03 Feb 08

The phones begin to ring, again, finally. Since last night around 10pm there has been no one who could reach us. We received several emails from people letting us know they were trying to get through to us. “Cent sept, 107!” First in French; then again in English.“Here, we are here.”

“Telephone.”

News from the State Department reaches us, the French are mobilizing a convoy, and we are part of the group that will be evacuated. Gather your things and be ready to go within five minutes when they call. I glance at my watch, 1pm. We’ve been ready for four days with our three backpacks of essentials. The wonderful staff who hasn’t stopped smiling brings out plates of food, silverware and napkins fanned out as if serving a formal buffet. Tables are moved back inside from the veranda into the area that had been cleared the night before for sleeping. The heavy curtains still drawn, the overhead emergency light provides the only light.

We go back to our room one more time and glance over the nonessentials we have left. Gabriel tells me to grab the “Humanity for Politics” t-shirt that I was planning on leaving behind. I wore it the very first day in Chad on the way to UNHCR. The picture of me in our friend’s car reminds me of the excitement and determination I had to meet Fatna upon landing in N’Djamena on January 13th. I know we will be back in March, so I am not concerned about leaving most of my belongings behind. We head down to see room 102, which took heavy fire and where a new friend and UN aid worker had been taking a nap when the fire unfolded the previous day. Bullet holes, one the size of a small watermelon, went clear through to the wall and into the shower on the other side. We are lucky no one in the hotel was hurt.

I approach the plates of tomatoes and cucumbers, chicken and mushrooms and rice for one last plate, I hope, before leaving Le Meridien for now. I eat barely anything.

“Cinq Minutes. Cinq minutes.” With relieved hurriedness people begin to gather their luggage. We grab the bgan which has been our primary source of internet and contact with the outside world for the past five days, and the last item we needed to pack. We gather donations for the staff, who have continue to serve us through this all. I hope they are rewarded, as their resiliency is unmatched. I hope Yves, Achta, and Abakar make it home soon and that their families are safe.

Glass crunches under my feet as I walk through the front doors for the first time since before the attack on the hotel. French soldiers have created a line of protection, and have moved the vehicles that had been placed in front of the gate. We pass through and towards the convoy of 10 or so tanks which have lined the street.

Once inside, I am in the front and can get clear footage through the front window of where we are going. My peripheral vision is limited and one of the many soldiers aboard obstructs most of the view with his legs as he rides up top. The streets are deserted. As we turn around and head down the street where two days earlier I had seen a tank, two of the men from the hotel ride off on the motorcycles, using the convoy as protection. I hope they make it home okay. The General Manager of the hotel rides with us and we are grateful for the time we spent at Le Meridien. Ashis’ neighbor has joined us. He describes the hole which has replaced Ashis’ apartment and his business by a rocket. Again, we are lucky that no one we know was hurt.

The nine of us begin to sweat as our ride turns from 10 minutes to 20 until we arrive to pick up others from the Novetell. Beyond a few stops, we arrive safely at what appears to be the French Military Base that others have also been evacuated to. Passports, paperwork, luggage search, medical check, chocolate bar. They don’t tell us much but we hear that we will be flown to Liberia first then either to France or the US after that. Although we can still hear a few gunshots now and then, the pit in my stomach is almost gone and my antsy energy has left me. We are going to be home soon enough.

I want to say thank you to our team, friends and family who have worked tirelessly over the last five days, and also during our entire trip out here to the camps in Eastern Chad. Without your support and notes of love and encouragement, I would have felt alone and forgotten. But I never felt this way through any of the last three weeks, and especially not the last five days. Everything from contacting media to 1:00am conference calls to little notes about coffee and soy milk from my mother have been more than appreciated, more than I can describe in words. I love and thank you.

Katie-Jay keeps i-ACT running on several levels. Much of her work entails coordinating partnerships with other grassroots organizations and implementing the campaigns developed by Gabriel and seeing through the details. She graduated from Portland State University with a BA in Sociology and a focus on Community Development. She has previously worked as a community organizer in Thailand, Guatemala, and with grassroots organizations across the United States.

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15 Responses to “03 Feb 08”
  1. Tiffany Wheeler says:

    Hey Katie-Jay. I want to express now that you are all safe and will be home soon how strong, determined, and inspiring you both are. You still seemed to make me laugh in the videos with your lightheartedness, and amazing attitude. You and Gabriel have lead a nation in a direction that I never knew was possible. Everyone knows who Katie-Jay Scott and Gabriel are. I have never witnessed my phone ring like it did, my email blow up, or texts to start flooding my inbox. It was from all over the nation. I didn’t know half of them, and I know they didn’t know me, but everyone was concerned and thinking about the two of you. I don’t think any of what you went through was easy but I think the momentum it will carry afterwards will be never ending for the people of Darfur. It showed America how fast and how strong we can come together. I am excited to move it all towards Darfur, and go back to working with you rather than for your safety. I hope you didn’t loose the video ideas in that “excitement” you just encountered!!

    Tiffany Wheeler

  2. Patricia Burbank says:

    This is such good news. It was getting very scary watching you all at the hotel and seeing the movement of the rebels. What a relief to get your message, Katie-Jay, and to see the footage Niny posted. Thank you for your continuing amazing work and grace and courage “under fire”.

  3. Kathleen Scott says:

    Hi KTJ, Gabriel, J & J,

    You kept us with you, love and spitfire flowing through your words and videos. Now let’s make sure the people of Darfur never feel they are left alone, abandoned by God and everyone.

    Kathleen AKA KTJ’s mom

    Nice, the French gave you chocolate? :-)

  4. Brenda Hodges says:

    KTJ, I am so glad to hear you are out of the hotel and safe at the military base. I’ll be even more excited to hear you are on your way home. You have a birthday to celebrate soon, and I can’t wait! Love to you and all of your team, Brenda and Matt

  5. Pam B says:

    (In case you haven’t seen this yet in the Sunday LATimes.)
    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-chad3feb03,1,4032481.story?ctrack=2&cset=true
    From the Los Angeles Times
    Rebels attempt coup in Chad
    Hundreds battle soldiers in the oil-rich African nation. Government officials deny rumors that the capital has fallen.
    By Edmund Sanders
    Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

    February 3, 2008

    NAIROBI, KENYA — Hundreds of well-armed rebels swept into the capital of Chad on Saturday, battling soldiers in an attempt to overthrow the government.

    Gunfire was reported throughout N’Djamena as an estimated 1,000 rebels tried to push their way toward the presidential palace, but details were sketchy because most of the country’s phone lines were cut off. “The situation is very fluid,” said one Western official.

    Both sides claimed to be winning the fight. Chadian officials denied rumors that the capital had fallen.

    “The situation is under control,” Chad’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Cherif Mahamat Zene, told the Associated Press, adding that President Idriss Deby was “fine” and in his palace.

    An American human rights activist working in N’Djamena wrote on his blog Saturday that he and other foreigners were huddling inside a hotel dining room, hoping to be evacuated. At one point, smoke could be seen rising from the presidential palace.

    “We go through some quiet minutes, and it feels close to normal, but then, consistently, we get big bangs and nonstop gunfire that brings us back to the reality of N’Djamena,” wrote Gabriel Stauring of Redondo Beach, co-founder of StopGenocideNow.org. “As I write this, a shell hit way too close to us, the kind of bang you feel on your skin.”

    By early this morning, he said in an e-mail to The Times, fighting and gunfire had subsided.

    An estimated 500 Americans live and work in Chad. The U.S. Embassy offered to evacuate nonessential personnel and private citizens wishing to leave.

    “The serious violence that has occurred has not been directed at any U.S. personnel or facilities,” State Department spokesman Karl Duckworth said.

    Chad, one of Africa’s largest oil producers, is also home to several U.S. business units, including a subsidiary of Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp.

    African Union leaders, gathered in Ethiopia for their annual meeting, condemned the rebel attack.

    “It’s not acceptable,” said Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, the group’s new chairman. “If the rebellion succeeds, we will excommunicate them from the African Union.”

    Rebel convoys of 250 to 300 trucks began their journey two days ago from the Sudanese border.

    In 2006, the same coalition of rebel groups, including former government officials and disgruntled relatives of Deby, attempted a similar coup but suffered an embarrassing defeat shortly after entering N’Djamena.

    This time, rebels appear to have learned from their mistakes, feigning an attack from one side of the capital and entering from another, analysts said.

    France has more than 1,000 troops in Chad, which was a French colony until 1960. During the 2006 attack, French soldiers offered intelligence and logistical support. But it was unclear Saturday whether the French would intervene again.

    Deby is facing increasing pressure from opponents, who accuse him of corruption. He has poured much of his nation’s oil wealth into building up military forces, now estimated at 5,000 troops in the capital.

    The likely spark for the recent attack was the pending deployment of a European Union force to eastern Chad, where peacekeepers were to help provide security for 250,000 Darfur refugees who fled violence in neighboring western Sudan.

    European Union officials said Saturday that the deployment would be postponed.

    “The prospect of the EU deployment was one factor motivating the [rebels] to make [their] recent westward assault, since the rebels feared that the EU presence would disrupt their haven on the Chadian-Sudanese border,” according to a report Saturday by Strategic Forecasting, a Texas-based research firm.

    Some observers believe that the Sudanese government played a role, though Sudanese officials deny supporting the Chadian rebels. Chad accuses Sudan of supporting its rebel groups and vice versa.

    “The Sudan factor is decisive,” said John Prendergast, co-chairman of the international human rights advocacy project Enough. “They want Deby gone. And if they don’t get him this time, in six or eight months we are going to see another run.”

    edmund.sanders@latimes.com

  6. Lisa Goldner says:

    We’re still floating around on the excitement of your evacuation from the hotel! Our first wave of prayers have been answered, now we need them to follow you safely home. Thanks for your courageous reports amid this chaos. We know you’ve reached the attention of many in the myriad of media coverage in which you and your situation have been mentioned. Run with BBC World News wanting your story — what unimagined PR this crisis has produced! We can only hope it will garner more focus and action on Darfurians and Chadians caught in this turmoil.

    Rest well,

    Lisa

  7. Kelsey Weber says:

    -Gabriel

    I’m apart of the Wildwood Student Task Force and I was lucky to get a chance to speak with you and we were able to ask you personal questions we all had. To hear of the situation you are in now is really concerning and I hope you know that Wildwood is here watching for updates to know you are safe! After getting to know you through the conference call, hearing of a more I guess ‘personal’ connection to the violence in Chad and Darfur makes me even more passionate about helping and educating myself and others about what’s going on over there. I’m so sorry about the situation you’re caught in right now but I’m watching for updates here to know your doing fine! Good luck!

    Best, Kelsey

  8. Regina says:

    Thanks for continuing to blog and keep us all updated on what’s happening on the ground. I left N’djamena one week ago and of course have been on the edge of my seat trying to find out what’s really going on. The news reports are totally unhelpful, and your posts (plus pictures and videos) have been by far the best source of information. So thank you.

  9. Mimi Schiff says:

    I am so relieved that you are out of the Hotel. I constantly bring up the computer checking and rechecking on your status. Please tell everyone that (if this helps) The State Dept has a task force for American Services Operations. 1-202-647-7004. I spoke to a Mr. Bill Fritzland who is going to call me back within the hour with deployment news. He stated that they are getting the American out, but will give me more information as to when and where when he calls me back. I called after a shift change. Perhaps more can call if they have not had the number before. I will be able to get back to normal when you are all on the plane. My prayers always
    Mimi Schiff

  10. Sandra Martin says:

    Gabriel,

    I am the co-sponsor or the STF at Palisades Charter High School. My thoughts are with you. I have written to both senators from California and my U. S. Representative telling them to pressure the State Department to give protection to humanitarian aid workers and help resolve the situation in Chad.

    You’re in my thoughts and prayers.

    Take care,

    Sandra

  11. Sarah J Stark says:

    To everyone–
    Many prayers for your safe return.
    Many thanks for all you are doing and all you have done.
    We are all eagerly awaiting your safe return.
    traveling mercies,
    sarah

  12. shiroma says:

    KTJ –
    I am so happy that you are out of that hotel! I will be even happier when you are back home safe. You guys haven’t left my mind, thank you for keeping us updated. We love you and can’t wait to see you!
    Kristin

  13. Mimi & Gabo says:

    Papi & KTJ,
    After two days of emotion, until today my Mom told me what happened these last few days and finaly let me used the computer, and this is what I think.
    I’m SO glad that you guys are out of the hotel, but don’t you guys think that March is a little too soon to go back? Don’t get me wrong, I love that guys are trying to stop the genocide that is happening in Darfur, but I think that you guys could do the same amount of action that you do here as you could do over there. These last few days the whole family weren’t sleeping at all standing next to the computer and phone at all times. Please think about what your doing before deciding to go back.KTJ, I know that you don’t have any children and are not really thinking about it, but my dad does have a whole family here. I want to grow up with a father, and also think about Gabo. What would he do?
    Mimi & Gabo Stauring

  14. Irais says:

    KTJ & Gabe,

    I’m glad to hear that you are in a safer place. KTJ, after I read what Mimi wrote I total agreed with her. I think that March is way too soon to go back to Africa, knowing how dangerous it’s right now. KTJ, I saw my sister Zahara so worried during the action days. The family including me was so concerned about you guys. I know that you and Gabe wants to stop the genocide, but Gabe think about GABO, MIMI, and “tu ZAHITAS”. Que tanto quieres!!!!
    Saludos
    Ira.

  15. Tony Crawford says:

    Hello Friends,

    Please know that the students and staff of Ackerman Middle School are monitoring your effort to leave Chad and are wishing and praying for your safe departure and return home. The Portland, Oregon, television stations have been reporting your story. The Oregonian newspaper also is reporting the latest news from Chad.

    My students are very concerned for you. We will watch for updated information.

    We wish you well.

    Tony

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