A Guided Tour of Hell
My ride is a windowless Toyota pickup without plates. It is nightfall in Bahay, the last town on the Chad border before Darfur. So as not to embarrass the humanitarian workers who are putting me up, the pickup stops 100 yards away, in front of the dusty shack that serves as the police station. The driver, Otman, is very young. Four armed men are sitting in the back, perched on bundles of bread, their long, colorless turbans wrapped around their heads. There is a fifth man, their commander--who speaks a few words of English. In the dark, he abruptly hands me his Thuraya satellite phone. At the other end of the line is Abdul Wahid Al Nour, the leader of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), with whom I have been in contact from Paris. His is one of the two rebel armies that rejected the Abuja peace accords in May 2006.
"Sorry for the delay," he says, his voice barely audible over the incessant din of the sandstorm that has been raging since morning. "Our telephones are tapped, so yesterday the corridor we were planning to use for you was cut off by a column of four thousand Janjaweed. We had to find another way, you understand?"
Yes, I do. But the terrible mounted militia of the Islamic regime in Khartoum here? I had been told back in N'Djamena that the area just north of the border had been won by the guerrillas.
Before we can get underway, there is a short stop next to a thatched hut where fuel cans are stacked. Some children load them silently into the back of the truck. Then, a little farther on, still on the Chad side of the border, another stop to pick up some blankets at a small hut that, like the road itself, is all but hidden by the sand.
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