Dispatches from C.A.R. Episode 2: "The day we didn't go to Bossangoa"
July 2014, Central African Republic - While violence and displacement of people remain the daily routine, our colleague in Bangui, Donaig Le Du, shares her impressions from the field. Read her diaries and try to get a sense of what it's like to live and work in C.A.R. during these dramatic days. Here's the second episode of a series describing her adventurous journey to the city of Bossangoa.
Security clearances approved. Security briefing completed. Radio check done. Bags – along with water, gas and office supplies for the field offices – in the cars ready to go.
The 800 km-plus trip, to field offices and projects in Bossangoa, Paoua and Bouar in the northwest of the Central African Republic, promises to be interesting – my first chance to get out of Bangui and see what things look like on the ground. On our way out of Bangui, the road is paved, a good road by C.A.R. standards, with holes every few metres. It runs straight through a breathtaking landscape: green hills, huge trees and very little traffic.
This may be why people lay cassava pieces to dry directly on the roadside. I have doubts about the cleanliness of the practice, and I cannot help but think about the cassava I ate the other day.
A few kilometres outside Bangui, we hit the first roadblock – a symptom of the ongoing violence that affects so many people in this country. We are greeted by young men, with no weapons to be seen. Everything goes smoothly – they hardly stop the car – but I doubt things will be as easy for the taxi they are busy searching, an old car overflowing with people and luggage.
A second roadblock. Then a third, and a fourth, in less than 40 km. These are the only unusual features of the otherwise quite normal scenery. In the car, we listen to music. I try to give Bonaventure, the driver, a taste of songs from countries outside C.A.R. I watch as we pass little brick houses, people walking along the road, kids running around, a few motorcycles each carrying at least three passengers, plus their bags.
Then comes the fifth roadblock. But this one is different. Half a dozen militias, from the group anti-Balaka, stand with their homemade guns that look like toys, built of carved wood and metal tubes. Weapons that look fake but appear to be able to shoot. One of the men wears a knitted hat that says "Chelsea FC," covered by a helmet twice the size of his head, and jujus cover his arms. His companion has knotted a woollen scarf over his head in a most peculiar way; it is way over 30°C out there.
"Be careful while driving" they say, "someone has been shot over there, so there is fighting a few kilometres away." It could be true. He may also have made it up on the spot.
And then, a few kilometres away, it becomes clear that he was right. A long line of 50 or more trucks is blocking the road. The bi-weekly convoy heading to the Cameroonian border – Bangui's only way of getting supplies – has come to a halt. From where we are, it is impossible for us to know what is going on further down the road, but security colleagues back in Bangui ask us to turn around and return to the capital immediately.
So here we are, less than three hours after we left, back at the office. One of my shortest road trips ever. I have not unpacked yet. The colleagues in the field offices will have to wait a little longer for the biscuits and newspapers we were hoping to bring them.
"No plans are certain here until you have actually completed them," says one colleague. And I have to admit, he is absolutely right.