When I got home from Mexico I was determined to work on the family life. Not realizing the damage all the traveling was doing, I thought it was time for a break. Not overly content going back to basic security guard work, it was what I would have to do…for now. But, not long after I was home, I got another call, this time for something new and much different from working in embassies.
If you recall my friend, Dan, who I helped get out of Sudan in March of this year, he gave me a call and asked if I would be interested in another opportunity with CARE International. My first exposure to working with an International Non-Government Organization (INGO). I asked him to let me consider the opportunity and discuss with my family. The mission, three months back in the Sudan, helping to re-establish CARE’s presence following the expulsion in March.
Having discussed this over in great detail and with the guarantee of being home this year for the holidays, it was agreed that it would be a good move. I contacted Dan and informed him that I would be interested in the chance to work for CARE International and help get things running again in Sudan. Dan then put me in contact with Carmen and all the arrangements were made. I would fly into Atlanta for a two-day orientation to CARE and then onwards to Sudan, where I would be until early December.
The mission, help open the offices in Khartoum and then fly into Darfur and re-establish the office in Nyala and perform security risk assessments in Kass, North of Nyala. Remember, this was kidnap central earlier this year, and this time I did not have my shiny red passport to help me along, I was a normal traveler on a basic passport. However, I did still have all my contacts, which would prove to be useful.
Arriving in Khartoum, I was taken immediately to the CARE office/team house on the far side of the airport. Here I met the team and began reviewing the security management practices and developing plans for Khartoum. It was a busy time getting organized as CARE had been out of the country for some time and had to enter under a presence that was not CARE US. So, everything had to be rebranded to CARE International Switzerland.
I did have an opportunity while in Khartoum to visit my old friends at the Assaha hotel. What a great surprise I was for them when I walked back through the doors. No one would have expected me to be back and the most surprised was Msrak, the woman who made me Jebena, or Ethiopian coffee for most of the first deployment when I was living in the hotel.
I had also contacted some of the embassy staff that I had worked with, but with the situation of the “guest” that had lived beside the pool, things were not the same. Oddly enough, I did discover that my name was still on the “list”, but I did not have the same freedom as before. Sadly, I did not have enough time to spend with anyone on this mission from the other mission. Time was different and I was a lot busier gearing up for a month in Nyala.
Either late October or early November, I flew from Khartoum to Nyala to look at CARE’s office and guest house. This was absolutely my first exposure to aid work in the humanitarian context. Never before had I seen Internally Displaced Persons (IDP’s), how they lived, nor the constraints they had. It was also the first time since my time in the military that I saw soldiers roaming the streets, armed and ready for anything. Darfur was something out of a movie, it was desert, dry, hot and very harsh. I could not understand how people could live under UNHCR tents erected by flimsy poles and twine. It was beyond description.
At the office after stopping briefly at the UN outpost (UNAMID) to meet with some key security personnel, it was time to get CARE back up and running. The first challenge, retrieving all of the assets that had been seized in March from the National Intelligence and Security Service of Sudan. These were the same people that Dan was dealing with in March, and they were not the friendliest. Very suspicious of anyone and everything, I knew this was going to be something very new for me in negotiations.
With great luck, one of the NIS personnel had heard of me from when I worked in the embassy. This was the first step to creating a positive relationship. We had sat down and had been drinking some tea (in a musty old building that was heavily guarded) and engaging initially in small talk. This helped lower any levels of anxiety…of which I think I had plenty for the both of us! We eventually got down to business and the discussions of getting CARE’s assets back. After roughly an hour of drinking tea and negotiating, I was able to somehow convince my new friend to release the assets and return them so that CARE could continue its operations in Darfur.
Within three days after the discussions, all of CARE’s assets had been returned at no cost to CARE. Some of the computers had been damaged and were no longer usable, which was to be expected. All of the assets were dusty and needed a good cleaning after being stored for six months in an old NIS building, but all functional.
Over the next few days, I had visited the IDP camp in Kass and was able to meet with tribal leaders and conduct a security risk assessment (SRA). Again, something new to me, SRA’s. I had done these in an embassy setting, but for an INGO, this was completely different. It was also, at that time, fairly basic. In general, all NGO security practices were only starting to evolve around this time and have only gotten better. It was hard to see people living in conditions, but I was proud to be a part of something that endeavored to help those in need. For security reasons in Darfur, all trips outside of Nyala required an fully armed escort from our UNAMID friends.
Each evening, as a condition of my deployment and a promise, I would have a call home to my family. This was something that was missing in the previous two deployments and it made every difference in the world. The time went faster and it helped a little with the work-life balance…but even this had its challenges.
In early December my time on this mission came to an end. Exhausted, I was looking forward to heading home to be with my family for the holidays. However, before I could leave Khartoum for the second time, the CARE staff in the office decided to have a little gathering prior to my departure. It was nice to feel accomplished in all that I was able to do for this amazing team and I had hoped that one day our paths would again cross.
My entrance to the NGO world had gained a foothold and from this mission, there was no turning back on the path put before me. I had finally found a purpose in my life, and giving back has been my penance ever since. A promise was made and it will not be broken. A special thank you for Dan and Carmen introducing me to the humanitarian world and allowing me the many opportunities to help those in need.
Next – Haiti 2010