Posts Tagged ‘MONUC’

Evacuated

October 30, 2008

I had a vision in my head of what an evacuation from Goma would be like.  It would be dramatic.  There would be a mad dash to the airport with a convoy of blue Land Cruisers.  When we got to the airport, bombs would be going off and soldiers would be shooting in all directions.  Mobs of people would be begging to get on the planes.  The planes would all be loaded beyond their normal peacetime limits but we would still takeoff without any problems.  We would heroically make several trips through the maelstrom, each time lifting another plane load of grateful aid workers out of the carnage until the airport was overrun by rebels or lava or whatever the cause for the evacuation was. 

Now I will attempt to describe how the evacuation actually went.  Rebel soldiers had been steadily working their way towards Goma with FARDC (government) and UN soldiers retreating ahead of them.  Neither the 6,000 or so UN soldiers based in the area nor the 20,000 FARDC soldiers have been able to block the advance of 4,000-5,000 strong CNDP army lead by General Nkunda.  Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes since this latest advance.  People have blamed the UN for not being able to protect the people in the cities to the north and in the IDP camps and have been holding protests in front of the various UN locations in Goma. 

Throughout the day we had been getting conflicting reports about where the rebels were in relation to Goma.  The one thing that we did know was that they were getting closer and closer.  The main road between our house and the airport was blocked by protesters and roadblocks and we weren’t sure how long the back road would be open.  We got the call at about 2:45pm telling us to pack and be ready to leave for the airport by 3:30.  At that point, the plan was just to get the planes fueled and ready to go in case we actually needed to leave.  The national staff members at our house started to get concerned when we all came out of our rooms in our uniforms so late in the day.  They asked if we were leaving and I had to say that I didn’t know.  I think most of us expected to be back at the house that night for dinner. 

We all piled into one Land Cruiser along with our go-bags and headed out.  There were a lot of concerned faces along the side of the road as we made our way to the airport.  I am sure that most of them knew more about what was happening than we did.  I think a lot of them knew that we were leaving town.  It was a terrible feeling to be abandoning Goma.  Or even just getting ready to abandon Goma.  Cowardice leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. 

When we finally got to the airport, things were quiet.  Very quiet.  I’ve never seen the Goma airport that dead.  Even the planes that fly between Walikale and Goma all day long moving the coltan ore were parked and silent.  There were no explosions to be heard, no gunshots, no panicking mobs of aid workers trying their hardest to get on the planes, just an eerily silent ramp.  We loaded our things along with some boxes of documents into the planes and waited.  Only the occasional UN gunship broke the silence as it headed up to the front lines to bomb the banana plantations that the rebels were marching through. 

When we actually left, it was completely without ceremony.  I could barely take the betrayed looks on the faces of our staff at the airport.  For them, it was nothing new.  I think they have become used to being abandoned.  They have survived several wars and have no doubt seen the expats running away at the first sign of trouble many times before.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so weak and powerless as I did the day we ran away from Goma. 

Kisangani

May 10, 2008

Friday was the standard cross-Congo shuttle with the stop in Kisangani.  I’ve become used to the hassles of that place but it was especially bad that day.  After landing we got the passengers that were staying there off and to their transportation and then turned to pay fees and get some more fuel, which had become the standard drill by this point.  We sent the through passengers inside where it wasn’t as hot to wait.

The ramp agent returned to the plane sooner than I expected and said that there was a problem with the fuel.  The problem was that there wasn’t any.  I (correctly) figured that this couldn’t be the case and had to go try to sort things out.  Apparently, the fuel supply was getting low and when MONUC (UN mission for Congo) found out, they bought up all of the rest of the fuel so they could keep their planes flying.  Since the problem seemed to be with the UN, I figured that I’d go there to try to get things resolved.  The UN soldiers didn’t want to let me into the operations area, but I managed to weasel my way in.  It would prove to be a waste of time as they wouldn’t give any fuel to anyone but UN planes.  “No Air Serv, no WFP, no MSF, no one but MONUC,” he said with a thick Ukrainian accent.  UNfriendly…

Almost all fuel at the airports in the DRC is pumped by a government owned company, but is sold by a plethora of distributors.  It really is a silly system.  We normally paid in cash through one of the distributors, but they didn’t have any more fuel.  Then it was time to try another distributor, but they didn’t have any more fuel on account either.  The last distributor in Kisangani wouldn’t take cash, which is a really strange thing for anywhere in this country.  Almost everything here will work on a cash basis, but they would only do it on a prepaid account and the place where the accounting took place was in Kinshasa (no help to me in Kisangani). 

They had to drive to the main airport in Kinshasa to pay, which took a lot longer than it should have.  By the time the fuel truck came back out to our plane and started fueling, it was too late to leave for Goma in time to make it there before the airport closed, so it meant it was time for a night-stop in Kisangani.  Great…  I had to hire two guards to sit under the plane to keep anyone from stealing anything.  The next morning, they got five dollars and a pineapple for their night’s work and were very happy to get it.

The MSF car took us along with our now stranded passengers first to the MSF house to drop them off and then to the hotel.  I was a bit doubtful about the quality of the hotel, but it actually turned out to be not too bad.  I was able to get a clean bed, hot shower and even a good dinner.  It could have been worse.

The next morning, the MSF Land Cruiser picked us up at 6:30am to get to the airport by seven.  Luckily we already had the fuel, so there wouldn’t be any more major delays.  We got there, opened the plane, made sure everything was there and then paid the guards.  Then it was just time to pay fees, file a flight plan and we were on our way.

Some days in the Congo are just more fun than others.