November 22, 2014
Aboard Royal Air Maroc flight to Casablanca
Bangui bid me adieu with a thunderstorm. Grey skies, lightning not too far away. Local people trying to start their day, dealing with their normal hassles but with the addition of mud and rain.
There was a huge congregation of trucks near the halfway point near where the UN base is – it was the convoy for the Cameroon border. The routes in all directions are full of bandits and militias, so all NGOs and commercial trucks have been advised to follow various UN convoys on set days per week. The convoys basically clear the way, providing the security and scouting. A helicopter actually follows the convoys looking out for the worst.
According to a report from a few days ago, MINUSCA, the peacekeeping force here, assumed control of the Bangui airport. They’re the soldiers checking your vehicle on the way in, and they provide the security around the airport. In fact, I saw the peacekeeper soldiers deployed to clear the runway of locals so our plane could land. The airport appeared to allow regular people to cross and walk along the runway to pass through to the other side. I noticed they used the UN convoy escort helicopter to dry off a puddle that had built up on the main runway, on its way out.
There were a bunch of UN helicopters at the airport. It was basically a humanitarian airport that lets commercial flights move through. The UN had their several helicopters and UNHAS (United Nations Humanitarian Air Service, usually managed by WFP) has a few planes. MSF and ICRC had their own planes. Usually there are others but I wasn’t looking too hard. There is a camp next to and spilling into the airport for displaced people who were fleeing the Seleka. The Seleka are cordoned off in a part of town that most people on their way to the airport need to pass through, so any time something would flare up it stresses you out, wondering how you could get out if things got really dicey. But, I was confident that the omnipresent peacekeepers would be able to put a lid on anything these guys could throw at them. Indeed most violence is internecine now, the Seleka are divided, and the Antibalaka,who oppose them, take their opportunities to hit them when they can. Any time foreigners are hassled it’s pure criminality.
Getting through that airport was not awful, as usual I go into my traveler zen mode, where nothing can make me mad and I will myself to have absolute faith that I am not the only one being hassled. As long as I get to the airport on time I know I should be ok. The Bangui airport isn’t as bad as Juba or Khartoum, it’s just super small, although it wasn’t as jammed and dysfunctional as Juba. They seemed to move people through reasonably well. They checked my bag no less than 4 times, before I checked in, after I checked in, security scan, and then one final time. The last spot was where they took my spray deodorant and my nail clippers, both of which have been in my carry-on bag around the world with me a few times without hassle. Oh well.
They had a decent lounge upstairs where you could get an egg sandwich and Nescafé. That’s the most expensive Nescafé I’ve ever had, it was about $2 (1000 cfa), the egg sandwich was $4. I can afford it but they know they’re getting a premium from foreigners.
In the end I don’t care too much, this country has had a truly rough time of it. The people are weary, the local people on my flight seem to have this sense of solidarity having gone through some difficult experiences together. Maybe this is how New Yorkers were around 9/11.
Long flights home but I’ll be happy to be back. I had a much better trip than my last one for work, and much better than my last time in Africa. It was good to put Juba behind me. I was happy to speak a lot of French, I was able to get some stuff done and I hopefully was able to make some new friends. So I can’t complain. I’m lucky to have a job like this.
As always, I remain inspired by my colleagues. The heroes are the Central Africans trying to help rebuild their country. All we can do is help them help themselves.