the ambassadors.
Andy insisted that the ambassadors be split up; two ambassadors went on each chopper. The flight was uneventful. Hanna and Sylvester were on my chopper. We passed over the truck and trailer about 50 miles from the camp.
As we got closer to the camp I could see the camp had grown since I was there last. I could see why – off to the north – as we made the circle around the camp at 10000 feet to make sure it was safe to land.
There was smoke rising on the horizon. It was a perfectly clear day so from that altitude I could easily see over a hundred miles and at the very edge of that distance tiny flashes of light that I knew to be artillery shells hitting targets. The civil war was on again in South Sudan.
I wondered how long the camp would be safe; it was only a few miles to the south Sudan border. Uganda regular Army soldiers and few UN peace keepers who were worthless were guarding the border. I wondered how fast the camp could be moved or even if at all, if the war came over the border.
“Kate: call the other chopper; tell them the war is back on in South Sudan. They need to stay high and do a sweep on the other side of the road for insurgents. Keep us high and fly a sweep a couple miles north of the camp,” I said into the headset mike.
Kate and the co-pilot were the only ones who could communicate directly with the other chopper. I could only call to someone in the other chopper with a satellite phone.
“Have the pilot verify that Fauntroy has called the doc to make sure it is safe. Then fly over the camp and look for anyone or anything unusual,” I added.
After an all clear from the Doc and nothing on the sweeps, we landed to the east of the camp. There was a little wind from the west that blew any dust the rotors kicked up away from the camp.
Hanna, Sylvester and Bob stepped out as soon as the rotors stopped turning, taking pictures and video of the crowd headed our way following the puttering old jeep.
Doc Palermo was happy to see us once again. After the jeep was loaded with all the meds it could carry, one of his helpers drove the jeep.
While he and I along with the other three ambassadors walked, we talked about the flare up in the fighting.
“The camp has grown by a thousand residents in the last two weeks. The Uganda government has promised more peace keepers on the border. A few hundred went through here the other day without stopping,” he said.
“We could use more cots and tents and other aid agencies have promised to get them to the Entebbe airport tomorrow morning,” he said.
“My men have a free day tomorrow. If it arrives early, they can bring a truck and trailer load,” I said.
Several groups of reporters from Europe were filming everything that was going on. Bob, Hanna and Sylvester soon found they were surrounded by those reporters wanting information.
Robin, Phil and Rachael did not escape being interviewed. I stood by and watched that they would not be pressured into areas they did not understand.
The jeep was steadily making trips back to the choppers, getting all the drugs that had been put in choppers into the containers; it took ten trips. Bob had made sure that he had plenty of pictures and video for Roger Gifford on the meds and praises from the staff.
The drugs had all been put away when the truck and trailer loaded with food and the medical equipment came to a stop in front of the tents.
The medical equipment donated by St. Agnes was the first thing to be unloaded off the trailer. The docs had known some of it was coming and another 4077 style Mash tent had been put up to house it. Some of the stuff was so heavy it took 6 men to carry it to the tent.
Hanna took video at my request of the equipment being unpackaged and set up. I would send it to St. Agnes for use by their PR department.
The ambassador title had gone a long way as I made calls asking for donations and anything that would help the camp. Dr. Palermo and I talked at length about future needs, both in equipment and food for the camp.
The food on the truck and trailer was the next thing unloaded and carried into the storage container. The truck was actually overloaded – if it had to go over any road scale in the states – but there were no such rules here.
It took all of us, excluding the medical personnel and the guards that I insisted Andy place about the camp. It took the rest of us and the staff three hours to put all the food into the container. With the leftover canned food that they had not used since the last food deliveries and other donations and the food we brought, the shipping container was full; stacked all the way to the ceiling this time.
The day was stretching on far too long; we had been here 5 hours. The truck and its escort crew had been on the road 5 hours to get here. They needed 5 hours to get back. It was past time for them to leave.
We held an impromptu press conference so the men could all participate; it was something all the international reporters wanted. Then we let Hanna do one for her station that included segments for the KCC and Rachael did one for the Advanced Education School.
I sent the truck and SUV on its way back to Kampala; an hour later we left with both choppers ourselves. The trip been good in many ways; Robin, Phil and Rachel had seen just how impoverished and destitute some parts of the world were first hand.
I saw the pain and disbelief in their faces as some stories of the children were translated for them; the struggle to survive and the loss of their family members in their escape from the civil war in Southern Sudan.
Vicky was equally moved by her experience today. At one point she tearily asked, “How does the staff look at and listen to all the grief and sorrow and not go crazy?”
“It takes a special kind of person to volunteer their time to come here and serve as doctors and nurses. It takes a very special person to keep coming back again and again,” I replied then added, “These are the kind of sights that will give you nightmares for long time if you are not strong.”
They also learned that starvation does not discriminate by race or sex, only by strength, with the strong taking what they want and the rest left to die.
As the choppers took off they made a circle over the camp. There was more smoke to the north and more flashes. I wondered if this was the last time I would be to this camp.
Edit by Alfmeister
Proof read by Bob W.