The Sahel

Since my visit to Honduras in March of 2012, there was a lot of speculation on the next response. South Sudan had been brewing, but settled somewhat. As I was boarding the plane back to Costa Rica, I got that call from Chris in Mali. This was the coup and he and Chris needed an evacuation plan. After that, I headed to Mexico, never thinking there could be a requirement in the Sahel.

However, since my colleague Zaza had taken a new position, I was called out of Mexico. My deployment order was issued, I was off to Niger. Not to be confused with Nigeria, where I would end up in 2017. Leaving Mexico on April 27, I had 5 days to re-kit and deploy. My first destination in the Sahel would be Senegal, where I would await a visa to enter into Niger. So, on May 2, 2012, I boarded my first of three flights. My route, San Jose to Atlanta, to Paris to Dakar, 20+ hours of travel.


Prior to my travel, I was provided with the standard security brief for West Africa. I was also provided the information I would need for pick up at the airport in Dakar.


I arrived in Dakar early afternoon on May 3 and was taken to the Mamoune Hotel. It would take a week to process my visa for Niger, so I had some time to familiarize myself. There was a lot going on in the region and within the organization. Zaza conducted his handover with me, which gave me a lot to read. At the same time, the competition for Zaza’s replacement had closed. The competition had only run for one week, a sense of urgency in the event of multiple responses.

There was enough time during the wait in Dakar to see some of the sites. And I was learning that when one travels, take the time to see where you are. I think I wrote in an earlier post about my predecessor, Brendan. He had informed me to add time to deployments to enjoy where I was, so I have been doing just that.

African Renaissance Monument

Having arrived just before a weekend, on the Saturday I decided to explore. From the hotel, one could see the African Renaissance monument, and it looked fairly close. Unfortunately, the airport was between me and my destination. This meant a five kilometer walk instead of a one kilometer direct approach.

The monument itself continued to grow in size the closer I got to it. It was a sight, a man, a woman and a child. The child pointing out to sea, left me often wondering to what he was observing. So beautifully crafted this monument, I was in complete awe.

From this point, I could also see the airport to the East. All my life I have been fascinated by airplanes, and watching them land was fun. Not quite the same experience I had in Thailand, where we were nearly thrown into the sea. But just the same, how these birds stay aloft is mind boggling.


Like most developing countries, Senegal uses a lot of two wheeled transportation. Not surprisingly, scooters are the norm. On Sunday, we were out getting some supplies for my trip to Niger. On the way back from the shops, some scooter got a bit goofy. Like many bigger bikes, scooters also suffer from the famous “death wobble”. This one in front of us was no exception.


My visa for Niger was finally approved early the following week. This meant I could continue my travel to my deployment location. I would fly out on May 8 at 0900 for Niamey via Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. This 2,600km journey would take a mere 12 hours!


First task upon arrival was to review all the security plans and visitor security briefs. After meeting with my colleagues and other GRRT staff members, it was evident this would be a short mission. Zaza had done a great job in preparing this office and its local team. I could only really fine tune a few things.

Most of my time, which was not much, in Niamey we had dust storms. Normal to the Sahel, sand storms are quite frequent in the spring. So, the hotel was mainly dusty and dirty. I was able to get a few shots of the hotel grounds and the peacocks that were in abundance.

End of Mission

In the week that I was in Niger, I was able to accomplish the following:

  • Pre travel authorization document
  • Protocols and brief document
  • Visitor waiver and release form
  • Design a green zone for response staff safe movement
  • Team house visit and recommendation

So, some good work completed. There were two positive results and learning experiences from the Sahel response. Mainly around evacuation and proper planning, as explained in the two videos below:

and the case study

But what was next? Well, again, prior to Mexico, there was talk of assisting on another HEAT course in Nairobi. But with this deployment, I would not be available; however, my mission ended a few days before HEAT. This put me back on the availability list, and Andries was quite happy.

Travel Complications

The only problem now, was getting the office in Niamey to book a flight before the end of the day to Nairobi. By the time 1630 rolled around, I had not had my flights confirmed, meaning I could not get to Nairobi. But always looking for solutions, I immediately thought of my travel agent in Costa Rica. Why not, Costa Rica was just starting the same day I was ending.

The very faithful Yorleny at Vemsa Travel was able to find me a flight before I went to bed that night. I was set to depart for Nairobi at 0845 on May 16, 2012. I was heading for yet another HEAT course and new adventures in Kenya.

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