|© UNICEF Supply Division/2004/Brian Clear|
|The 40 tonnes of supplies sent to Chad from the Johannesburg emergency hub included mosquito nets, blankets, tents and Family Water Kits.|
By Brian Clear, UNICEF Pretoria
Brian Clear works for UNICEF’s Procurement Centre in Pretoria, South Africa. Here he gives us an account of his 24-hour journey to N’Djamena, Chad, to deliver supplies for Sudanese refugees.
JOHANNEBURG, 30 August 2004 - It is 5:15 am on a cold and dark South African winter morning. A chartered UNICEF cargo flight is being loaded with pallet after pallet of supplies from UNICEF Supply Division’s emergency stockpile in Johannesburg. Among the many items loaded are mosquito nets, blankets, tents and water kits, which include buckets, soap, and water purification tablets. All of these supplies are destined for the refugees from western Sudan, who have fled across the border to eastern Chad.
Ultimately, the aircraft will be loaded with 40 tonnes of supplies. We must squeeze past the cargo to enter the cockpit where the crew are formally introduced: Vic, the Captain; Barry, First Officer; Dean, Flight Engineer and Albert, the Loadmaster. I nestle into my seat and prepare to depart for N’Djamena, Chad’s capital city.
After a brief stop over in Mombasa to refuel, we take off again. It is a slow climb from sea level, taking 50 minutes to reach our cruising altitude of 28,000 feet. From this height, we are rewarded with a spectacular view of snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro off to the south in Tanzania. Along the way, the crew recount stories of previous cargo flights all over Africa.
Finally, nine hours after leaving Johannesburg, we begin our descent through a sandstorm into N’ Djamena. Upon arrival, we see a huge Illushin 76 being unloaded, apparently a UNHCR charter (we hear later that their Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie is in town). Our aircraft is then secured, and Albert and I are left to organize the unloading.
Albert speaks no French and what little French I speak is poor. The ground handlers speak no English. However, through hand signals and gestures, things finally start to come together. Our operations officer, Isaac Togo, arrives with his staff to help with unloading. It is 38°C and pushing the heavy pallets down the plane and onto the forklift is hard work. Once finished, we then have to unload bales of mosquito nets from the underbelly cargo hold as well. All these items will leave the next day for the eastern part of the country to help the refugees – another example of UNICEF in action, delivering supplies to those in need.
Finally, at 8:30pm we are finished. Albert locks the aircraft for the night and we head for our hotel. Isaac joins up with us shortly thereafter. As if on cue, his cell phone rings. It is Tanny from Copenhagen checking in with us to see how things are going. She is happy with the news of our safe arrival and the successful unloading of all supplies.
Cyrille Niameogo, UNICEF Representative in Chad and an old friend from my Rwanda days, meets up with us at the hotel. The supplies that we have brought are much needed, and they are very appreciative of the speed with which Copenhagen has arranged for this chartered flight. All too soon, it is time for everyone to leave, as we have to get up at 4 am for departure back to South Africa.
It feels as though I have just fallen asleep when the alarm goes off. I make my way down to the lobby to meet the crew, who all seem like they’ve been awake for hours. They must have done this many times before. N’Djamena at 4:30 am is a very quiet place, and we reach the airport in minutes. The crew starts to prepare for the departure and I am dispatched to retrieve the passports, which are being held by an immigration official.
The official is asleep, and I wake him as gently as possible. He is very gracious considering that it’s 5:15 in the morning. He returns the passports and wishes us a hearty “bon voyage.”
Readying for departure, we notice a group of young boys already playing football in a sandy field nearby. This - at least for myself - serves as a reminder as to why we are here in the first place: to help children. Take off is at 7:20 am. The cargo hold is empty, and we climb straight out of N’Djamena like a rocket. With the sandstorm having passed, it is a beautiful morning. Albert serves tea, and we are on our way home.