Mission (just about) accomplished

I was tired when I got home from Cambodia (via Istanbul), and the last thing I really wanted to hear was that my staff were having problems in Niger and I needed to join them as soon as possible in order to rescue the mission.

It turned out that none of the planning had been done as one team member had been confined to bed with a painful attack of gout.  The other team member had arrived in Niger late after her flight was delayed by ten hours, and also stressed from her experience on the flight.  Stopped at Bamako for some passengers to leave and others to join the flight, she suddenly realised her laptop was missing.  In her distress she managed to persuade the crew to let her briefly disembark to chase after the departing passengers, and finding them still in the terminal she announced that her laptop was missing and she wanted everyone to open their bags.  A man who'd been sitting near her (and trying unsuccessfully to chat her up for much of the flight) came forward and handed it over.  He'd thought it belonged to another woman who'd got off the flight, blah, blah, blah...

Perhaps her immune system was down after the stresses of her journey, as she then fell sick with malaria and spent the next five days in bed.

So they needed me to join them much earlier than intended so as to take on some of the work.  I ran around changing my flight, getting an additional few days' visa, etc (all made more difficult by the fact that all of my admin and logistics colleagues were away on a training course), and flew out to join them on the Saturday evening.  Due to full hotels we were all staying in different places, so they had agreed to bring a big pile of files to me on the Sunday as preparatory reading for my intended two days out in the field visiting projects, but the taxi drivers were all on strike so I had to sit there twiddling my thumbs until an office driver got to me on the Monday morning.  Laden down with the files we drove the 160km to the Dosso field office, and after the day's work I spent the evening, until midnight, on my reading.  There was little else to do in any case as the hotel restaurant was closed and with no street lighting and no torch I was restricted to a beer from the hotel bar for my dinner.

The next morning I was therefore quite hungry and could hardly believe it when told that the restaurant was still closed, with the chef not expected in for another couple of hours.  So I wandered out into the street, searching for somewhere selling food.  As Dosso is a kind of crossroads for travellers (mostly truckers) going from Niger to Benin or Nigeria, I quickly found somewhere.  No menu, just a chunk of baguette served with hot white beans, a dollop of mayonnaise and a glug of oil, but it was nicer than it sounds and a bargain at only 40¢.

Once in the office, I gave them the list of projects I wanted to visit so that they could make the necessary arrangements.  They came back looking concerned.  There had been a kidnapping of six NGO staff on the Sunday night, so apparently meetings had been held the previous day between security officers of the NGOS and the UN agencies, and the decision had been made to stop all field visits.  I was also told that there was to be no movement between the country office and the field offices, so I had to stay put.  With two policemen guarding my room that night!

I have to say that I felt it was all a huge overreaction; the kidnap had taken place 650km away, and as the kidnappers now had six hostages to deal with I thought it unlikely that they would be on the hunt for more.  Besides, this wasn't the first kidnapping of NGO staff in Niger over the past few years.  But I am not an expert on security matters, and obviously had to do what I was told in the circumstances.

Overreaction or not, it meant I couldn't carry out the work that was my reason for going to Dosso, so the next day they agreed to transport me back to Niamey.

Thankfully the other half of our planned project vists had been done a couple of days earlier so we were still able to draw some conclusions from our trip and produce a final report.

Time to go home, and although our homes are in different places the first leg of the journey, Niamey - Ouagadougou, was the same for all three so we travelled together to the airport early on the Wednesday morning.  This trip hadn't done with us yet though, as we found that the aeroplane had not arrived the previous evening, and with no other flights departing Niamey that day we could not be re-routed.  So we were sent back to the hotel to wait.  A chance to phone my Mum, to take a dip in the pool, it wasn't all bad, but at the same time I really had been away for long enough and was keen to get home.  Friday was a public holiday so I had a long weekend to look forward to.

Eventually, late afternoon, we got the call to go back to the airport; the plane had finally arrived.  At check-in I was asked whether I wanted to collect my luggage in Ouagadougou or check it through to Dakar.  I pointed out that as I had missed the midday connection with the Dakar flight it was a bit difficult to answer without more information on the rearranged connection.  At this they looked a little confused - it turned out they hadn't thought about that so I hadn't been booked on to any new connecting flight.

After more than an hour waiting for information, I was told that unfortunately the next flight from Ouaga to Dakar was not until Friday lunchtime and so I would have to spend two nights in transit in Ouagadougou.  I was not pleased but of course there was nothing I could do.  In fact I was nearly removed from the Friday flight as I refused point blank to pay $50 for a transit visa, arguing that it was the airline's fault and so they would have to pay.  Fine in theory but all the airline's staff were off enjoying the public holiday...  But I made the flight and finally collapsed into bed at home on Friday night.

Getting things done in Africa is rarely easy but this trip had managed to really pack in the challenges.

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