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Only the screen of my computer and the small emergency fixture above the African statue light the dining room. I can hear familiar voices and urgent news in French passing through the crowd. We have all gathered here after the attack and are waiting to be evacuated from N’Djamena. A plane flies close to the banks of the Cheri and several people jump. My heart sinks to my stomach, it sounded like a bomb.
An hour and half ago, Le Meridien was under fire. From who, we don’t know and have no intention of pointing fingers in an all too complicated military offensive on the city. Gabriel was in room 306 connecting to the bgan and uploading our recent video. I was in front of the room filming French military setting up their stations at either end of the L-shaped building. A think brown layer of smoke incases the city before the blue of the sky takes over.
Gabriel retrieves me and brings to the back porch, you can see more artillery in the sky from here. We wrap up, he goes to the bathroom which is at the front of the room, facing the street and I stay to send one more email.
Bum. Bum. Bam. Bam. Bummbum. Plaster shot from the side of the wall. The smell of smoke creeps under the door. Sh*!. F*-#. Okay. Grab the bgan, grab the bag, we need to join the others. My heart races and we make our way to the door. The bullets riddle the wall and door of 306. S-*^! No wait. Okay. Retreat to the behind the bed until it stops. A moment of silence, our only chance. Staying well below the waist high wall, my legs carry me to the staircase, my momentum almost tipping me over forward. Down three flights of switchback stairs and to the left through the doors to the lounge. Everyone is gone but a few people lying flat on their stomachs or backs.
I duck into the corner. The men surrounding me speak English, wondering where we came from and what we saw. I explain the situation from the top floor. A few of the men get up and move, like others, towards the all glass window entrance at the front of the hotel as silence settles around us.
Oh Sh*!. Its begins again and this time it is aiming for me. The vase above me breaks. A bullet enters the wall a foot or so above my head. I get closer to the wall. Scratched radio messages and shouting “C’est la ba. C’est la ba.” Move over there. The bullets aren’t stopping. The building shakes as French troops continue their attack on our intruders. Leaving everything but the Panasonic behind, Gabriel and I quickly crawl through the lounge, past the bar and into the dining room. Go. Go. Go. Into the kitchen.
My eyes adjust to the light as we weave through; I begin to see the faces of those who have been camped out with us most of the day. The shooting doesn’t cease for another good ten minutes. I breathe. In and out. In and out.
I am feel relatively calm huddled in the corner of the kitchen leaning against the cool tile walls. French military weave back and forth resituating the machine gun in front of the lounge.
You never know how you are going to react until you are in it. I have often thought about this. My reaction was quite simple. Breathe. “F#*-!” Breathe. Okay. Go. Wait. Avoid the glass. Breathe. Go. Wait. Ahhhhh, calmness. Breathe.
As I write this, screams come in over the radio and dusk is falling on N’Djamena. The French escort people to their rooms to retrieve their papers and luggage. We have been asked if we want to evacuate. And we said yes, as most others in this room have said.
Gabriel returns from the grounds to use our satellite phone. News reaches me that Teresa contacted the embassy and the embassy stated that we refused to leave when they came to get us. My relative calmness turns to annoyance and then anger. F*!#ers. What liars. Nobody but the MINUCAT head located here in the hotel has asked us, and that was less than 30 minutes ago. Liars. Teresa will call again. Dusk falls over N’Djamena and no certain word on a flight home.
Our team is safe: Josh, Jeremiah, Gabriel and myself. No one in the hotel has been hurt. We wait.