Within a few weeks I was starting to adjust fully to my new surroundings here in Khartoum. My boss, Eric had returned from a trip and had introduced me to all the staff in the embassy, including the Chargé d’Affaires, Sam, whom I really respected, Tanya L. a program officer and my good friend Dan B. I could never fully understand Dan B’s roll, but he was an awesome musician and really down to earth.
I had also met my assignment, Mr. Abousfian Abdelrazik, who had sought safe haven at the embassy a few months earlier. His story is quite an interesting one in that he was really stuck between a rock and a hard place. Living in the gym beside the pool behind the embassy for over a year in total before the government was finally forced to fly him home, he made the best out of his situation. During my time, he and I had many talks of various themes, which I think helped pass his time.
I think I was one of the very few at the embassy that engaged with him on a personal level and not a diplomatic level. We would drink tea on weekends and discuss his home life in Montreal, his family and also certain philosophical themes. I think I learned more about the Muslim faith through our conversations than I had ever anticipated. All in all, it was good conversation to help pass the time.
For obvious reasons, he was never allowed inside the embassy proper, only the reception area for his daily calls to his lawyers in Canada. Whenever someone wanted to use the pool or the gym, he would have to move to the front of the embassy, where he would sit in a chair by the gate going to the back.
I wish I could say that he had more better days than not, but that would be false. At times I was embarrassed, but my job was not to be sympathetic, initially it was really to be his guard. Not really sure what I was guarding at the time, him from the embassy or the embassy from him. Not much more I can really say on that subject but feel free to search and read what has been published online.
Eventually, the “guarding” business was getting mundane, probably within a couple of weeks. I was then “promoted” to be the Mission Security Officer (“MSO”), which was a really nice change. I was moved out of the control room and given my very own office, computer and a purpose! Hell, I was even given a set of Personal Protection Equipment (“PPE’s”). Kind of goofy looking in the photo, and way too much “exposure” still there to target, but if it makes you feel confident, then who care’s right? When I was in the military we certainly did not use this stuff, not sure if it was even invented yet!
So now I had a function! Finally, something to focus on and strive towards…and this was the real beginning of how I became a Global Security Advisor. I was sent to meetings on security concerns in Sudan, mainly in Darfur…Khartoum was probably one of the safest cities in all of Africa at that time. I made some really good connections at UNOCHA, UNDSS and other MSO’s. My boss, the embassy’s senior consular officer, was a good person to work with and great mentor. He had assigned me with developing the embassy’s contingency planning, security briefs and overall security of the embassy.
This was when I really started to learn how to do a full-on security plan, security risk assessment, evacuation planning, etc. Back then, things were still fairly basic, but I was impressed with the inner workings of embassy security risk management. It was here that I was able to meet other security managers from International Non-Government Organizations, something I had really no knowledge of. What was an INGO? What strange animal is out there working where danger lurks around every corner, providing aid to people in need. I had heard of groups back in the 80’s and 90’s through the songs such as “Heal the World”, “We are the World”, etc., but they actually had security? Who were these NGO Security Managers coming through the embassy seeking security information? This was a new concept to me, which I would learn more about in the coming months leading up to March of 2009.
There was an advantage to the NGO security managers, however. I met some great people doing some really interesting work in some really difficult situations. A good friend of mine, Dan H., came through the embassy one time looking for information on the security situation in Darfur. He worked for CARE US at the time and he would become a relevant fixture in the progression of my career beyond embassy duty. Remember I mentioned March 2009, March 4 to be exact. This is when the International Criminal Court issued its decision against Sudan’s sitting president, Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir. On March 5, 2009, the president expelled 13 of these INGO’s that were operating inside of Sudan, one of them being CARE US. But I am jumping ahead of myself and will come to this story again in another post.
Life at the embassy was starting to get some momentum and I had found a niche. I had a good home at the Assaha Hotel and could walk to work and had that purpose I had mentioned. The contacts were becoming bountiful and then I learned about the “Parties” …those are coming up next!
Next – The parties – Sudan 2008