In all the chaos, I have forgotten to take my malaria pills a few times on this trip. But tonight, as we wait outside of the registration office, at the French Military Base lit by a single fluorescent bulb, I remember to take it. This is the worst the mosquitoes have been on the entire trip. A female soldier stands tall on a make shift stool shouting names for the next flight. It’s 9:40pm and the last flight left at 6:40. They finish calling three pages of names. Although Miah (known back home as Jeremiah) thinks that each names is Forest with a French accent, we don’t make the list. They bring coffee, we wait, the mosquitoes feast.
Hours pass by and even those who were called at 9:40 linger in the area. The military transport truck holding the luggage hasn’t moved in hours. Just as news about the fighting is sporadic and unreliable so is news about flights out of here. We hear rumors: one airplane of the two is broken down, they are delaying the other flight due to fighting, the rebels are asking the French to suspend all flights and keep the airport neutral or they will think its an act of war. We shut everything down and I make my way to the kitchen area to plug in the computer, all batteries are down to less than 10 minutes. A soldier tries to tell me that I can’t plug in here, and I ask him to say it in English; with a discouraging shrug he walks away and I plug in!
The same officer stands again above the rest of us. Calling the same names, it looks like a flight will make it out tonight but we won’t be on it. The transport truck returns from the airport drop off and soldiers begin loading the remaining luggage. I reflect about all the things I left back in the hotel: the flip flops I have had since I lived in North Carolina almost 9 years ago; one of my Thai wraps; my zip off pants from Vietnam; Mansur’s t-shirt; and my backpack, another item I have lived out of in many countries and used for over 10 years now. I did gather my special bag of gifts that people have given me for protection and strength. Miah and Gabriel now have a few of these things, the rest are still tucked in my pockets. In Shallah, the luggage will be there when we return. These are just things, I have my life and my memories.
People begin to gather again, this time around a male officer. “Scott, KATie…Jay, Scott.”
“Oui, ici, present!”
“Stauring, Sundberg, Forest!”
We shuffle into the white vans. The hour reaches 1:00am but we are all relived not to be outside anymore. One minute, two minutes, three minutes, we stop. Gabriel jokes, “It’s like the N’Djamena International Airport.” I laugh, oh wait, people are getting out. I think to myself, we’ve got to stop saying this stuff out loud. A moment of reflection, how many times we have stated something in the last three weeks that has then come true, Law of Attraction. The rollercoaster started when I said in the car from Farchana to Abeche, “You wouldn’t want to be out here without a working horn in your car….” Moments later, we approached a herd of cattle and Alpha attempted to honk to move them from our way, nothing sounded.
We are dropped off at a line of green army tents with cots, some with mosquito nets propped above them, others empty. We grab a few with nets, exchange looks, and shoot up one more update; tonight will be more restful, maybe.
We wake to a typical sunny morning. We meet those who have arrived from the Embassy, “ahhh! This is Le Meridien Four.” They know us because of all of you! There is a station for brushing teeth and even a quick shower. I take my time with the cold water, skipping the hot, letting it run through my hair and wash away the plaster still stuck from the gunfire two days ago. Once out in a clean shirt, I am hurried to a new registration point and given a quarter of a pink construction sheet with the number 11 – our flight number, but to make sure we are clear, not the time we are leaving!
As we wait under a tree on the military base, we can still here heavy fighting in the distance, but everyone is calm. We joke around with others from the hotel who have made it onto flight 11 out of N’Djamena. Many new faces also, who are eager to watch the videos from our days in the hotel. We meet a few other American’s. And we wait patiently.