Posts Tagged ‘Nkunda’

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.