Friday, August 24, 2007

Monday, September 04, 2006

This is Giorgio Trombatore

“This is COY”

Me and Marlow : a Common Journey
By Giorgio Trombatore


Have you ever red “Heart of Darkness”, the famous novella of Joseph Conrad ? the novella that takes us in a journey in the river Congo. This novella is ,above all, an exploration of the human soul, it is the story of a man, Mr. Marlow, who witnesses the world around him, who sails from the civilized Europe in order to reach the mysterious world of the “Inner Africa”. But most of all, Marlow’s journey to Africa enables him to meet for the first time in his life the natives and the spectre of his own soul.
Most probably the Congo of the 19th century, was a land where Marlow would have encountered scenes of torture, killing, cruelty and near-slavery; where the White man felt the authority given them by their wealth and their military strength and the natives were nothing more than objects, brutal beasties that lived in the darkness.

More than a century has eclipsed , more than 100 years from Marlow and his talks along the river Thames. Nowadays , young students all around the world buy “cheap books from Conrad” and anyone can learn the story of Kurtz.
I bought my book, merely 4 Euros, and I started reading it on a bus from “Stazione Termini” going toward Piazza Sempione in Rome.
As I turned the pages, and read how those “natives were suffering”, dying of malaria, or left aside with unknown diseases, then it was like I could see Marlow ‘s ship in that damned river.
I have some point in common, with the young Marlow, this is undeniable.
As a child, I always stared looking at the Maps of the world, and dreaming ,and flying with my mind I imagined myself crossing the deserts of the Sahara with the Bedouins or reaching the peak of the Kilimanjaro.

When I was asked to make a possible analysis and comparison on the world witnessed by Marlow during his trip along the River Congo with my personal experience, I was a bit surprised at first .
It was not easy to compare my life as an humanitarian worker with United Nations Agencies and a character that has been invented by a writer almost two centuries ago.

The only common thing, I thought was the fact that I had visited and worked in Congo during the Ituri crisis (ethnic fighting between two Congolese tribes that exploded in the region of Ituri bordering with Uganda and Rwanda) .
There I served for about 4 months with refugees escaping from the town of Bunia, and I worked in order to arrange for them some condition as to better face the hardship of the refugees life.

But then, as I was reading Conrad pages , Heart of Darkness, I started to imagine his hero Marlow and his life in the Congo river, witnessing death and cruelty that seemed unreal in European cities.

I started comparing my mission in the war torn countries as a journey. Actually this journey is a life a special one, because it is made in the places that we wish never existed and because this journey brings to life things we hoped should have ended at Conrad ‘s time.

My work with the Humanitarian agencies brings me in world that is suffering from civil wars, from famine and desperation, and I can not deny that many times, meanwhile I was reading this novella I felt that Marlow’ inner stations (the station were small harbour along the river Congo) seemed a lot like the countries I was from time to time assigned to in my missions.

My experience in the war torn Mozambique, became the first station of my working life, and as Marlow ‘s hero enters to navigate deeper in the Congo river, I too continued my journey in desperate countries where lives often endure incredible sufferings.

My journey becomes the Heart of Darkness of Marlow , and my reflection is reflected in this 20th Century Man, and his encounters with rebels, bandits, prostitutes around the world.

This is how I live my life.


Twenty Years Old, a boy in the bush Pg 6

The Volcano and his Gorillas Pg 10
The Unita’s Rebels Pg 14

The Gipsy of Girocastro Pg 17

The Eritreans Pg 21

The Taliban takes residence in Farah Pg 24

A Khmer rouge with a mosquito net Pg 28

The Holy Father of Guinea Bissau Pg 30

The Lost World Pg 33

Talking to the Spirits Pg 36

A cigarette in the Borneo Pg 39

The Caliph of Kuwait city Pg 48

The Shia Cleric Pg 51

A Politician among the rebels,a Darfur story Pg 57

Conclusion Pg 64

Twenty Years old , a boy in the Bush

My father was working in a lively city, that was famous during the Portuguese times as Lorenco Marques. A very strange name for this city, that spread along the coast of the Indian Ocean. My father was employed by the Ministry of Defence in order to supervise a truce signed by the Renamo Guerrilla movement and the socialist regime of the Frelimo.
The country was so devastated by the war, that entire areas were kept as “Eden’s gardens” by a border made of mines . Children used to die like flies, as there were more reasons to die by famine, malaria, or a vacant bullet shot by one of the two conflicting side, than living a life.
The war did not spare nothing, animals, human beings, buildings, forests.
I dreamed , as a young boy, to travel to the remotest areas; I imagined and followed on my afternoon breaks sitting on a sofa, the adventures of James Cook, the courage of Vasco de Gama, the amazing world that opened his arms to Marco Polo.
I found a way to reach all this. I was an humanitarian Officer.
I guess this may impress somebody, or anyone that so far has tried to follow me on my dissertation , that started from Conrad may seemed lost, you may wonder this man has lost his mind .
But I did not.
I confess , me too, I am still confused. Things are not so clear to me anymore. I guess it was easier at the time of Conrad; probably people like Marlow could start up a life as a sailor, and then make up a future in the navy, and one day turn out to be a captain on his own ship.
My Ship, the ship that took me around the world, in the third world countries, (as we call it now), my ship was the Humanitarian world.
In our 20th century, there are more wars around the world , than people would like to admit.
The United Nations can not keep up with the fighting , and it is always trying to find new resources and more money in order to heal the suffering of the poor civilians.
In this world I ended up, and as a young sailor, I joined the assistance that the more civilized countries committed themselves in helping out the poorest.
And my journey on the river Congo, took me along the forests of Zambezia in Mozambique, in places where the guerrillas troops used to walk with a log instead of their legs after loosing them with the blows of mines left by the enemy.
I ended up in the heart of one of the oldest and most tragical war of Africa. The war between the Reanamo (Resistencia Nacional Mozambicana) and the Frelimo (Frente de liberacao de Mocambique). The war exploded once the Portuguese left the country, which happened only in the 1970s , during the revolution that was spreading all over the African Continent.
I spent about 2 years with the rebels of the Renamo who opposed the socialist party that took power after the departure of the last Portuguese soldier.
I was sent immediately in the Central Region, that was the hub of the rebels, which had their Headquarters in a city called Maringue (center of Mozambique).
The village itself had only few huts, but it was believed that the leader of the movement was living there. I reached this place with the UN in order to start to demobilize the soldiers.
I found myself surrounded by people who lived all their life in the bush, that had not any idea about civil life.
For them the movement was everything , in fact most of them were taken away from their families when they were young.
They knew nothing about politics, and frankly speaking I guess that a part from the historical leader Alfonso Dhlakama (leader of the rebel movement), all the rest were simple peasants that were acting as soldiers.
When I landed in Maringue with a chopper, I just saw men in rags, all without shoes. Wild faces , feet very large and none of them could speak Portuguese, the national language.
All spoke local African languages.
We set up in a tent and I was accompanied by some military observers. The task was to retrieve all weapons and possibly register the soldiers, and once the peace agreement was signed between the Government Forces of Chissano and the Reanamo forces of Dhlakama, bring them back wherever they wanted.
It sounds simple, but it took more than 2 years in the jungle, in the tough jungle, not the “ lions “ safari one ,with the giraffe and the lodge waiting for you after a day spent among the “wild animals shooting pictures”.
Actually the jungle here meant no clean water to drink, malaria fever every six months at least, the fear of the mines and a very bad food, which often and repeatedly had the magical power to send you to very dirty and nasty toilets .
I found myself interviewing people through translators of nearby city like Beira (second biggest city of Mozambique). Most of the people that I interviewed were young soldiers that were abducted by their families when they were only 7 or 8 years old. Sometime abducted when they were playing outside their huts or on the way to take water.
The soldiers sometime did not know how many children they had. In fact it happened that some of them spent more than 13 years with the guerrillas in the bush and they married and had children, but they were so primitive that they were careless even of their own children.
They only knew how to shoot, to run , to escape, and beside that their life was always at stake of being killed by governative troops that were better equipped.
I saw soldiers that were not cured from simple diseases and now they had loosed many teeth or an infections had caused an entire piece of body to be cut off.
As I said before, most of the missing art were replaced with pieces of wood. One day I was under a tent and a boy, he could have been 17 years old approached my tent as he listened the music that was coming out from my radio. He had lost a leg, and when he put the new piece of wood, as many others he didn’t even care to clean the wood, living small pieces of branches along it.
The city was a bit better for the majority of the population.
The capital, Maputo (former Lorenco Marques, capital of Mozambique) was a very nice city built by the Portuguese on the Indian ocean.
There were still beautiful villas, but the poverty of the people was reflected by those escaping from the bush and living in miserable condition on the periphery of the town.
The streets were full of dirty orphans left to sleep on the streets and begging everywhere the rich cars of the diplomatic community or of the united nations representatives.
Life for many of them was a nightmare , if lucky some Mozambicans could get a work as guard or cleaner getting maybe 40 dollars per month.
The houses of the White community , but also of the rich and corrupted black community were full of servants.
The capital was a comfortable place for those who had villas, the tennis club on Saturday, American private school for the children and parties on Saturdays night the discos along the beach.
The rest were phantoms.
I met once of this phantom going to the market.
Every time I was parking ,there was this boy , older than the other orphans, maybe 18 years old. He used to get close to meet me and say “Jambo “that in local shangana dialect I think it means I look your car, something like I am the guard, you go spend your money and I will watch your expensive vehicle.
So I started to give money some here and some there, and every time he was guarding my car, he had the exclusive above the others children to watch it.
I started to bring him some dresses , as he was always so dirty and in rags that I thought maybe a few clothes could have helped.
But after initial use, I saw that he sold the dresses maybe to buy food or to get drunk.
The other children , started to say to him that he was the friend of the Muzungu ( a way of calling the White people in local language).
I started to get interested on him, and I discovered that his name was Francisco and that he was left alone when he was very young, maybe 4 or 5 years old, after his drunk father kept on fustigating him.
When I was coming back from my mission in the bush, I always tried to meet him in order to smoke a cigarette with him and provide him with food and money.
I saw that many times, as soon as he was to receive the money he parted with other children. Usually these children were maybe only 5 or 6 years old, and he would act as father from his 18 years old .
I understood that his heart was clean, but his life in the streets of Maputo was a time bomb for any tragic event.
Once I was out from Maputo for a very long period , I guess about three months, as I could not get any holyday from the United Nations.
So when I started to go down town I was surprised not to see him around. I went in the places where he used to sleep or to try to beg, but still no clues of him, until one day another orphan that was begging outside a market told me that Francisco was caught by the Police and brought to jail for stealing a vehicle.
I thought it was very strange since he did not have the least idea on how to drive a vehicle.
Then I started to visit all Police post (called in Portuguese Squadra ), where people are held before they are sent to jail.
The places were awful. Usually I arrived in the place, and asked the commander whether there was in custody any person called Francisco.
Police did not care to asking names sometimes, but one time I was a Muzungu ( a white man) I deserved more respect so policemen showed me all the cells where the detainees were held.
Human beings stocked like cattle, that was what I saw in those jails. Sometime in a small room there were more than 20 people, mostly half naked among excrements and smell of urine.
On other occasion the chief of Police showed me people that were particularly violent closed in a small room, so small that you could not stand, and in complete darkness, closed like ready to go to hell.
Tough to see!. But my search brought nothing, and Francisco was still not found anywhere.
Finally I decided to search him in the common jail, assuming that he was condemned by the judge.
In fact from the Police post detainees were moved only after a penalty was decided by the tribunal.
I found him there. I asked one guard to call him, but this was the state jail not a police post, and even if I was a Muzungu, the doors were closed for me.
Visits only at certain time, morning from 10.00 to 12,00 a.m..
I bought a packet of cigarette and handed over little money and the guard after a while came back with Francisco, telling me only few minutes.
Francisco was shocked to see me, but it lasted shortly, he immediately showed fear and sadness.
He told me that he stole a car one night, because he was drunk, and of course after few meters he crashed against a car that was parked nearby. Police arrived scolded him and the charge was 5 years, for stealing a car that you do not even know how to drive.
Here he ended up. He mentioned that he was very hungry, refused any money and asked for food. Apparently the families of the detainees were bringing food, otherwise the jail was passing very little, almost starving them.
He was sleeping on a mat on the floor, often bitten by the guards and by others detainees.
He was only 18, spent a life on a sidewalk , eating from dust-bins, with rags and with the only company of other orphans.
When for a short time I delivered him food and money , he parted with the others, that were like him, the disgraceful.
And now here in the jail. That was my last time that I saw him.

The Volcano and His Gorillas

I continued to go up on the river Congo, I happened once to be in Rwanda in a time when to be part of a tribe with descendants from the horn of Africa meant “sure death”.
I ended up in a place, that I recall as “Hell”. I saw less than a thousand people crowding a small building, living in shambles and not moving for fear of being killed by the Tall people, who this time came back with full power from Uganda.
I remember talking to a woman, and then suddenly realizing I was standing over a corpse; the woman saw the terror in my eyes and she start to laugh; but her laughing was not human.
It was Him. The Devil.
In Rwanda, I was asked to work in the Kigaly customs .
My job was to clear all incoming containers from abroad and as well to distribute the goods to the military contingents present in the country.
At the time of the crisis there were many troops, I recall the Australians who also operated with a hospital, the Canadians that followed the logistics , and many African countries that were involved in the security of sensible areas and as well in the patrolling of the main roads.
I guess, even though people has never dealt with customs , they may figure out what is the typical African custom representative.
Usually they present themselves to us as the people of the law, fair and correct, but this is just appearance because they study the foreigners. They are ready to eat you, if you show any sign of incertitude, of doubt. They start to ask papers , documents and at the very first sign of confusion they make a big problem out of nothing !.
Why? Because then they can show you that they can solve the problem, so they got the reward!.
Well , let’s say I was familiar with the African governative type, so when I took the task of container manager in Kigali (the capital city of Rwanda ) I was prepared to all sorts of customs people.
They were surprised, I have to say , by how deep I was involved in the matters.
Let’s start from the beginning.
I was given a yard, in the center of Kigali, where all the incoming United Nations containers were supposed to be stocked and cleared by custom agents before being sent to the country side.
The UN thought I could do the job, and I eagerly took it.
All I needed was a pick-up, a radio and later on a dozen of workers.
The UN expected about 557 containers from other missions like Somalia and Mozambique, but even as far as Cambodia . Sometimes container had only one merchandise like rice or chairs, other were mixed from the a TV set to exercice books, to pencils, to dresses , to biscuits to Coca Cola.
Others were private containers for VIP people. I guess in that compound I saw pretty much everything.
As I took office, I went to meet the authorities of the Kigali customs and at the first meeting I had a cold welcome, but I knew it , I knew that it would have not lasted long, I knew what they needed, it was just a matter of time.
When I first visited the compound there were about 23 containers that were already stocked and I was advised by the UN officials that all the containers had to be offloaded and the materials inside destroyed because expired.
At the gate of the compound there were some UN Indians troops guarding the place. They were originally from Punjab and the three of them were Sick (The religious Sick, mainly from Punjab northern India).
After checking the 23 containers one by one, I discovered that they were full of rice, of fruit-canned juices , corn flakes and staff like that. Of course some had expired for few days but even if UN regulations ordered to burn the whole cargo, I knew it would have been a big sin.
So as I had to get free of all that materials, I started to give it away to custom people, to guards and
To young orphans that were standing outside my compound.
In a matter of days and with a very clever operation, I became so known within the customs area that if I requested a truck or a forklift to move a container I did not have to wait anytime, instead of the regular 10 days or so, my request would have been immediately approved.
I had such a good relation with the Rwandese authorities that they merely opened the containers and cleared all papers right away. I was able to clear as many containers as I wanted per day, according to the request.
1, 10 or 50 , it was no more a question of numbers or papers, it was just me who was requesting and the people moving.
I set up as well a group of workers taken from the street, it was a mix group.
There was a Ugandan refugee, a Congolese, one Tusti and 2 Hutus.
I arranged for them a sort of uniform and they were my people. Of course for every container I was opening a gift was always there for my people and for the customs people.
There was no corruption in all that, it was just a little present and considering the circumstances the results were so good and successful that I could allow myself to give away few items.
Little by little, our group operated more than 500 containers. The requests were so many, and the workload was too big.
One day I found a small boy who was always staring outside our compound.
I discovered his name was Ruhengeri, or something like that.
The boy was about 10 years old, an orphan from the Hutu tribe, probably his parents were killed during the war between Tutsi and Hutu, or escaped in nearby Congo to flee the revenge from the Tutsi.
He did not speak that much in the beginning , and he was often drunk, smoking and pissing himself in the pants. Obviously he was left alone by himself.
So I decided to take him with me. I did not want to give him to the Rwandese Patriotic Front (the military troops on power in Rwanda), because I feared that being a Hutu he could have been taken in the army sent God knows where .
I spoke with my group and they being all of them refugees as well decided to take him along. So there he was , our mascot. He arranged a house inside an empty container, used to get morning tea from the nearby Indian Soldiers and was officially one of us.
Ruhengeri was definitively was very happy about his new family, even thou a bit of a strange family.
His father was Italian, the uncles were 2 Indian Sick (from the UN troops) and as brother he had Congolese, Ugandan and Rwandese refugees.
Ruhengeri changed, despite his 10 years old, he stopped drinking, even thou he still allowed himself a cigarette or two in a day.
Now he was a small boss, usually we would ask him to go inside the container and check items deep in the bottom , or he was there helping loading and offloading.
The business went along well, my guys were working real hard, and all the goods that they were managing to get from me, were sold again in the market.
One day the UN asked me to get rid of those containers that were not anymore useable, that suffered from holes or were rusty. Therefore I thought to give it to my workers as a gift. Few days later I saw in the market that the same containers were used as shops.
I have to admit my team was brilliant, but I still had the problem of thieves from outside managing from time to time to get through .
I arrived to the point where I had to call the army .They eagerly came and after ambushing the thieves, they were publicly whipped outside the compound as to give an example to all.
The hunger was great among peasants, I remember once, I had to burn some rice that was really rotten, so I called my team and after loading a truck we went outside Kigali (the capital of Rwanda) in order to find a place where to dump all the materials.
There was actually an official place, and there we were once offloading all the rubbish and an incredible amount of people came out of nowhere and started reaching out for food.
Me and my people with the batons tried to keep them away but we were outnumbered, so we ran away from the garbage place living all the debris to that hungry mob.
Another time half of my team was arrested by the local police. I suspected that behind this there was jealousy , for the fact that 5 local people, mostly refugees , from different countries were working with UN people and were actually dealing as well a good business.
I was informed of the arrests by the small orphan Ruhengery. During the day he was used to bring food to the captives and kept me informed. I pressed a lieutenant of the area for their release and he started with the Tutsi, the dominant tribe and then he released the others.
Rwanda was a time bomb machine. I always had the feeling when I used to get out to the other locations in order to check containers or to bring new materials.
Thanks to our job , when we were not in the customs, we moved a lot along the country visiting from the lake Kivu (the most important lake in Rwanda), to Cyangugu in the south near the Congolese border, or to Gitarama, center of the country.
In all these places I found stories of death, and the fear was still big. The Patriotic Front (the official Rwandese army), was mostly composed of Tutsi and still they were doing house searching in order to send more prisoners to the crowded jail of Kigali .
During the rainy season it was easy to see the camps of the internally displaced population left in the middle of water and mud with no food and with the fear of being shot at any time.
I was happy that at least within my compound there was time to laugh, to play with the little Ruhengery (the orphan), but we all new that outside that compound the situation was critical.
In the night when I was coming back home, I was many times shocked by cries, or by the army patrol that wanted to search the house for people.
I was living awaiting for another massacre to explode. Hundreds of young soldiers were visible every day running and marching chanting war songs, and all of them had one thing in common the tribe. They were Tutsi, and they were ready to revenge the million more innocent death killed one by one mostly by machetes .
I had that in mind every time I was moving and I knew the people ,some of them thought that we as Europeans were responsible for not moving during the killing and we continued not to move.
As we did in Kibeho (southern village of Rwanda), where after the massacre of more than 2000 Hutus,people accused Europeans for not having done nothing to stop those killings.
That day, when I went in this village in Kibeho , the army refused to let the people bury their family members and wanted to see the remaining ones starving to death.
For the little Ruhengeri , I contacted an orphan – house that was recommended by some people as being very honourable.
The circumstances of course did not give much choice, but I wanted that before leaving he would have had a minimum of welfare. I asked one of the Congolese, who seemed the most serious among the group to take care of the little boy, but as he answered me, he would have clearly done that, the problem was that the boy was too instable due to the war and the suffering that he went through .
Once directly approached , I told Ruhengeri that he had to continue school, and that the Team from time to time would have checked on him, and helped him when needed.
He showed no emotion, he wanted to show us that he was already a big man, which no one of us actually doubted, but clearly he already missed the time spent in the compound with the company of the caring Sick that were talking to him about their gods (Sassariakal, Indian god, or Shiva and the other deities), or missing the lunch spent all together under the shadow of an open container.
The compound was clearly a refugee, but simply going out of it the pick-up of the Partriotic Front was a clear reminder that the country was still at war with itself .
The compound was still a safe-heaven like the Volcano ,high in the hills, where the last gorillas where escaping the poachers.
In this compound it was possible to escape from the horrors of Rwanda, it was possible for a short moment to bring away the thoughts of the killings, , of the rivers full of corpses , of the churches used as a killing field , and the nearby lake as a dump.

The Unita’s rebels

The Humanitarian Ship finally anchored , after a very tiring journey that brought me a malaria that almost killed me .
It was 1996, the country was still torn in two, from the two fighting factions, Unita and MPLA.
The Humanitarian World asked me to go in the Huambo region, near the Ngove lake to assist about 6000 young rebels with food and register them.
For 10 months I left my ship, and I parted my life with young Unita soldiers.
I learned how hard life can be, as I lived with nothing, I merely dressed walked often barefoot in the devastated savana.
Once a week I had to count all the soldiers, to see how many died of diseases , or to register the newcomers. It was an amazing task. There were soldiers as small as 12 years old. No parents, taken away from their families they were in the beginning obliged to carry the bags of the older soldiers.
I was astonished by their immense feet, their look was wild, some had a necklace, others wore pieces of a Coca Cola can, all desperately poor and forsaken.
Their eyes had seen so much that nothing else was left to see. They stood under the sun, chewing grass, and waiting for a bowl of rice, lentils and if lucky some salt.
I started to make long walks, everyday along the nearby forest. Usually I was followed by young children, but then as I was to enter the forest, I would remained alone.
The nights were long, as there was nothing to do. I could always hear the sound of the drums, from the nearby camp of the Unita soldiers.
They knew how to play those drums, it was a steady sound that emerged from the camp and played , along , for many hours, sometime all the night long.
The soldiers used to be totally drunk by then, drinking their own “booze” made of banana, sugar, and some other unknown ingredient .The way they were making it was to leave the pot for a couple of days under the sun, and then magically it would become a drug for 6400 Unita soldiers in the middle of the bush.
There is a picture of mine, during that period in Angola, that tells a lot about my life. In this picture I am outside a window, from a shaky building where I used to live. It was taken by my cooker, Candido, a good fellow, and one day he saw me outside the window listening to the drums, and wanted to immortalize that moment.
It is funny, but every time I see that picture , I hear the drums.
Ngove was all this. The only social event that I recall was the Sunday ceremonies.
The day before you could see the soldiers bargaining their rice in order to buy some chickens or fishes, all dressed in rags, and some not dressed at all.
But on Sunday, it was the day of God, and even Jonas Savimbi had no saying.
The Church was so full that people were amassed outside among donkeys, chickens and dogs. During the mass people offered their small gifts, some brought corns, others rice, rarely you could see some Kwanza Renovados, the local currency that local authority banned in Unita areas.
The Religion had a fertile terrain, the words of God and Savimbi were enough for a young man, what to ask more from life?
I get shivers when I remind how the Angolans were living, how poor and miserable they were.
When the heavy rains fell down in the Huambo region, I still have in my mind the images of those soldiers under small huts, with water liking from the old corrugated iron sheet; you could hear the tossing of the young children, and count the death of a young soul.
Those months passed and the Humanitarian World asked me to move the ship and continue my journey along the Congo river.
Heart-broken , as I was glancing for the last time those huts, those young soldiers, desperate unknown about the future, with their eyes filled with terror, me too, I was feeling struck inside, knowing that my journey along the river was taking me inside the darkness of the forests.
But my Angolan experience was not over. In fact later on, I reached Cuando Cubango (southern region of Angola on the border with Namibia). I took a truck from Menongue the capital of this southern region and , with this Zambian troop’s truck I reached the area called “Caiundo”, a small village not far from Namibia border.
Here, in this remote area, Unita troops were supposed to hand-over weapons and be quartered until their demobilization .
The days in Caiundo were probably one of the saddest in my long experience with the humanitarian assistance in the war torn country.
The place was still empty and ,a part from a Zambian company , there were very few habitants .
A river was chosen nearby as the future site of the quartered area.The locals used to say that there were many alligators on the sight, and very ferocious.
The Zambian Company, was working with the UN regulation. They were troops from neighbouring country, and what stroke me most was that most of the officers were fat, and their only obsessing idea was eating.
I was lodging in a tent, just outside the officers camp, and had the privilege to eat with them morning and dinner. The only problem, was that I was getting fat like them.
Life was so very slow, in fact no activities whatsoever expected and there was no flow of rebels for the next two months or so.
But even in time of idleness , problems arise. Actually life has taught me that especially when people are not busy, they tend to become mischievous and organize problems in order to keep themselves busy.
It was during that period , that a tremendous illness caught me unprepared.
My visits in the nearby villages in order to meet Unita rebels, often took me long time away in the bush, eating and drinking from unknown source.
One day I felt fever coming , so I immediately thought that maybe I had a malaria symptom, therefore I decided to consult a local doctor. Apparently the malaria test, showed no sign of any malaria, but the fever was still present and as well strong abdominal pains.
I spent a awful night, often running toward the toilet.
Even though all the symptoms seemed malaria (fever, diarreha and body shivering) all the tests failed.
I decided to remain in my tent and from time to time I received the visits of the local doctor and few Unita rebels.
I kept going like that for a week, and then I started to worry.
In fact my body from 74 kg dropped to 70 kg and still the signs of the illness were not clear.
I was having acute dhiarrea and I was feeling very weak.
I become so weak and tired , that the second week of dhiarrea I was without strength that I started to defecate within my tent on the floor on top of a old rag or a journal. The weakness was too strong and the dhiarrea never stopped, now clearly showing that there was no more intestinal work, in fact all the excrement’s were not digested.
I was very scared, my body was merely 67 Kg, two weeks of non –stop defecation and the local doctor refused to give malaria pills.
Finally he said, before I died that this case was too difficult for him, so I was put in a small vehicle and after three hours journey I arrived in a hospital that was run by a Brazilian Team , also working with the United Nations.
The Brazilian doctor was very well accustomed with the AIDS current plague, and he thought I was under the final stage. He made me the test, and I remained alone under a tent, already sad for discovering that I was on my ultimate time dying of Aids in a tent in the middle of the war-torn Angola.
Still feeling depressed about this news, the doctor came back, the day after telling me that it was not AIDS , that the test proved negative, so he said that I needed new tests and that he started to cure me for malaria.
I remained one week in this tent, under malaria quinine injection. The malaria by then , should have been killed, and meanwhile I was still loosing weight and having severe dhiarrea .
After three weeks of illness I was 64 kg , still laying in a very desperate status , not knowing what next. Apparently my malaria was cured, my AIDS test were negative , but I was still in sick.
The doctor finally found out in a test that the disease was related with water poisoning.
It was a terrible amoeba .
I suffered for 45 days. Forty-five long days, reaching the weight of 61 kg.
When I came out of that hospital, I flew to Luanda, in order to have more prescriptions and try to get better food in order to regain weight and cure myself.
The disease that stroke me for about 45 days, left me totally shaked . In Luanda (the capital city of Angola), the crazy night life was not within my reach.
I remained for another two weeks in one united nations container in order to rest and get cured.
In the capital, I spent my last days of Angola. This terrible capital, with his orphans crowding the streets for food, or the bandits that filled the periphery in the night, but also his happy life made of dancing, discos and drinking people.

The Gipsy of Girocastro

Girocastro is a small town , located in the southern part of Albania, near the border with Greece, at the infamous check-post of Kakavia (Greece- Albania border).
The news of the Albania fall down were spreading fast around the world, and obviously the Humanitarian World Assistance had to intervene in this small country located just in front of the rich and westernised cost of Italy.
The country following a series of crises, and lastly the economic disaster of the Pyramid ( a form of local investment) saw a popular revolt that affected the entire country.
Part of the population as a result flee to Italy, and the remaining one mostly formed mobs of all over the country, and the anarchy was finally ruling Albania, the country of the eagles.
I reached Albania, through Kakavia on a 15 august day, with the sun hitting the ground with incredible strength. On the Greece side border police were full of weapons afraid that they were not able to contain the flow of escaping Albanians.
I went through customs check in the Greece side, but when I entered Albania there was no one on the other side. No customs, no passport control, nothing.
A few meters away some Mercedes benz (the most common vehicle in Albania,) there were few cars parked on the side with very frightening people on board.
Altim, one young boy from a local organization came to pick me up. He spoke a very good Italian, and I found out it was incredible how the Albanians learned Italian just by watching tv.
On our way to Girocastro from the border, the panorama was of abandoned village, of dusty roads, and of Mercedes benz running like crazy with gangsters on board.
Everyone seemed a gangster after the revolt, the people managed to steal weapons from the military compound, so now everyone was moving with an AK-47, or pistols, or even grenade attached on the belt.
My driver too, he had a kalashnikov on the rear sit.
I took a flat with an Albanian family, that agreed to rent me a part of their flat for only 100 dollars per month with additional 50 dollars for food.
The flat was located on the hill of Girocastro and from there I could see the old Castle, that later I learned it has been looted like everything else in Albania, so only the walls were remaining.
Very sad indeed, because this was a very lovely town, but after a stroll in the centre I learned that the town was under the hands of different mobs.
The only legal activities going on was the caf├ęs’, it was full, even 5 in the same street. The Albanians spent most of their time sitting and drinking their coffees with their weapons visible. Everyone was going around with stolen vehicles and you could see very expensive cars, like porches being drived by 20 years old unemployed boy.
My job in this difficult time, was to rehabilitate existing clinics and provide food to remote villages around Girocastro.
I soon understood that the task was very difficult, not for the distribution itself that it is probably the easiest kind of humanitarian activities but for the anarchy and the instability that reigned in the country.
Bandits, mafia people, gangsters, mobs they were all around the town and the village disseminating terror and trying to impose their law.
I had to come to terms with some of this criminal connection but soon I discovered was not enough.
The first task was to find some people that were eager to work with me for a reasonable salary, and assist me in deliver medicine and food to institution and the population.
The task was difficult , in fact most of the young people fled from Albania to foreigners country and the one who remained were involved in criminal activities, so the selection was not easy.
One day I was strolling in the market, and meanwhile I was trying to find some fruit, I met a young boy from the gipsy community, his name was Gazim, he was only 16 years old, but he seemed older.
He spoke a very broken Italian, and was huddling all day in the market trying to steal something. I like him from the very start, he was genuine, and he was part of a community that was not at all integrated and that was suffering from isolation and from the overall condition of Albania.
In few words, all odds were against Gazim.
Young, illiterate, with criminals procedures on going for having assaulted a bank at the age of 15, and a bit sick. In fact during the bank assault he has been wounded by a gun on his stomach, so with the changing of the seasons he was feeling pain.
I immediately offered him a job as a logistician and translator, after all his curriculum vitae was exceptional, a convict in a land of gangsters, that was all I needed.
Frankly speaking , I discovered two Albania, the one of the hills, of the village in the remote areas, and the one in the city.
When with Gazim and a couple of other workers that I managed to found thanks also to the help of a Christian father, we started our work in villages located up in the hills, where people still moved with donkeys, where a tv was a luxury.
The atmosphere was joyful, the local chief of the village, were enthusiastic to see on this remote areas people that arrived with a truck full of essential food, and that risked their cargo in order to bring food to this disadvantage people.
I was very happy to be in these localities, the weather was cooler , the population seemed very mild, and I could see that they were desperate for help.
Usually at the end of the distribution we were invited to eat some goat that was killed on our honour. Wine was present in big amount, and for the occasion the ladies also sang.
At the end of every humanitarian distribution we were all drank and happy.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned above not all distribution were quite and nice, in fact in the cities the fear of an attack was very high, and after a period of successful humanitarian distribution, our Waterloo was called “Memalije”.
What is Memalije, well for all the world is nothing, probably never mentioned in the newspapers, not even found in the history books, but Memalije is a quite famous , or infamous city for the Albania living in the South.
In fact, far away from the nice beach of Saranda (an Albanian city on the coast), there is a city that has been born as a city for the miners. Memalije and his sister Tepelene (another infamous town on the south of Albania).
I was told by Gezim that most of the troubles makers were coming from this two town, especially Memalieje and that we had to expect problem.
The city needed help, in fact many poors families were living with very little resources, but the news of possible attacks were confirmed by many gangsters that were living in Girocasto, and all of them kept on telling me to avoid the area.
But I was stubborn, I paid an escort, of 5 youngsters all coming from Memalije , so I thought that paying an armed escort of gangsters would have spared me and my humanitarian cargo from any attack from the miners and the bandits.
My young Gipsy had big doubts. He said that we should have avoided the escort because in any case the aid would have been taken by the mob not by the people.
We went, we started early as I imagined a long day of distribution. The escort came at the agreed time, just outside Girocastro so we drove toward Memalije that was about 1 hour and half.
The escort was in one car, and we had 2 trucks packed with aid and one car. My team was composed of 3 drivers, Gezim, and another 3 people.
All devoted!!.
We arrived in the city of Memalije and after parking the cars, I ordered my people to locate the tables and get prepared with the list of names for the distribution.
The work consisted in calling each head of family (usually the father) and from the list provided by the municipality (each name had a number referring to the components of the family, example Mr. Altim Bobrati 7). I gave a look at my people like saying , you see , you were worried for nothing.
But the hell arrived, and it was only matter of time.
The first one to cause our Waterloo, there were the children. These children, not even aged 9 years old, started to surround my trucks and cutting the plastic sheeting of the trucks they managed to put their hands through it and steal whatever they could. The result was that many others wanted to do the same, and that the plastic sheeting of my trucks were all ripped.
I asked my escort to watch the children, and they gave few kicks and solved the matter.
But it was a sign, and I always pay attention to signs.
The people of memalieje started to come, and to come out from their shanty houses, and youngsters drunks from the coffees bars.
The mob was getting closer, all our attempts to make line were unsuccessful also because our escort started to beat the people at random. Old, young, whatever. At a certain point, I decided to start the distribution so one of my man with a megaphone called the first name.
The machine is working , I thought. We were proceeding very slowly because the mess was very big, people tried to receive in other people’s names. At a certain point, I was talking with a man, who said that he was the former Mayor of the town. As I was talking to him, one of my escort suddenly first kicked him on the tibia , and then punched his face with incredible strength. Immediately the other fellows of the escort hitted this man.I was shocked I could not really understand the violence of this people.
After a while, the Major has a revenge sent one guy with kalashnikov, and it seemed that the man wanted to make a duel with one of my escort. Shots were heard on the air, and suddenly all the people pressed against our trucks,and it was like a fury, like a wave of angry people.
They tried to take whatever they could, and me and the Gypsy tried to push that mob far away. I gave the order to the drivers to start the engine that we were leaving the place. Meanwhile one of my man that was calling the people with the megaphone came back with the nose broken and full of blood , apparently somebody hit his face with his pen, because his name was not in the list.
We tried to escape but the people were behind us, some tried to jump on the truck and one actually managed to jump on the back of the truck and from there he threw things to the people that were on the streets. The Gypsy get on board of the truck and throw him on the road.
On the way back to Girocastro we saw after half an hour, that a car was behind us and it was horning badly. When I saw from the rear mirror that it was our escort , I gave orders to stop our car, because maybe they just wanted to see if all of us where ok. The Gypsy again said , it was better not to stop , and he suggested to stop the vehicles in Girocastro, but I did not listen to him. As we stopped, and we all came out of the cars, I saw that behind the car of the escort there was also one big truck, and that moment I realized what the young 16 years old gypsy knew well.
Our escort robbed us, they pointed their kalashinkov and order that all materials went transferred to their trucks, as I refused one of the guy pointing his AK against me threatened to shoot me, if I did not stood aside. I stood aside, but the gypsy that was in the truck refused to get off any item, so I saw one of the escort clearly pointing to shoot, and I cried out “Gazim, get off the fucking truck, live it to these bastards “.
So we ended up looking at them looting all our trucks and we were sitting on the grass merely watching. Among the looters I recognized also the new Major of Memalije.
We reached Girocastro late in the night. I did not spleep, and remained for sometime smoking outside, and watching the great Castle.
I reminded the first the day I arrived I asked about the castle, and the people told me that it has been looted completely, the old weapons, the carpets, and swords, up to the signboard.
I felt sorry for all of them, because they were ruining and destroying everything.
The day after I went in the center of Girocastro with my friend the Gypsy to drink something.
Actually a cappuccino for myself, and a juice the Gypsy since because of his wound in the stomach the doctor ordered him not to take any drinks with caffeine and as well no sodas.
As we were drinking I saw the escort that they were having a coffee on the other side of the street.
They saw me and they grinned. This was Albania, a land of impunity.

The Eritreans

I wonder sometime whether the journey has got a final harbour, or as instead we keep on turning like those birds that on winter time move for better climates.
Here I am, again in my ship, suffering from the severe illness of these countries, where a byte of a mosquito can bring you death in 3 days, where a doctor is precious as gold in western world, and a good doctor is as valuable as diamond.
Finally after a long journey, my ship takes me to Eritrea.
I heard it was a land, where my ancestors have fought, where the “green ,white and red” flag was placed in the central square.
And indeed, I found traces of my country, I saw things that were called with my language, and most of all I saw habits that were not African at all, those were the habits of the Italians.
“La passeggiata” along “Il corso”, the “bar”, the “cappuccino”, the Eritreans eating our favourite meals, it all reminded me my country. And then there were the cemeteries full of bodies of Italians soldiers, names like Carlo, Giovanni, Giorgio, Filippo, Amedeo, I counted many of them.
But the plague of the natives , even though less than the suffering Angola or Mozambique people, this land was still a present sign, that the journey along the river did not finished.
The recent struggle for Independence brought nothing but more tragedies. The corpses of Eritreans and Ethiopians were still fresh along the border, the loss were great from both sides, none wanted to loose.
The Humanitarian World asked me to rehabilitate a village Om Hajer along the border, and two inner cities Guluc and Tessene’.
But I did not see Africans in peace, I did not meet joyful people still enjoying their renewed Independence ; nothing of this I saw.
Despite a period of conquered wellfare, I saw tragedy upon another tragedy. A newly elected President that crash his own country, that obliges youngsters to join the military service with unlimited time.
Trucks packed with dim faces, past over me fast , as I drove my car in order to reach my village .
I found myself rehabilitating a ghost village, always under the hassle of the military, that feared God knows what.
Lives threw in nonsense activities, I saw hundreds if not thousands could be lawyers, doctors, peasants, writers, were instead living in small tents, along the border for securing the country against an invasion from nearby Ethiopia.
Football seemed the only relaxation for these defenders of the Precious National Soil.
A magic , despite all, was there, and once I stumbled in them.
It was that time that I met the “Rashaida”.
I was packed with books and stories of Preislamic time, I longed to get knowledge about the life of the tribes that inhabited the Arabian desert.
One day as I was in the market , sipping my coffee from a lady that used to serve people beside the central mosque, two men approached dressed in red and green, with the features of their faces that betrayed an origin that was not African.
I remember I was sitting beside two Sudanese refugees, they were Dinka, tall and proud with their marks along the face, the number 7, the magic number. Dinka tribes used to mark themselves the forehead as a ritual tribal sign for young man.
I asked the lady, the Tea lady , who where they, and she said “Rashaida!, Bedu!”. As I glanced I could spot also a lady following, with a strange mask that covered her face.
I became a familiar figure , I guess , in their camp, as in order to kill the boring life that the Eritrean President was giving us all, I run away to the Rashaida in the evening and drank tea among , ships and children that kept on touching me .
Probably, they lost a bit of their ancestors, maybe among the rashaida , you will not find the great “Antara” anymore, but still this business-bedu in their continuing search they managed to escape this sad Africa.
Probably, as Marlow a century ago, I observed my natives, but I had also the great chance to talk to them, and fill me up with their sorrows, and their will to escape , to live Africa, to face the Sahara, the border police, to live away the older parents as to get to the Mediterranean Sea.
The new Mecca, the Jerusalem of the pilgrims, is that piece of sea, that separates the untold darkness of the war torn countries, to whatever they imagined there was on the other side.
God only knows , what each one of them, made up on their mind.
What is on the other side of that Mediterranean sea?

Myself I know, I was born on the other side of the Mediterranean sea, I am coming from that land, that is the sole inspiration of many thousands.
Back in Guluj and Tessene’ (two cities nearby the border with Sudan and Ethiopia) the works were proceeding very slowly.
I was supposed to carry on the construction of forty houses for the government and as well the rehabilitation of an entire market.
The new Government of Eritrea wanted to send a sign a big sign of reconstruction, especially to the Ethiopians who were on the other side of the border.
The works were often interrupted by the Government representatives that complained for the materials, for the model of the construction and so on. They also kept on hampering my job, taking away young workers and sending them to the army barracks.
They searched for young people to be enrolled in the army and as well older ones. It seemed that the only objective of the President was to army all his population.
He looked pretty like Henver Hoxa , the famous dictator of Albania, with his obsessing mania of building small barracks.
I do not yet understand , why the Government seemed so willing to obstruct the works, but I thought that after all they wanted to make something incredible, they wanted to show the Ethiopians that the reconstruction of this small part of the land was done in a very ostensible way.
Naturally it did not sound correct to me, to build such a castle in the middle of the African bush, and we wanted to keep a low profile approach. This obviously irritated the Majors of Guluc and Tessene’ that formerly asked that I was sent away together with my team from that area,and expected somebody else to do the job.
I managed to remain and finish the houses for the two villages even though one of my colleague was expelled from the country as a warning to the others.
Life changed in Eritrea, people started to say that it was better before the war, and that the Independence did not achieve anything.
Eritreans started to flee their own country, many crossed the Sudanese border in an attempt to cross the Sahara and reach the Mediterranean. Immediately all the bordering countries had an increase of refugees.
What a shame, a newly independent country ,with a long history that was loosing his own children

The Taliban takes residence in Farah

This is the trip, was a long one, as I looked outside the ship along the banks of the river , I saw that the jungle was changing. Even the natives looked different to me. The religion was playing a bigger role, I started to see from time to time the sight of a mosque.
The suffering people of the Congo river were changing slightly their features ; from the naked type of Angolan Savana, here they were fully dressed with a sort of Mantel around the neck , meanwhile I had difficulties to spot the women.
When finally we reached a station, a native told me that we were in Afghanistan, and that the place was under a group of religious scholars which aim was to save the people from the fire of hell through a strict code of conduct.
I discovered immediately that this code of conduct was to be reached through a miserable life, where there was no space for cinema, music, drinks or whatsoever.
The life was scheduled according to call of the Muezzin, and the inspectors of this new regime were abruptly sending to jail or killing anyone that was showing dissents.
I stopped my ship nearby a city called Mazar Sharif, a city full of different ethnic tribes coming from nearby countries. I used to meet in the Bazaar ;Uzbeks , Kazaks, Turkmens, Chinese, and of course Afghans the main tribe.
From time to time, I spotted , the famous Taliban, dressed with a black turban , long bear, always chasing those that according to the religious law were not abiding to his rules.
But what appealed me more was the infamous condition of many women left in a life of segregation, of hardships, not to mention those women who lost their husbands in the war, and now forced to live on begging because working for them was prohibited.
Very soon the war arrived from the North, from those leaders that for long time fought the Taliban regime and as well the Americans .
The Humanitarian World asked me to assist those refugees that during the war found shelter in the nearby countries, mostly in Pakistan.
I distributed wood and other items, selected the area with the families , photographed the returnees and listened to their plight.
It was all hard, everything was hard in Afghanistan. I suffered the travel from one city to another, I suffered from the poisoned food, I suffered to see street children left with nothing, and I suffered in seeing a population closed in a strict environment where the least change was taken as a revolt.
But still, I made miles upon miles, on dirty road, where the danger was waiting me in every corner, where the fear to jump up on a mine never left me, where the possibility to encounter a Taliban or a bandit was permanent.
There were also my more solitary moments since I moved with my ship along the river Congo. Left in a house in Farah, with the only light of a candle, and the company of a tea.
Smoking a cigarette and looking outside my wood house, and expecting at any time a couple of killers to end my life.
I was one of the first in Farah. There were no one, and those nights that started at 17.30 in the evening never ended. I stood there in reflection, lonely, and lonely and again lonely.
But now that I look back at that period , now I feel that the period is inside my flesh, deep with
time. Those days were tough, and I spent 5 months like that, morning with tired returnees and evening alone in my house. I do remember as well, those lunches spent with my driver, the hell of a driver, sitting on the floor in a smoked room full of bearded men, and eating rice with a piece of meat in the center and some bread.
And again those nights, with a tea and a cigarette and the fear of the killers that hunted the “Kafiroon “.
I recall that day when I visited Qalan Jan Jing, where a group of Taliban ,mainly Chechens opted for the last fight!. They were in jail, but still they managed to stage a revolt which was crushed down by the Americans and the Northern Alliance. Few days later, there I walked among the blood and the water used to kill them as rats. I remained among that debris, lighted a cigarette and went away.
Later on I was transferred in the Heart region (bordering with Iran). The area was under control of the famous Ismail Khan (leader of the Heart region, and very close allied to the Iranian clerics.
From Heart I had to supervise the works of rehabilitation of two water plant located in the nearby region of Badghis. Badghis , is a very poor region in Western Afghanistan. The presence of Taliban in this area remained high even after the fall of Mullah Omar (the Leader of the so –called Taliban).
With the new government (Karzai, was elected president of Afghanistan), I started to assist the people of Qala Now, Bala Morgab and Gormach (three small cities in the Badghis region).
In order to arrive in these areas I had to go through a mountain –pass, at about 3000 meters high.
This mountain pass was very dangerous, in fact many cars were assaulted and all vehicles looted.
My driver, Asadullah, kept always a copy of the Koran in front of the steer-wheel and just before passing the place he was reciting the surah as to ask God forgiveness and protection.
Luckly I never encountered any bandits, and always before my departure the news were catastrophic, about killings and robbery but as for our self we never met anyone and we could easily reach our destination.
The main problem working in Afghanistan, was that the peasants were far more interested in cultivating Opium than participating in building construction activities.
The revenues from the opium market were very high , so people had not intention to live their profitable business for construction clinics or schools.
Beside this factor of lack of personnel, we often found obstruction from the village leaders. Their only request was always to build Mosque, and they intended the school for their children, as Koranic school.
Often fighting between tribal rival clans erupted and during those periods we were obliged to remain close in our houses for fear of reprisal.
Most of the population despised the presence of foreigners.
Foreigners most of the time brought changes and innovation that were not much welcomed by the locals. In most of the international organization in the country, foreigners women worked with key-position role , and often many afghans men were under the direct supervision of young European ladies. Even though in the big cities, young afghans , especially universities students were eager to meet foreigners in order to exchange views, the old clerics were always ready to condemn any sort of westernisation of way of living.
In Afghanistan, often it was possible to see in the restaurant people crowding around a small TV in order to see Indian movies. Children were forced to work ,and the Burqa was wearied but most of the woman population all over the country long after the Taliban fall.
In this context, I worked for a long period, and in order to get respected by the locals , once I arrived in the capital city of HERATI I put all over my room images of the famous Imam Hussein.
The Imam Hussein, is the son of Ali and brother of Hassan, one of the most revered and known Imam in the Shia group. Herati as most of western Afghanistan was under the influence of nearby Iran. Shiites followers were present in big number, and once among the local population the rumour spread that I was a Shiite follower, immediately the relation changed positively.
I was immediately always acclaimed by the local sellers, and they proudly affirmed that I treated with a special care because I was one of them.
In a such a situation where the political turmoil was still not over , it was a benediction to have the support of the locals. I believe , this was one of the main reason, that pushed Ismail Khan to have a meeting with me. I was always asking to the office of the Governor to grant me a meeting in order to discuss the situation of his people, the infrastructure and as well the security issues, when finally one day I was told that the man of Teheran (that was also a nickname of Ismail Khan) was ready to receive me.
The meeting was held in one of his palace located in the capital, he was surrounded by his army people, and seemed very tired.
His son, had just been killed two weeks, before by rival clan of Baghdis region. For a week or so, fighting exploded in the area, killing about 100 people in the region.
Ismail Khan talked briefly, thanked our humanitarian work and asked us to continue on this path. It seemed to me the typical diplomatic talk, but he was sensibly proved by the death of the son.
Few days later after this meeting I met the person that I found more interesting to talk with in Afghanistan.
On the terrible month of August , I flew over to Farah, a region located in the south of Afghanistan. I was there in order to see to implement some works related to water and sanitation. It was here during one of my visit that I met the Governor of Farah.
Charismatic ,about 40 years old, well-built, a broken English with a long bear.
Jailed for about 4 years in the prison of Kandahar during Taleban regime, the Governor was new in his post , since the fall of the Taliban. He was one of the newly elected leaders of the Presidency of Karzai (president of Afghanistan).
After being elected he was sent as Governor in this southern eastern province of Farah.
When I first landed in this region, I was struck to see how the desert reached the periphery of the town. Located in the middle of this Asian desert, the town seemed like one of those TV western movies, when the cowboys arrived in desolated Mexican village.
The presence of hard-liners was still very high, and the new governor after taking charge of the office he had to face dissents among Talibans present in the area.
But the governor determination to face all the obstacles was clear from the very beginning; in fact it was common to see people hanged on the entrance of Farah city for having committed murders or people with their hands tied up and their faces marked with black ink and then showed on parade on the streets of Farah on the back of a pick-up .
All this was common in this city, but the Governor despite the frequent death threats from Talibans , he wanted to show to this war torn region of Afghanistan, that he wanted to keep law and order.
For the afghans people it was common to see people hanged on the streets or being whipped publicly, in fact the same punishments were used with the former regime of Mullah Omar.
I like the genuinely heart of this man, that faced 4 years in the jails of Kandahar , being beaten by guards, suffering the hunger and finally once the country was liberated sent to Farah in order to fight again dissidents.
Despite all the problems related to the security, to the bandits and the Taliban fighters outside in the countryside the life in Farah was incredibly tough even for Afghans.
Once I decided to ask to one of my local workers of Herati to be moved to Farah region in order to follow the works in this area.
I had to complete the instalment of two big water plant and I did not have really any trusty supervisor , so I asked my young colleague Beirooz to move there.
He was not happy at all about the transfer and he kept on talking that he was a city boy, that his family did not agree with the transfer even if I promised him an amount of money higher than the previous.
I also discovered from Beirooz that people in Farah region were more rural, that life was very difficult and that he was afraid of Taleban activities in the area.
But I was irremovable, I needed somebody there to check out our works, so I had no choice but to send him. Reluctantly he went, and frankly speaking seeing an afghan so reluctant to move I wondered whether I really did the appropriate thing.
After two weeks that he was there, I decided to visit him and visit the completion of the water plants.
I found out that Beirooz, a young man of 28 years old, let his bear grew since the time of his transfer. In fact , Beirooz as other few youngsters in big cities like Kabul or Herati used to shave everyday in a country where about 99% of the population had a bear.
This was mainly due to the influence of western society, but the first thing that this young afghan did when he moved to a more radical region he tried to adapt himself fearing reprisals from the locals.
I met in the shanty airport of Farah, a Beirooz with a mantle over his head and a long bear, like radicals clerics used to do. When I asked him why he was camouflaging himself so much, he answered that he feared to live in this part of the country and preferred to go look unnoticed.

A Khmer Rouge with a Mosquito Net

Now , here I am, again in my ship. The river Congo , today is more friendly. I am heading toward east, the south east. They asked me to reach Cambodia. I never visited that country, I know that the Khmer rouge are living today, still fighting a lost battle. More than a million killed in a crazy purge, and me , I will be there to distribute mosquito bed-nets so as to protect the people from the malaria .
We are here to save Cambodians from dying from Malaria, when still in the remote bush, Pol Pot is playing is last cards with Kiew Samphan.
As I approach the beautiful Phon Penh and live my river Congo, I am astonished by the beauties of the Temples, by the colors of the monk’s rap.
I move along the busy roads, where people sell everything, where the shops never close, where the shop keaper sleeps on a canvas in front of his items.
The Humanitarian World asks me to go in the jungle, along Kampot region and keep west, where the lates Khmer rouge were still fighing.
I took a flat in street 63, central Phon Penh . I guess, I managed a good bargain 200 dollars per month. A fridge, a bed, a couple of fan, and a sofa. That was all I needed. To tell the truth I had also a Kitchen , but I never used it. Morning time I took my Takeo, a sort of cappuccino and lunch and dinner at Chinese restaurant open until early hours.
So after arranging my things with the National Malaria Department I took off direction remote jungle of Cambodia. There once arrived I was welcomed by a bunch of Khmer Rouges that were dealing mainly with the illegal trafficking of valuable wood .
My house was a temple, I was a guest from a couple of monks, and during the day I was going around with my assistant from the Department of Health to teach old and young Khmer Rouge on how to use the bed- net with the Deltamethrine, a sort of insecticide.
Lunch time in the jungle I used to receive some rice and pork, for drinking a coconut and that was it. I do not really complain about that period, in fact I did enjoy somehow. In fact, it was a total different atmosphere far away from the war torn bush of Angola or Mozambique.
Here the people seemed to me more accustomed to this sort of life. They kept always a distance with me, like if I could never really understand them, and maybe it is like that.
I felt like they never opened themselves and a sort of mistrust was among them. I knew about all the killings that Khmer Rouge had perpetrated all along the seventies, but I did not feel like making any question.
They were living their life, they accepted my presence only because I was there to fight malaria and Dengue fever, for the rest I was a guest, a white man, to treat him nicely but nothing more.
Better like this, I thought after all those people never really convinced me that much.
When my duty was over and I managed to live behind myself the dangerous forests of the Khmer Rouge I headed back to the capital, where after 2 weeks of forests I felt like living the city, with all his restaurants, disco, sauna parlour, and the drinking.
I kept this life for six months.
I was like a small king in my apartment , street 63. Coffee house, restaurants all was within a minute walk. The Sundays I used to visit the Pagodas, or to make short trip in the old Khmer villages.
The death , the sorrow, the suffering of millions of Cambodians, I knew it where there just around the corner, but maybe I pretended not to see them, I preferred to say that Hun Sen was a good leader, that all Khmer had forgotten the past, and that it was also my duty.
But, maybe my real memories are tied up with the period prior to my living for North Korea, with the Cambodians Customs.
It was a “hell” of place, where a white man was not welcomed. All the UN agencies and the Ngos had selected a Cambodian to enter the crazy world of the Customs.
Before you could take out something from the Harbour or the Airport you were expected to go threw so many offices, and hand out so many tips, that usually you arrived exhausted and broken by the time you were supposed to retrieve your items from the warehouse.
But here I was, after my training at the Rwanda’s Customs in Kigali where for approximately four months I dealt with the most corrupted and cynical state employers, I managed to get through the incredible bureaucracy of Cambodia.
At the end, I was so fast and sharp that all agencies tried to hire my services.
I thought ending my Cambodian experience telling this short stories, because as I mentioned in the beginning since I arrived in this Station I somehow decided to take a distance for a short time from the Horror of this land, from the empty look of some Khmer Commander that I met during my staying in Pursat and Kampot provinces.

The Holy Father of Guinea Bissau

A small plane just landed in a place nearby Bafata (a small village located in the centre of Guinea Bissau). Four people came out of this airplane, a journalist of Famiglia Cristiana ,a photographer , one sister, and me. The plane was driven by a French lady that spoke the local language, I thought she must have spent a good number of years in this place.
I was on my way to see the Bishop of Guinea Bissau and see if it was possible to do something in order to alleviate the victims of this civil war.
Guinea Bissau was in war. A civil war broke out against the President Viera. It was just one of the many civil wars that break continuously in Africa since the end of the colonisation.
Wars in Congo, in Angola, in Mozambique, in Somalia, in Uganda, in Sudan, in Eritrea, I guess we could continue for long , or maybe it is just more simple to say that war is not breaking up in Botswana, or that in Tanzania the situation after all is not so bad.
Guinea Bissau was living his moment, and probably the rebels thought it was time to take over a corrupted president in order to put a new corrupted one, because if we exclude Mandela, and few others there is not much choice.
Once I left the airport, I started to walk down the half emptied village in order to try to reach the fathers in their compound.
I met them at lunch time, they were all sitting around a table, two Italians and the rest locals.
Considering the civil war they were quite lucky as I found them eating “Parmigiano Regiano “ and they were watching the soccer world championship.
Usually I do not make fast judgments, but immediately the impression I had was quite strange, in fact they were there eating and filling their belly enormously and just outside the dining room they were loads of refugees trying to get shelter from the heavy rain.
The two journalists from famiglia Cristiana did not seemed surprised at all about that strange “Cenacolo” and they immediately joined the group.
I took a cup of coffee only and later I asked the father which was a local one, if he could help me to find out the bishop.
He told me that all the roads to the capital were closed that the Government was trying to capture all the rebels that were now hided in the capital Bissau (actually Bissau is the capital city of Guinea Bissau).
The father added that it was better that I spent the night in this village and tried to reach the capital the day after. So I did.
I woke the day after with the sound of fires and bombings, and as I came out of my small room, I noticed that the guard escaped toward the east of the countries as many others.
I decided to reach the market in order to try to get a vehicle for the capital. As I passed nearby the Church compound I saw that the numbers of refugees had augmented and still there was no signs of the priests, probably I thought they were busy having breakfast.
In the market I managed to jump on a truck half loaded with soldiers probably on the way to the front, which was the capital. One of them probably a young officer tried to persuade me to get off the trucks mentioning that this was not a white-business, but I gave him few cigarettes and he smiled and stopped.
Approaching the capital I was stopped on a check-point and forbidden to proceed any longer.
I remained in this village which I do not recall the name, the sound of the bombings was stronger now, and it was clear that the capital was just few miles away.
I managed to find a room, in a small hotel that was crowded of officers of the Government.
They did not care at all about me, and actually they seemed not so eager to go to the front. They were all sitting in the lodge drinking beers talking “Creole” (local language).
Going out of the hotel, I was astonished to see that the sound of cries coming out from a house where louder than the bombs that were falling on the capital.
As I made myself space through the crowd I manage to reach the door of this house. A man stood and was asking money, I paid about a dollar and entered.
People were gathered in the hall of a make-shift cinema and they were watching the Brazilian Soccer National Team playing against another team.
I recognized Ronaldo among the players and could hear the screams of the fans in the cinema.
I did not know whether to sit down and watch the game or to run out from the building for fear that a bomb could dropped in the place.
Actually as I sat down , I lighted a cigarette and watched the game. A strange feeling was in the air, I watched all around the people around me, and surprised they were all youngsters.
Soldiers, refugees, orphans, and maybe also rebels among them, all of them abandoned the war for the time of a game and were sitting side by side their hearts pumping for Brazil.
And when the score arrived the happiness was incredible, from outside people who did not have the tickets were partying and dancing.
I too was driven by this craziness, the war was few miles away and we were all sitting in a dirty hall supporting Brazil, and none of us was Brazilian.
I do not recall any other occasion stranger than this, I mean I have lived in many countries where the war is part of every day life, but I could not expect it to be possible on the front line to have time and possibility to go to the cinema.
The night in the hotel was horrible, mosquitoes were everywhere, the sheets of the bed were dirty, the common toilet unusable and the war was more and more present.
They day after I was waken up by the owner of the hotel who asked me to live the place, all people were supposed to evacuate.
Unfortunately this time the Government troops of Viera were not so gentle anymore, and they expelled me from the town. I was brought back to Bafata, and decided to visit the fathers again in their compound. The Fathers told me that they had no more news of the Bishop and they asked me to bring a message to the “Apostolic’s Nuncio “in Dakar (the capital of Senegal).
I accepted and spent another night with the fathers of Bafata waiting for a flight to bring me back in Dakar, Senegal.
In the night the father, a young Guinean told me to tell the Apostolic’ Nuncio of Dakar to come to Guinea Bissau because the people needed help.
For sure I thought the people need help indeed, but not you, but this I refrained from telling.
Finally the day after I managed to take the airplane to Dakar, again the same small plane driven by the same pilot. This time I was alone, no other passengers.
The pilot also informed me that this was his last trip, in fact as situation was growing more dangerous she did not feel to come anymore.
I felt lucky , I had my trip back.
In Dakar, I immediately took a taxi in order to go and meet this famous Apostolic Nuncio and bring the message of his fellows brothers in Guinea Bissau.
The father was an Italian, I saw him sitting in a room with other Italians and watching the Holland Team playing a game for the World Soccer Game.
But this was a total different situation than the cinema in the front line.
The apostolic Nuncio was smoking a red Marlboro and had a nice glass of fresh beer awaiting nearby him. With his feet on the sofa he seemed annoyed when I was introduced to him.
I immediately passed the message to him and started to have a conversation with him.
He seemed a very cold-hearted man and started to complain about the fathers, about the war and as well about me.
I left briefly the room, he did not even offer me a glass of water, and did not asked how were his comrades in Guinea Bissau.
I thought it was a pity, a disgrace that the Church had such menial people around the world, and that they distorted completely the message of charity , of helping the poorest.
I walked away, and looking at him as he was sprawled in his sofa, with his cigarette always in his mounth , I thought “Hecce Homo”.

The Lost World

This time the journey was very long. Many days ,with my ship I tried to spot the North Korean Station but the river seemed always the same.
Only trees, and the green of the trees reflected in the water.
I knew it the location was far, I red on newspapers that this Station was a deeper one of the Congo river but I did not expect that much.
I was not aware of what to expect, I heard stories of a father and a son, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jung Il, two men that obsessed the country with the cult of their image.
They were the Gods and the rest was nothing.
Was it exasperation from the journalists , were the people going that far? Was it true that people in remote places ate each other because of famine.
Then I arrived and everything was clear.
I reached the Pyongyang station on January 2000. The Millennium just died, and as all people around the world expect a new one with three zero started.
Expectation was great. Even mine, I made my promise, with the turn of the millennium I confessed I will never smoke any more, I will do this and that….I guess many millions other thought the same thing.
As I arrived two Officers of the regime came to receive me and they took me in the central palace where they asked me to bow to the Mausoleum of Kim Il Sung.
The father died , but the nation cannot forget.
The two officers, were Mr. Kim and Mr. Lee. I knew little more than that, everything was kept secret, because this is a nation full of secrets.
Every one was carrying pinned on his shirt an image of the “Great Leader” and soon I understood that the Nation rotated around him.
I thought later on if it was worst to die in a war like in Ethiopia or to live in North Korea, I still haven’t made up my mind about that. The two things are damned bad, this I know.
The Humanitarian World asked me to assist the little Korean children to survive the harsh winter , where the temperature drops so low that everything freeze in a nation that is fighting to survive struggling with nothing.
The cities were dark, were lost in deep darkness.
There was no fuel, no money to export from China, so the all nation had to live with no energy, in places where temperature dropped as low as minus 20.
“Natural Calamities” used to say the regime in order to find an excuse, and I nodded at their lies, what else could I say, if not find myself in the boat again kicked out of the country.
I began accustomed to see him, the Great Leader, he was everywhere and he was always with me.
I could see him when visiting the Hospital, he was there, the painting showed us a Kim Il Sung making surgery. When my car broke down I used to see him in the workshop, the same painting reminded me that the Great Leader was a good mechanic.
In the schools he was pictured as a great soldier, and if I asked my Koreans friends replied to me, He is the Great Leader, and I knew I should have not asked anything more.
The nights, if I was not in the UN bar getting drunk with some beers, I was smoking in my room, watching out the people passing by and breaking the Millennium vow.
The regime used to call the people in the morning with micro-phone to pave the way of the road from the snow, or I could spot young students with shovels forced to clean the streets.
The people looked at me, but they would not talk. They fear for the agents of the regime was so strong that every one refrained from speaking with foreigners.
At the Theatre, or there were nice theatres indeed, the show was only a parody of the regime. Children dancing, women making ballets, everything that inspired the nation, and every time the face of the Great Leader was shown, people stood up and clapped the hands.
I felt I was part of a movie, but travelling in the interior of this lost world I realized about poor and difficult was the life of the Koreans.
Outside the capital, I could see only army people moving with the Korean Flag raised high , along the hills, marching, going God knows where.
We passed unknown village, and the cars were so old that needed wood to move.
By the way ,this was the only place in the world where I saw some very old trucks using coal instead of diesel.
Check-points were a must, and the lights were reserved only for the images of the Great Leader.
When I used to visit the village that was supposed to receive the Humanitarian help , I could see the miserable status of how the children were living.
The schools had their windows destroyed, and they were lacking totally from the coal to make some hit. The food given to the children was the one provided by the World Food Programme, but most of it was stolen to feed the huge and immense army.
There we were ,waiting for the Japanese to cross the border to conquer Korea. I ,like the Korean lived with this idea of the oppression of the Imperialists countries.
The people didn’t know nothing about the other world, here the life was totally given to the adulation of the Great Leader.
Sometimes I used to go to the Sauna which was inside a Sport Center that was used only by few foreigners and very high level Korean army official.
It was a strange feeling to make the sauna with this people, in the same room, sharing the same hot air, side by side, sweating together with these officers of this crazy regime.
Many times I felt like asking, “ehi, do you know what is happening out there”, but I refrained, my boat there in the Congo river, and then it was my country after all.
If somebody wants to believe that a Great Leader is there to take for us, is it really correct to change his mind? What for?
Few times, I paid myself the most expensive restaurant that was ironically called “The Japanese restaurant”, and after eating “BulBogi”, and filling myself with drinks, I drove my vehicle back to my apartment that was not in the busy 63 street of Phon Pen, but it was in a compound of foreigners only, like a prison was my house.
There I used to end up the days with a cigarette glancing the last look of the city before going to bed; it was even difficult to read a book, since the light was poor.
Six months later, the call arrived , I was still in Pyongyang that I had to bring my boat down, south east where the climate is hot and the forests is giving shelter to tigers and to a population called the Mongs. That country is called Laos.

Talking to The Spirits

It took few days of navigation in order to mitigate the climate. The cold and snow was giving space to a hot and humid climate.
The river of the Congo in this part of the world was full of life, like densely populated by a numerous variety of animals and plants.
It reminded me a bit of the Cambodians atmosphere , but here the killings and torture of the Khmer regime were far away, even if neighbouring countries, Laos had a strange atmosphere.
Calm reigned all over. Life seemed to pass by ,people moved in the city by bicycle, not the crowd and noisy Phon Penh.
After a couple of days in Vientiane, I reached Luang Prabang , the old capital. Beautiful city, full of temples, slowly was becoming a turistic center.
It became my starting point for the coordination of help toward the Mong tribes that were living deep in the forest .
I was informed that their condition lately was very bad, the government tried to change their cultural style of life, which dated back from their ancestors, and that building a road along the hills, was a mean to connect them.
Once I organized my trip, I moved by car to the last point reachable by car, just in front of a river, than I was informed that in order to proceed I had to move by walking with some kind of guides.
The same source of information, told me that the Monks lived in two days walk from Pagna , a small center near Luang Prabang, on a road that was very steep and difficult.
The day I was decided to go, I left my vehicle nearby this river and started the journey accompanied by one guy of the Government , that probably wanted to put a check on me.
The trip was beautiful, but tough, very tough.
The guy of the Government had a fast pace, probably used to climb these hills. The forest was amazing , you could hear the sound of the birds, and spot here and there a variety of wild animals.
As I kept on climbing , my first encounter with the Mong, was with two Mongs that were coming down from the above hill. One of the two had a pork tied up in a rope (like we do with the dogs) the other one had a live chicken on his arm (probably fresh food for the trip). They both wore a complete dark dress (looked like silk) with blue colours along the sleeve and the neck.
Their look was pretty wild, and they gave us a smile, a quick one.
I was quite impressed by them, it seemed to me that this was their original habit and I knew the stranger was me not them and their original dress.
From time to time I asked my guide to make a break, even if I felt I was well trained the trip was tough, as the hills were very steep.
We met few villages, mostly very poor, and given from the look that I received from the peasants they did not seemed to be very happy to see foreigners in this part of the town.
Finally after two days of hard walk we reached this village of Mong located well above a hill, from which a wonderful view could be seen.
The huts were all made of wood, and were very large. All men and women were dressed in traditional Mong habits, and they all gave me a good welcome.
I arrived in late afternoon , and immediately I notice that in one house, a spirit ceremony was ongoing in order to save a young girl life.
I entered the hut, and I saw a blinded man (the colour of the bend was red) on top of a table that was singing and hitting the table with his feet.
All around there were four Mongs, quite young, that from time to time they were slicing a pork, maybe an homage to the spirits.
The man that was on top of the table , had a good rhythm he kept on singing and hitting the table, and frankly speaking all the audience did not seemed real, but hundreds of years far away from what was happening in the nearby cities.
The ceremony went ahead for quite sometime ,I myself do not know how long, because I was as well mesmerized by the all thing.
Once it finished the people disappeared in the huts nearby, meanwhile in the central hut there was the fire going on, in fact the Mong wanted to celebrate the presence of the White Man.
A celebration of an entire village for me, and for the road that I was constructing, the same road that despite bringing prosperity to the village it brought as well the end of this civilization.
The hut was full of dogs, I guess among the Mongs the presence of the dogs it is a normal fact, and they are authorized to walk inside the hut and move freely as they like.
An old lady was preparing some sticky rice, and as well in other pot there was meat boiling.
Finally, when the night was pretty dark, the dinner was ready and it was served to all the community that arranged themselves in long tables all with their traditional dresses.
I sat down nearby someone that later on I recognised as the Holy Man and a youngster that spoke a bit of broken English, as for my guide I lost him.
Despite the arrogance of the dogs that managed to climb on the tables and steal the meat from our plates the food was good, it rehabilitated me after two days of walking in the forest.
The older took the stage, and they mentioned that few days before they saw some tigers around the village; the problem was that city poachers were also around and that since their presence localised in the area, the population of the wild animals decreased badly.
Nearby our big table, there was an altar for the Spirits, in fact I learned that the Mong have high consideration for the spirits. Later on in the night I would have discovered why.
An unexpected problem rose, when I had to go to the Toilet, walking out from the hut I was followed by a dog and a pig that kept an eye on me all the way I was trying to find a suitable place, since the area was not arranged with toilets. I witnessed something that shocked me somehow and I realize it is disgusting but still worth to be mentioned. It seemed to me that the dog and the pig knew about my natural obligation to go to the toilet and probably the way I searched for a suitable place where to defecate advised them about my intention. Finally as I was trying to do my toilet, they advanced toward me menacingly , and with the wood I tried to push them away. Finally once I finished, the fought for the remains. Quite amazing, indeed.
The night , I was given an hut with two old people. Immediately I saw that outside every hut, the olders were putting some things around a worship place, and smokes came up from this place, to remind the spirits to protect the hut.
I saw in the eyes of my companions the faith in what they were doing , even though I hardly understood the explanation provided by my guide, that suddenly reappeared from nowhere and started to give strange explanations about their creeds.
Well, to tell the truth I did not sleep that night , in fact the ceremony itself was too interesting than merely just go to sleep and take a nap.
The day after, I was supposed to go back to Luang Prabang and discuss my findings with the Ministry of Labours, in order to plan additional workers to implement the project.
The project, I guess was clear to all, was an attempt to connect Mong villages to the cities.
I heard many opinions on this matter, one the most credible was that the Government needed to control this time-bomb minority that could easily create problems, the humanitarian suggested that the road would have facilitated transportation including medical evacuation , school for children, the romantic saw it as the end of a protected environment.
Well I was torn between the romantic and the humanitarian. The only think is that before I got on board my ship , I was almost sure that probably this was my last time in my life I could witness people speaking to the spirits in the middle of the forest.
Luang Prabang and his wealthy European and American tourist were not that far, already agencies showed in the shops sing board as “ Welcome trekking in the hills on the footh path of the Mong Minority” , then 50 dollars day trip, and a dinner with fake spirits.

A cigarette in the Borneo

Definitively it was once of those places that I dreamt of when I was a young kid. I grew up with stories of Salgari, watched movies and documentary films about the Punan, the Dayaks, the incredible life inside the Borneo forest.

Things changed, and they changed a lot, as in most of the countries where I was sent by the Humanitarian Organization, but a bit of what was supposed to be, I could still sense it in some of these areas, and the Borneo was one of it.

I sailed my ship, and aimed at the inner station of the Congo river. The journey, I knew , was one of spectacular images and panoramas of the last real forest.
So, when I was told that my next station was Borneo, I was really happy that one of my oldest dream was becoming reality. The mission was to assist remote villages along the river to fight malaria and dengue that was very severe and had a high toll of death among children.
I still had the images and the spiritual atmosphere of the Mongs People in my mind, so going toward to Borneo, I had a mix of feelings.

Each station of this journey in my river Congo, were bringing me different feelings, different sensations. Mostly of grief, pain, of anger in seeing people dying, in witnessing culture disappearing, in being a part of the exploitation of the poorest economy toward the giant of the Western world.
Conflicting images of guerrillas, of trial leaders and refuges were filling my head, and now I was once again sailing for a new mission in the heart of once most impenetrable jungle of the world.

I reached Baligkpapan a coast town, full of foreigners employed in the logging business and as well in the petrol. Baigkpapan was an ugly town, it had lost everything of his Indonesian atmosphere; life was spread around a huge mall located in the center of the town, and all over was hotels, gyms, cinemas, massage parlours and a ugly coast.
I stayed only little time, only in order to arrange my boat and make arrangements with the governative for the selection of the villages to be distributed and to be part of the workshop for the awareness of the Malaria and dengue.
Being remote area, the government had a big interest to send some of his members has to check my work and check the situation of the minorities. The latest killing of some Javanese people created a bit of anxious in Jakarta politician that this ethnic fighting could spread also in the other islands as Molukkas, Timor, ect…
I had my last beers in Baligkpapan and then once I cleared all formalities with the governative I headed toward a inner post where to rent a boat for reaching remote villages. My aim was to go as up as Long Bagun , and the trip I estimated would have taken me two weeks of travelling in areas where logging industries was very high and were forestry was disappearing at high rate.
I found a boat, with a good skipper, he was a native Dayak and surely he knew how to manage his way with the currents and with the difficulties that such trip could expose us.
I was worried for the communication, as I had no sat, no radio, I was obliged to hope that everything would go as expected otherwise I could have been stucked in the middle of the forest with no communication waiting for rescue teams even for weeks.
But I did not care, so I left for Long Bagun, one early morning with 2 guys from the Government , my Dayak skipper and a young boy, called Joy , which was a fervent catholic and looking desperate for job. A good translator indeed. I was convinced , you come along I told him just before getting on board.
I was surprised because his only bag was a sac with a couple of shirts , one trouser and a tooth brush. No more.
As soon as we left the for the journey I went on top of my boat, with a coffee , and I lighted a cigarette , in order to make it as a ceremony. There I was ,with my private boat heading for the heart of Borneo. I think it was deserved a toast, and since I had no champagne with me, I toasted along sipping a coffee and smoking a cigarette.
Unluckily the trip was very boring , my boat turned out to be very slow, obviously the Dayaks cheated me in order to get his boat rented, but at least the govenative guys, were two nice people, minding their own business and most of all good cookers. They took care all the meal in the boat.
The boat was full with bed-nets, I managed to put about 25,000 families bed-nets that I intended to distribute in 7 small villages around Long Bagun and make as well a workshop with local people on prevention issue. One of the two government guys was a doctor specialised , so I counted on him to follow this part of the job.
My translator, tried several attempts of evangelisation, but realising that none of the crew was interested incredibly switched the conversation in sex.
After a moment of surprise I could understand that my translator was a religious zealot , but deep inside was full of interest for information on women and sex, and once he started he kept on bringing the subject all the way.
After three days of navigation, the panorama changed drastically, there were no more signs of the city, but only forests and poor villages with occasionally elevated houses built on the river.
But the disturbing image of the journey was the ferry-boat that were returning from their logging activities in the north full of timber.
They were countless, a touching symbol of exploitation of the area, thousands and thousands of trees exported for international business.
Sometimes I spoke with my Dayak skipper about the cutting of the Borneo forests, and I could spot on his eyes a glimpse of terror on what was happening. The Government in Jakarta did not bother at all, and as for the natives they were constantly pushed away or paid few money for giving the land away. Not to mention the continuous fire that from time to time was taking place here and there in the island.
Where the Logging Companies had their offices along the river, an entire village was there with the only purpose to give accommodation and meals to the companies workers. These were ugly villages, with prostitutes few restaurant, and few bars for the recreation of the workers.
Some days I stood under the burning sun on top of my boat just to try to count the many ships that full of logs were on their way to Baligpapan or Samarinda.
In the night we use to anchor our boat nearby some village,that was totally obscure expect for a restaurant here and there. I used my bed- net , in fact in this part of the island all th animals that in the city had a specific size, here in the jungle everything was to be multiply by three.
On the fifth day of our trip, we reached the first Dayak village where we were supposed to distribute some of the bed-nets and make explanation of the use of Delthamethrine the insecticide that was supposed to be dipped with the bed-net and give a protection of 6 months.
The community received us in a Long-house, the way they called it here. The typical house of the Dayak is a long building. The community was mourning the death of a child for malaria so most of the leaders had a band around their head as a symbol of pain. Our arrival was very welcomed, in fact our load of bed-nets was awaited with long expectations.
In the afternoon, I choose a spot nearby the village and started the distribution for about 5000 families. My doctor, the government guys proved to be excellent, he knew how to deal with these people, even though he was from Java he had a good sense of respect and did a nice workshop , training young dayaks.
In the night, the community gave a dinner for us, obviously river fish and rice. They were mainly animists, and the leader told me they believed in the great soul of the forest and that they were preoccupied by the staggering speed of the destruction of the forest.
He asked me to intervene through the international community, he told me few people are getting benefits from all of this and we are loosing our forest.
I took very seriously his cry, and sadly meanwhile we were talking another boat from the logging company was passing by silently nearby with his precious load.
The day after we sailed toward the final destination Long Bagun(northen part of Borneo island). In fact about 5 kms before Bong bagun we had to live our boat and take smaller boats (about 6 ) in order to go through the rapids.
The rapids were acting as a border for a safe-heaven. To reach this area was possible only with small and strong boat , otherwise it was impossible. The population of this area was almost totally Dayak. The houses were all built with the “Long House model”which is typical among Dayaks people, and a part for few Javanese people that ran a small market and few doctors, the remaining were fisherman and hunters.
I was given a small hut in the top of a hill , and this gave me a good look of the village. Unfortunately the hit was very hot and the area was infested with flies and mosquitoes. Life seem to move smoothly in this remote place, there was only one tv which was black and white model, otherwise the rest of the people could be spotted with an old radio. The night was declared at 20.00 as all activities ceased by then, and all Dayaks could be found in their houses.
After meeting the chief of the village, I organized my job with the doctor .We were tired as this was the last station of our trip. The return would have been very fast, it was needed only 3 days to come back, in fact the current were on our side this time.
The people seemed to me to have less interest in the mosquito bed-nets, here they had less contact with the developed world, and everything coming from abroad was received with a sort of defence.
The ladies ,during the distribution, came to receive the mosquito net, but already the same night I did not find any family using it, and when I was approaching to the door and asking why they were not using it , the answer was just forgot and they were going to use it right away.
I asked my guide, the reason for this behaviour but he was not able to say why , in fact he mentioned something but I did not put that much attention.
Finally the day to go back to Baligkapapan arrived, so I organized my things and after shaking hands with all the villagers leaders I sailed back home.
The journey to go back, was fast and I was less interested to look around. I mainly stayed under the ship, also because I was under fever.
I thought how silly I was, going around all Borneo to teach people using bed-nets and then not using it myself.
Luckily the translator took good care of me, bringing from time to time a cup of tea, and keeping under observation the fever.
Once I reached the final destination, the fever had gone. I prepared myself to go to Jakarta (the Indonesian Capital) and report our mission to the Minstry of Health.
Java (the Indonesian island, where Jakarta is located) was completely different from Borneo. A modern island with big cities. The island suffered congestion, pollution and most of his cities were overcrowded.
Jakarta, was a very lively city, sky - scrapers, smog and a traffic that was so bad that people remained for hours blocked in the city.
I reached the capital in the eve of the election. There was a lot of expectation because since Suharto (former president of Indonesia) , the country did not experience any free election. The city seemed to be under a crazy momentum. The streets were full of buses cheering one political parties, others supporters dressed in one colour were cheering another candidate.
The main squares most of the time were blocked, and it seemed that this time democracy and a free popular decision would have decided the future of the biggest Muslim nation in the world.
Outside this noisy propaganda, taxi-drivers used to bring me back into real life. Once I took one guy coming back from the airport, it was a young guy, in his mid twenties.
He talked a good English, and seemed not impressed by the cheerful buses that were passing by. I asked him, if he was happy that in a short time he could cast his vote, and from the rear mirror he gave me a stern look, and then said” You boule’, don’t you know that corruption is so wide in this country , that it is hard ton believe that a new politician can clean up all the mess”. This is Indonesia , he continued “ things remain , the same”.
He called me “boule” , which stands for “white man” in a very rude way among the Indonesian people, but I was touched by the sincere tone of the man.
I reminded the annoying papers that the officials of the ministry of heath kept on asking me in Borneo. The delays that could have been passed by simply handing over few dollars bills, and I reminded that politic talking in the capital is one thing, but the power in the island is maintained by the same people.
Clean it up, the taxi-driver was saying, how can you do it. “You see, now the new candidate , Miss Megawati (the daughter of the founder of Indonesia), she got an important name” but who is she? And the muslims brothers? Please I rather live my country, for this lousy job!”.
When I get off the taxi, I thought about that man and thought that maybe another 200.000.000 indonesian were trapped in the same old story. The thirld world countries , with the bulk of the population unable to change things, but merely obliged to suffer from it.
But this is the country of the big forests, of the most beautiful island in the world, think about Bali’, Lombok, Java, Molukkas, all marvellous places located in the Indonesian Archipelago, but still most of the population were poor, and tension was on the rise in the remote areas against the supremacy of the Javan ethnic group.
I spent another couple of months in Jakarta (Indonesian Capital) ,running away from the corrupted offices of the Ministries, and ending my days in the busy and obscure street of Jalan Jaksa, where alcohol , drugs and prostitution is common matter.
I took a room in the Tatoo Hotel, for less than a dollar a day, with common toilet and a room that had just one bed and nothing else. In the night , police made patrols and from time to time was arresting blacks from Nigeria that were smuggling drugs in the capital.
The night , I used to end up in the bars of Jalan Jaksa (very notorious street for tourists), drinking beers and taking politics with young Javanese.
The life of Borneo was not only miles away but also centuries. The Long Houses, the Dayaks with their body horned with Tatoos, their lifestyle had nothing in common with these young Javanese that were using american T –shirt, listening western music and driving Japanese cars
I finally left Indonesia, just few weeks before the election, that I was told was won by Ms. Megawati, and as well was later informed that corruption is still rampant in the islands and people are still fighting in order to get on living.
The Humanitarian World requested me to move in the warn-torn areas of the Balkans.
Fighting and Killing was going on with such a brutality that entire ethnic groups escaped in masses from their original birth place.
The boat was ready, my new station was ahead of me long days of journey, the Congo river embraced me with all his power, I was heading for a new mission.

The Man who became Orthodox

The killing between Serbs and Kossovars had just finished, at least the official one, when I arrived in Pristina (the capital of Kossovo). Already the spelling can be taken as a support to one group or the other one. I will call the cities , by the way I remember them, simply for not parting neither of the two side, which actually is my real feeling.
In the capital ,I was sent the first night by the Humanitarian World to spent a night in a house of a Serb family that just flee the country in fear of being harassed by local Kossovar.
I was not so happy, as a first night in Kossovo to go and sleep in an abandoned house, but I was asked by the Chief of the Humanitarian World that it was a good cause and that if none was going to spent the night there , the house would be taken by local Kossovars or Albanians.
So after taking my job description , which was to take control of part of the country and be responsible for the reconstruction of entire villages, and after having strolled a bit in the capital,as the night was approaching I decided to go to the flat. It was located in the 7 floor of a noisy building. I could hear the slam of doors being closed and people shouting .
Once I entered the house, I was touched to see that all the things of the Serb family was still in place. The room of the children with their clothes and pictures, the living room with dresses and plates on the table. Papers, private letters, all scattered around.
The feeling was that someway a family escaped, the feeling of a tragedy.
Actually this feeling accompanied me all the way through my living in the Kossovo. I witnessed so many times tragedy, that I recognized immediately.
I did not manage to sleep, I felt like an intruder, but the worst had to come. It was only after mid-night that the telephone started to ring, and once I answered people with strong Albanian accent started to curse on me, that I was living in a Serb house.
After a while I did not obviously answered anymore the phone, even though it was ringing, but I had a chill all over my body when the I heard the bell of my door.
“Fuck, for god’s sake, they came to cut my throat “ I thought , and then I peeped on the key-hole and spotted an English army guy , that started to get nervous. Confused I opened the door, and saw a night patrol of English army soldiers that wanted to check my documents. I was relief in seeing them and told them that it was my first night in the country and that my first night in this house. They heard the all story about people calling me, but they did not care, they checked my papers and went.
Frankly speaking I did not slept at all that night, and the day after when I was told that I had to go to Peja or Pec ( a big city in the interior of the country) It was relief to live the capital and that damned house.
In Peja I was going to supervise the construction of houses destroyed by the paramilitary troops of the serbs all along administrative area, which included Decan and Priliep (two other small towns of Kossovo).
I took house with another group of Italian people that were going to work with me. The house was good , nice and large but all around the sight was of burned buildings and destruction.
My Team were all Kossovars. There were about 20 of them, all between their 24 to 45 years old. They were all with a high educational degree , and half of them were women.
Our task was to go around in the districts of Peja and register the burned building, support the families with food distribution and provide materials , logs, iron, wooden bars, pickaxes and other items needed to get the reconstruction of the buildings.
The mission was very big, but my team was so eager to help his own people , that it was a pleasure to work with them. All of them witnessed the atrocities of the Serbs , of the paramilitary that raped and killed in a fury that pushed thousands of Kossovars to find refuge in nearby countries such as Albania and Macedonia.
They told me stories about their own experience, but the most striking thing was that the stories dated back only 3 weeks before. From time to time there were still some houses given to fire, as in the country there were areas where Serbs were living under protection of the international forces.
It happened once to me, on my way to to Pristina (the capital of Kossovo) that one Serb house was set to fire and I saw the Serb family crying and desperate under the protection of some international military soldiers (I guess they were Russian ), and all around young Kossovar that wanted to kill them.
The same hate was also for the gypsies that were living nearby the capital city and were protected as well ,in fact according to the Kossovars they were guilty of having supported the Serbs during the war.
It was a mess, but the pity was to see every time I was passing by new villages mosques or orthodox churches destroyed. The vastness of destruction was very tangible, you could pass entire areas where there was not a single building standing, instead only fire and smoke.
The tragedy was immense.
But my work was going fine, the Team as I said was very cheerful, I used to get a morning cappuccino with them in the coffee houses that were reopening little by little.
For lunch I used to take a break in a small shop and under a hot sun , I used to eat some cheese and bread and a coke. I sat down and watched trucks and lorries full of humanitarian aid that were pouring in the country in big scale.
The world reacted quickly and together with the International forces also in terms of food and materials there were a lot of help.
In September, once I was told by a Kossovar to go and visit a monastery that was located nearby Decan. I was astonished to hear that an orthodox monastery was still there, and not yet destroyed and looted, but the guy told me “it is because the Italians are watching it, otherwise it would be sand”.
So that day I decided , I will go and visit this Monastery!.
The first time I met Nektarius was on a Sunday morning.
I took a break from my working activities and decided to go and visit this monastery. After passing the Italian Check-point I entered this wonderful Monastery dated more than 500 years old.
The Italians were guarding the place for fear that Kossovars could try to destroy and loot the place.
I counted about 12 orthodox monks and few Serbs families that were living there.
Nektarius had more or less my age, and I liked him immediately because he was very proud of his place but in the same time he was a bit annoyed when the first time he saw us.
About 30 years old, he had long hair and a long bear, as the orthodox monks use to do it. He wore a black tunic and had a well built body.
Nektarius was a Serb monk in the heart of Kossovo. Most probably his future looked dim, and maybe he was thinking what is going to happen once the Italian troops will leave the monastery, how long they can stay here?
I liked Nektarius , I liked him a lot, maybe he is what I am not, because truly speaking there is a magic, there is something difficult to express in those people that have faith. And he did.
He became a monk , I guess at the age of 25, he looked mystic, like Christ, like a Taliban in the hills of Afghanistan .
After our first encounter I used to go on my free time to visit Nektarius and his monastery. I became so known that He showed me all the place and introduced me to the other monks.
He invited me on the ceremony that took place every Thursday ,in which during the ceremony they opened the tomb of the founder of the monastery and a smell of roses came out.
Actually I felt that smell.
Sometimes I used to rest there in the church, sitting for a while, enjoying the peace of this monastery, well aware that outside the scars of the war were tangible, were present ,were so strong.
People killed, woman raped, houses destroyed and burned, and in the middle of this crazy carnage , there it stood with few monks the house of God and his true followers.
I did not spoke with my colleagues about my visit in the monastery because I did not want to felt them embarrassed, or to think that I was betraying them. I knew how the Kossovars where feeling, I knew that at this stage the hate for the Serbians was stronger than words, I knew that time was the only healer, but I did not want to refrain from visiting my monastery, so I kept on doing that.
Once Nektarius, seeing me so interested he invited me to meet the great father who was going to arrive under a strict escort in Peja or Pec (another important town of Kossovo).
It was a saturday and I went to this monastery which was bigger, but less enchanting than the monastery of Decan.
The father was there, he was about sixties years old, his hair white and had a very long bear almost to his waist that gave him a look of a very old Patriarch such as those we have seen in the movie of the Bible.
He was interested on me, he knew my friendship with Nektarius and he was happy that feelings among different people were still taking place.
But the eyes of the Patriarch, as I called him, were very sad. He was worried about the Serbian community about the future that lied ahead.
I had a brief talk with him, and when I finished I saw his car that was being attacked by kossovars. Some Italians troops were standing outside smoking a cigarette and commenting about the attack.
I went back home , but I was very sad for what I had seen until that moment. That night I smoked and drank with some kossovars in the center of Peja. They were happy, the construction of the village was going on, and finally they could celebrate and feel free in their home-land.
Strange destiny I though it is uniting this people.
Few days later I was called to come back to Pristina (the capital of Kossovo). On the way back I could see how big was the devastation. Entire village under reconstruction, churches burnt, houses destroyed. In Pristina I was asked to follow and supervise the works of rehabilitation of two villages near the capital. I was sorry, because now I was many hours away from my monastery, and I missed that special feeling, that no dawn , or panorama gave me, but only that place, and it was really a place where I felt God was around, maybe sitting on the bench in hills nearby the monastery with the hands on his head, touching his long white bear, and maybe crying in disbelief.
Does God cries? Well if he hasn’t cried in the Balkans wars, than he does not cry.
In Pristina , I started to follow the mood of the youngsters. Outside working hours, I mixed in the bustling city. There were the UN troops, the international organization, and so many others international expatriates that the city was so full that in a matter of few months, many bars opened, small restaurant and so on.
In the capital there were still some Serbs and from time to time, meanwhile I was driving with my car, I met Serbs families escorted to Serbia and behind them the smoke of their burning house.
I knew they were paying for what they had just been done, but it is always tough to see a family witnessing his house crumble to death and all around nasty people screaming against you , but this was Kossovo and it was a tough year for all.
My monastery was far away, and I knew I did not have anymore chance to meet my friend Nektarius anymore.
The time was ripe for other proceeding to other inner station.

The Caliph of Kuwait city

When you get off the airplane in Kuwait City Airport, the air is so hot that you are tempted to get back in the airplane; but once you reach the terminal of the airport the air-conditioning brings you back in a September day in Sweden.
This feeling will follow you all the way thorough the period you will spent, in this country of the Arabian Peninsula.
Outside the air hot like oven, and inside the taxis , the hotels, the restaurants, the shops, the governmental offices all these placed are so cooled that you need to wear a sweater.
This is Kuwait, it is hot or cool, you are a Kuwaitian or you are an immigrant. It does not matter that you are a Muslim or that you are an immigrant from the biggest Muslim country in the world (like Indonesia) for them you are an immigrant and no matter how long you will stay, even generation you will never get a residence status like the Kuwaitians.
When you move in Kuwait, you will see that all the jobs are carried out by this immense and huge number of immigrants. They are everywhere, they are in the shops, they drive the taxi, they clean your hotel rooms, they are behind the kitchen of the restaurant, they clean the roads, they are in the hospital, and in so many other places.
So you wonder where are the Kuwaitians?
You will spot them thanks to the candied whiteness of their Jallabiah (long Arabic dress, usually white). You will never see them dirty , always speaking to their mobile phones or drinking tea. They wear a small bear, and they always keep a good distance from the immigrants.
If for any reason , meanwhile they are driving they flat a tyre , they will call for immigrant to change their tire.
In Kuwait city, their beloved sport is to drive fast and expensive cars like crazy along the beach.
The Kuwaitis are rich, snobbish and spoiled, if somebody tells you differently it means that he was so lucky to meet one out of a thousands.
To tell the truth, it is true that during Saddam invasion in the early nineties they suffered under the Iraqi rules, but it is also true that the same immigrants helped them in order to survive those difficult moments.
I think it is a bit unrealistic the feeling that you feel once you are in Kuwait, there are two worlds that live so close and so apart. The same immigrants everyday wake up at 05.30 and work for those Kuwaitis that merely know their name. Each one of them have a visa and residence permit linked to their work –force, if you loose that you go home.
Of course it has nothing to do with the infamous “ Arbeit meicht frei” of the Nazi troops, people can say that they choose to be there, but is also true that generation after generation will not give you any influence , if you do wrong you go back to your original country.
Once I met one young boy that was working in the airport as a hotel-receptionist. He was fast and clever worked from early morning to late evening for a very little sum of money.
He was from the third generation, but according to Kuwaiti immigration he had no rights whatsoever, and he could not vote, or apply for specific jobs, or be the owner of a job.
He always needed a Kuwaitian in order to open an office, and he could never own a house or a land.
Three generation, a father and a son, and another father and another son that lived in this country, worked and pay taxes and still they were absolute unknown people.
During the second Iraqi war, when the Americans and the British troops invaded conjunctly the Iraqi country, I did not spot any kind of particular interest in the young and annoyed Kuwaiti that chilled out along the coast in the nights.
The news were on TV mainly for the foreigners, for the European for the Americans that send their son, the neighbouring countries even though they did not say they were happy to see fustigated that dictator that for long time had complained about them.
The Kuwaitis ,like the Saudis, or the Omanites kept on showing the world their religious side, their dislike of alcoholic drinks, their distance from the western world, but in fact they live more western than the westerners itself.
They had their harem with those Russian prostitutes that crowded the Arabian gulf and made the nights of the rich Arabs sounds more interesting. They continued to fly to Abu Dabhi and after lodging in those 5 stars hotel nicely managed by immigrants, they crowded discos in order to pick up young prostitutes wanting for cash.
In their houses they kept the presence of young Filippinos to cuddle their children, young Pakistani to trim their garden and an immigrant from Sry Lanka to guard their big Villas.
So it goes the life of these Arabs of the gulf. They have lost all their chanting and magic of the previous Bedouin life, and now their main interest is to buy the latest achievement of the Japanese telecommunications items, and drive fast cars.
It was like a knife reaching out my heart, to see how distant was this world to the Iraqis tragedy.
During the beginning of the war, I kept on driving toward and back from Bassora (a southern city in Iraq) and Kuwait.
I was living a country made of ruins and lootings , and entering a golden haven where rich Arabs where making early hours in coffee-lounge.
The only interest about what was going on , on the other side of the border, I could found it on those Kuwaiti guards that were guarding the border line.
From that very border was possible to spot the misery and the tragedy of that beautiful county.
The Kuwaitis were standing nearby their newly and polished U.S. army vehicle, all of them wearing sun glasses , but none of them doing menial works or getting tired. They stood there like ready to be pictured, watching the other side with binoculars, and giving way to the Americans and British troops that were going to and fro from the front-line.
It was the very first time that I met people so annoyed in my life, that I met people too much interest in managing all the revenues from their rich soil, that they forget the essence of life.
They were so fearful to loose or share this wealth that they kept the immigrants , immigrants for ever no matter how long they lived and how much they did for that country.
They did not care if that immigrant shared the same religion, or belief, he was not one of them.
The wealth for them, and for the rest they did not care.
I met once Mohammad , an Egyptian immigrant, that was working in an Hotel in Kuwait city.
He was working for few hundred dollars in Kuwait city, and sending more than half of his profit to his family in Cairo.
He told me that the Kuwaitees were not mixing with him, despite he was a Muslim arab, and that his life in the gulf was merely a way to boost money.
When he discovered that there was a chance to work in Iraq, he immediately offered his services , more willing to face the war but the human side of the Iraqis,rather than the boring and tedious life of the gulf.

The Shia Cleric

In April 2003, during the Iraqi war, I was visiting one Hospital in Bassora city(an Iraqi city located in the southern part of the country nearby the border with Kuwait). The Iraqi troops were still defending few areas, but in most of the country the coalition troops had defeated the Iraqis.
The images of the Rais (the way Arabs used to call Saddam Hussein)were still filling the towns and villages of the country. One morning , in month of May, I entered one hospital in Bassora, and meanwhile I was visiting all the rooms in order to check the situation of the patients , I saw in one room hanging on the wall a picture of Saddam Hussein.
I asked the nurses to remove, but I saw that no one dared to remove it, as fearing that the Old Leader could still came back from nowhere and castigate the people.
Finally one doctor, decided to remove the picture, meanwhile patients and hospital staff remained staring at the scene. After removing the picture, the same doctor brought it to me like expecting to know the fate of the picture, but I was probably more confused than anybody else, and after glancing, at me the doctor put the picture-frame in a nearby warehouse.
That was the beginning of the Fall of the Old Leader.
It was April 2003, the war between the coalition troops and Saddam Hussein was at its peak. I decided to enter Iraq from the Kuwait border.
After renting a car in Kuwait city, the agent a fat Iranian man was not so happy about the idea of using one of his vehicles in the war-torn Iraq but I convinced him that it was for a good cause, after all he was an Iranian and he understood that humanitarian assistance was badly needed in Iraq.
I cross the border at 06.00 in the morning, on the Iraqi side there was nobody, just sand and English troops.
I was shocked to see how many American tanks I met along the way from Kuwait city to the Iraqi Border. Miles and miles of American tanks and troops, but as soon as I passed the border I met as well the English troops that were controlling the southern part.
The car was driven by one of the many immigrant that live in Gulf countries. He was from Sri Lanka and his name was Abdallah. Born in Sri Lanka, he was working since one year in Kuwait city in a car rental agency.
The fat Iranian agent, despite that he accepted to rent me a car for Iraq, he wanted that the car was rented together with one of his staff, precisely Abdallah.
This driver spoke not a word of Arabic and few sentences in English.
He was a Tamil, and I guess he had no idea about what was going on in Iraq and was not even questioning about my trip in a country that was totally under war.
I had no idea what was to happen to me, I knew the country was still at war, and when I decided to enter Iraq, the southern part were mostly conquered by the Americans and the English troops but Bassora (the biggest town in southern Iraq) was still under Iraqi control.
I managed to reach Az-Zubayr (a small town nearby Bassora) . The English troops were everywhere and the sound of fighting was possible to be heard throughout all the time.
From time to time, my car was stopped by English Troops and they informed me to change directions as snipers were seen in certain area. After going through Az-Zubayr I started to move toward Bassora, but due to the heavy fighting I decided to delay the journey and headed back to Kuwait city.
On the return I was stopped just before living Iraqi soil by a group of young Iraqis that were seeking help for a person that was wounded in a nearby car.
As I approached to see the wounded person, I found out that it was a young boy, merely 19 or 20 years old, without a leg that was loosing a lot of blood and was on the edge of fainting.
Unfortunately I was in a condition of bringing him no aid at all, so I was forced to live him like that without any kind of help.
The Kuwaitis , on the other side of the border , were checking all the vehicles in order to see that no immigrants could pass the border and as well anything related to Iraqi leader.
Back in Kuwait city, I waited few days, and when I learned from the radio that Bassora city was completely under British control , I organized my trip back to Iraq.
Abdallah ,this time seemed more informed about the events in Iraq, and was not anymore so willing about trespassing the border.
He told me in half Tamil ,half English that even though Iraq was now under control of the coalition , there were many troops still with guns that were terrorising the people along the road.
Unfortunately he was right, damn right, but I wanted to reach the town of Bassora in order to organize all the humanitarian aid that was soon to be delivered from Italy.
As I entered Iraq for the second time, this time I saw that the tension was stronger. Immediately in the first village I was welcomed by young Iraqi children that throw stones against our cars.
All along the road , it was possible to see burning vehicles and as well to see British troops that were screaming for vehicles to stop by their check-point, but to keep the speed and move following their instructions.
Bassora was a nightmare, the town was half burning , like Rome during Nero’s time.
I crossed the town in order to reach the Priest of the Caldean Church.
I wanted to have a contact point, and I was told that he was the right person to identify the most urgent needs in the town.
Frankly speaking I did not need the assistance of the Father, in fact a town that was burning full of orphans , full of wounded civilians was an open request for aid, but I knew that especially in this moment of anarchy the minorities groups were targets from fanatics islamists.
All my fears were confirmed by the father of the Caldean church, who informed me that killings of Christians and other Kafiroons (are the Non believers according to Muslims) were wide spread.
I remained a couple of days in Bassora, just the time to see some banks assaulted by hysteric mobs and the looting of the Sheraton along the river.
Everything was lootings, and there was nothing that the British troops could have done to stop it.
I saw people assaulting army barracks and stealing stones and brick, they were stealing floors, cabinet, curtains, sofas, desks, chairs, and statues , and as well they looted museums and ministerial buildings.
Sometimes there were days of quietness than suddenly a mob of hundreds young Iraqis could be spotted assaulting banks and private houses.
The British troops in the beginning did not react to all this, and let the people carry out this frenetic assaults, but then they had to put a stop.
The most incredible looting was most probably the one of the Sheraton. Thousand of people were seen coming out from the burning hotel with TVs and dishes from the famous hotel.
In the country side , the army barracks became the target of the poor peasants that with small chariots started to dismantle entire barracks.
In the same time, especially in the southern part of the country , the Shia clerics were funding small feuds all over the south.
In the entrance of the villages of the majority of Shia groups, there were check-points and the images of Saddam Hussein were replaced with images of Al Sadr ( a famous local Imam) or with images of Khomeini from nearby Iran.
After Bassora I headed north, toward Al Amara in an area mostly populated by Shia supporters.
The Shia group for the first time after more than 2 decades saw in the fall of Saddam Hussein a way to free themselves and to stop as well the purge that from time to time were happening in the country.
In Al Amara, I immediately put myself under the protection of a young Imam (a religious leader) that was sent from Kerbela (one of the Holy city for the Shia Group).
He was a young religious man, not even thirty years old.
Strangely he had little bear (something very uncommon among religious zealots in middle east).
He met me in a small villa just outside Al Amara (a town about 80 km north of Bassora). On the ground floor there were about five armed men that were fulltime present as escort of the Imam, and on the upper floor there was a sort of waiter and another two guards.
I entered into a small room, badly lighthed , and the Imam was waiting sitting under a huge wall –paper. In the wall-paper there was an image of Imam Hussein (The Holy Imam for the Shia Religion, son of Ali and brother of Hasan). This image was depicting the Imam Hussein during the battle of Kerbela (a very famous and historic moment in Islam Tradition).
The Imam, informed me that he just arrived from Kerbela, and that he was sent here as a symbol of law and order.
In fact ,since the fall of Saddam Hussein the country collapsed in a fury of Killings and anarchy, and the Shia group tried to replace this gap by re-organizing itself and trying to take under control cities and towns.
But it was still far from its aim, in fact the killings did not stop, and actually arose.
Sunni, Shia, Taleban, thieves, loyalists to Saddam Hussein , anyone who was armed made its own law.
Al Amara a small district in Iraq was no difference.
The population protected me , in fact my knowledge of the History of the Shia group , made me a life visa among these people, that started to accept me not as a foreigner invader but as a fellow Shia brother.
The population was still afraid of the future, even though some supported the ousting of Saddam Hussein others objected the presence of the Americans troops in the Iraqi soil.
So little by little I started to get to know this small community in Al Amara, even though the news that I was receiving from nearby cities were very bad.
I concentrated the help in the small city of Qala Saleh (just few kilometres south of Al Amara). The war, and the tragedy of many years of embargo destroyed the country facilities, but despite all this difficulties I found a very professional environment in Qala Saleh Hospital.
When I started to coordinated the humanitarian assistance in this small town, I was shocked to see, how many dead people were reported everyday in the hospital.
A doctor, told me that most of the victims were result of fighting between rival families.
Every morning the doctor took me in a tour in order to check the patients and make myself acquainted with the situation and the dramatic needs of the hospital.
Some patients, were dressed in black and wore the name of Imam Hussein around their head, as a scarf. People, I realized they were very religious in this part of the country, and more than 90 % showed total support to the Shia clerics.
Every time the patients’ s families spotted me along the corridors , they chanted the downfall of Saddam Hussein, but in the same time, they advised me that not a single American should remain in the country, otherwise they would have killed him.
Sometimes when I was living Qala Saleh in order to visit other southern cities in Iraq, I did not feel that safe anymore.
In the little village of Qala Saleh I was the Italian fond of Shia History, the young European that knew the life of the Great Imam Hussein and discussed until late in the night theological matters with young doctors in the garden of Qala Saleh Hospital; but when I was going in other cities I was another unknown foreigners that was regarded with hostility that was undeniable tight with the American occupation.
From time to time , I was able to reach Kuwait city , in fact in order to take a break, I was living behind me the hot weather of Iraq in order to take refugee in a hotel in Kuwait city.
But the situation little by little degenerated. The people felt insecure , and myself I was more circumspect every time I was moving .
In my car there was an Image of the Imam Hussein that was glued on the front bump, and myself always dressed in black the colour of the Shia.
Frankly speaking ,probably due to my studies on Shia religion, I felt very close to them, and whenever I had the opportunity I was exchanging ideas with old people in front of a cup of tea.
Bassora was very charming, even if the war destroyed a big part of it, and the lootings did the rest.
I liked to sit nearby along the banks of the river, just in front of the destroyed Sheraton, where once there was hundreds of statues of Saddam Hussein pointing Iran and nowadays there was nothing else. Anything from the past regime was gone in a matter of weeks.
I remember every time I was crossing Bassora in order to go north toward Al Amara, there was a huge picture of Saddam Hussein made in mosaic, that was falling to piece day by day.
Soldiers from British and American troops were taking away pieces by pieces as a memory, and locals just for the sake of doing it.
I remember that in the last days of May, once I was passing the bridge and I noticed that Saddam Hussein completely disappear. The regime was falling down.
Already children were surrounding me in order to exchange Iraqi money with dollars.
Iraqi children amazed me a lot. For sometime I was assisting a school in Az-Zubayr and I remember the first time I entered a class accompanied by the teacher.
It was a class of young girls probably between their 13 – to 15 years old.
They witnessed all the war, the propaganda of the regime, the famine , the fear and the invasion of the coalition forces.
And now here I was standing in front of them. I wondered what those young girls were thinking on their mind. The Teacher told me it was a English class, so I asked few of them their names.
They answered and all the class started to laugh, they forgot the war and they again felt like youngsters.
After my visit, I spoke a bit with the teacher. She was afraid for the girls. She told me that kidnapping was a problem, and with the lack of security every one felt unsafe.
It seemed that kidnapping was a plague in Iraq that later one became famous for the killing of many foreigners; but already Iraqis were suffering this problem.
I kept on visiting the school from time to time, bringing educational materials, and I was happy to be surrounded by those students, it make me forget the war and also I felt safe inside the school, like if nothing should happen there.
Once when I was visiting a secondary school in Az Zubayr ( a small village near Kuwait border) the head master brought me in a room that was filled with materials from the regime.
He said he did not know what to do, and required my help.
The room, was very big probably used to make the annual holiday parade. There were on the walls picture of Saddam Hussein, of generals that in the past were being invited as guests, books and maps of the regime where Israel was not mentioned.
Also in a corner was full of weapons, they seemed bombs for mortar and the Head-master that was always behind me , yelled that he was not responsible for these materials and was seeking help to get rid of it, but none of the teachers wanted to help.
In fact ,I had often the feeling that people were still afraid to denounce publicly , they feared that agents from the past regime of Saddam Hussein could be still infiltrated and then punish anyone that was collaborating with the foreigners.
I had the same feeling also when I was visiting the Caldean Church that was located in the Christian part of the town. Already the Bishop told me that many killings happened among the Christian community, people punished because they were selling alcoholic drinks, and that agents of the past regime were still acting under –law and panicking the population.
In fact the Coalition forces were too busy trying to end the remaining guerrillas troops that sparked from time to time in Fallujas or in other areas of the country, often living the cities in the hands of criminals and gangs.
Probably the language, the culture, many factors made them foreigners even when they really tried to get closer to the community having meetings with local leaders and religious people.
This state of fear and death also reached the village of Qala Saleh and other areas under control of Shia clerics. It happened several times that I was sitting in the garden of the hospital and few cars arrived rushing in the corridors with a young wounded boy that later died due to shot guns.
And like a movie already seen, dozen of women covered with the black mantle cried all night nearby the corpse of the young man, died too young, under the hands of unknown killers.
The brothers and the father of the killed boy swore vengeance, opening their shirts and blatantly offering their chest to the crowds.
I saw all that, standing on a side of the hospital without interfering because I know in those moments I was again the foreigner that those people did not want to see.

A Politician among the rebels, a Darfur Story

The first time I landed in Sudan, it was on March, I do not recall precisely whether it was 2001, or 2002. I guess it does not make that much difference, but I do remember that day, because coming out from the airplane I felt the hot air and dust of the famous “Mabub” (the wind that strikes the capital Khartoum from time to time, bringing sand and making it impossible to move.
A local Sudanese came to pick me up at the airport, and after lodging me for a couple of nights in the Acropole Hotel , he took me around the city.
More than four years passed by , when I came back in Sudan, this time with an important task from my government , a role that would have taken me around all the state of Darfur (one of the provinces of Western Sudan).
I visited in the past the Darfur province, from the southern city of Nyala to the Northen Arabic city of El Fasher, and I was always amazed to see the nomads that crossed the desert with their animals.
Many times I met the Jelloul tribes, the Reezagat (all Arabs tribes) that with their camels crossed the country for search of water for their cattle.
In 2001 still the Darfur civil war was not yet erupted, despite it was already possible to see problems among the more than 200 ethnic tribes that were living alone in this Province.
It was exactly three years later that travelling the same areas I met the Janjaweed (famous Arabs tribes that attacked villages of innocent black fur Muslims.
I lived a tragedy that simply can be resumed as a ethnic war between Arabs tribes and black Muslims that live the three Darfur provinces .A problem that already exploded in the past, but never with this intensity of the 2004 civil war.
A war between nomadic Arabs that supported by the Sudanese Government clashed and looted the villages of other Muslims but of different ethnic tribe.
Thousands of people killed, hundreds of villages burnt and destroyed and millions of people forced to live in Internally displaced camps in order to avoid a sure death living outside.
But as it happens in all civil war, a counterpart has formed and several opposition groups took birth in this vast area , giving birth to different movements that fought against the government and against each other as well.
I worked side by side with the Sudanese Liberation Army (famous as SLA), and the Justice Equality Movement (known as JEM). The first one mainly split in two groups, a group composed mainly by the Fur ethnic tribe, and the second one by the Zagawa. In total the SLA had the highest number of rebels but in the same time as well most of the time the less organized, while the others one the JEM, a former group that had most of its components in the government and now hiding as rebels.
This group showed to be more organized even thoughless numbered.
For two years I travelled in rebels areas, talking with their leaders, eating with the troops, and facing with them they hardships.
My first trip to the rebel area was on October 2004, when we decided to reach the Jebel Marra (the mountain that extends between South Darfur and North Darfur), in order to meet some SLA rebels that according to our information were hiding in the villages of Fena and Kidingir.
The troops reminded me the rebels of Mozambique, precisely the Renamo (Resistencia Nacional Mocambicana), even thou I immediately noticed that these rebels had sat-phones especially their leaders in order to keep in contact among them in this vast region of Sudan.
They were some of them in rags, even if in general they looked to me pretty well dressed and feaded . Obviously they looked desperate for cigarettes and some of them for alcoholic drinks, despite they proclaimed to be all Muslims and fighting in order to let their families have the chance to go back to their villages.
The first leader that I met in Jebel Marra, was a leader of the SLA, a young man , from the ethnic tribe of the Fur, called Muru.
dressed long hair like “Rasta”. All of them wore the famous “Hijab” or “Juju” ( a sort of amulet to protect them ) that confirmed the famous syncretism between local religion and the Islam.
The rebels slept inside abandoned schools , and mainly presided the two small villages from the attacks of the Janjaweed (Arabs with horses, mainly nomads of Rezagat tribes ) and from time to time made excursion in the no-mans land between the Government areas and the rebels area.
Their armament was very modest, in fact they used stolen pick-up from the Government as a army vehicle and the remaining weapons were mainly Ak 47 and light guns.
Every time I visited Jebel Marra, I was surrounded by young rebels that were searching for cigarettes, or some alcoholic drinks. They lived basically waiting the food from the trucks of the World Food Programme, and despite few exchanges of fire with Government forces or with Janjaweed they spent all their time under trees taking naps.
They were not informed and neither seemed ideologically prepared for this war, they were simply Fur, the Africans main black tribe that is living in Darfur.
Already in my first visits, I was aware that another component of the Sudan Liberation Army was organized under the leadership of Commander Minnie Mennawie Arkwaie.
This leader, that later on I met during one of my visits in Northen Darfur, was from a Zagawa tribe, and he was a better organized leader that kept on challenging the government forces and had a very dictatorial control on the troops.
The leader of the SLA’s community in Jebel Marra, was an old Sultan, called Suleiman. Despite his warm welcome to the Italian visitors, I disliked him for his unfaithful way of looking. I later on discovered that he was paid by the Governor of South Darfur, in order to keep the rebels of the Fur tribe of Jebel Marra under control.
As I continued to move all over the three states of Darfur, I managed to meet all the involved parties from the famouns Janjaweed (the Arabs Militia) to the rebels united under the leadership of Dr. Khalil, the very well organized JEM.
My first encounter with the Janjaweed, happened in a afternoon of January 2005. I was coming back from a visit to the rebels of Jebel Marra.
I had just offloaded trucks of food in order to assist the population in the area. Most probably the Janjaweed (Arabs Militia with horses and camels), tired of my supporting the rebels, decided to punish me attacking my vehicles on the way back from the rebels area.
I was driving my pick-up, and listening to the “Bee Gees”, when I heard shots of kalashnikov, and as I looked on the side I saw about 25 Arabs in horses and camels that kept on shooting at my vehicle.
I do not recall how long they trailed me, but I was very shocked about this ambush, and finally I was somehow excited to see these famous nomads Arabs that frightened the population of Darfur.
Once I managed to get out from the ambush, I reached a nearby village (Menawashi, a village located in South Darfur, about one hour and half from Nyala)where the same Janjaweed most probably had attached the village living on the ground about 67 killed people.
I took one injured man, and brought him in Nyala for trying to get a doctor. He had two bullets on the chest, and was a fur. Some of his families member wanted to join me, and they placed the poor guy on the back of the pick-up .A very tough trip indeed, that took about an hour and fifteen minutes.
Once I reached the hospital, I discovered that the doctor, from an Arab tribe, was not so concerned to pay him a visit, and he was convinced only when he saw an Hawaja (a local word, in order to describe White People) screaming against him.
So, I think that this small example can tell a lot about Darfur. Arabs Militia that attack innocent villages mainly formed by Fur, young rebels that live deep in the bush and a part from their Leaders they fight just for the sake of fighting without really knowing why, and the government forces that are always present in this context.
But besides these actors, Darfur also offers two other important actors, which I happened to meet and work with. The famous JEM movement, that basically mainly operated from northern areas and the Zagawa groups of Minnie, the hardliners and more devoted fighters.
My first meeting with the JEM, happened in a secret location, nearby Shrigogoro in North Darfur.
A friend of mine ,called me and told me that three humanitarian workers disappeared since three months, and according to these sources they were held up by a group called JEM.
I did not know how to start up this investigation, in fact until that time, I was mainly meeting up with rebels from the SLA movement so all my contacts were not useful I thought.
First of all I decided to check whether the information was correct, so I made few calls in Jebel Marra in order to find out whether they were the one that were holding the hostages.
The man on the other phone, asked a couple of days to check within all his troops whether someone had kidnapped anyone. But after two days he did not call me up again, so I thought, “wow , that easy, they are the one”.
I call my source in the SLA, but he denied any kind of kidnapping, and told me he did not call up simply because he had no money on the phone.
So here I was, I had to start up a connection with the JEM, and better do it quickly.
In Nyala, I knew there was one representative that was living with the African Union (the African forces, mainly Nigerian and Rwandese that participated with troops in Sudan in order to keep a fragile peace).
I met this man, who seemed to me a very well and elegant person. I explained him, who I was, and told him, that in exchange of three kidnapped I could have tried to organise some help.
He told me, he knew nothing about this kidnapping, and wanted to have all the information like when they were kidnapped , where and their names.
I thought it strange, because I was expecting these answers from him, but it was a start.
A few days later, the same person gave me a number to call and he told me that from now on I had to follow the matter with this person, somebody called Omar that was somewhere in North Darfur.
Omar, I found out spoke only Arabic, and even a broken Arabic.
Transmission with the Sat is not easy, and despite the difficulty to get the line, I had problems in understanding this man on the phone that kept on asking me questions like why suddenly the Italians where so interested in getting this people freed.
These telephone calls went on for a week, at least and when I started to think that everything was lost, Mr. Omar asked me to fly to their location and meet their leaders .
Shrigogoro in the middle of the desert of North Darfur toward Libia.
The place , I checked in the map was so far away that I thought impossible for me to reach the location. Finally thanks to some connections with the United Nations air operations I managed to get a Helicopter to reach the location.
The location was in the middle of the desert as I expected.
The base of the JEM was well organized , the troops were every where, strategically positioned.
I was received by their leader, Mr. Bahar, a very gentle man. He spoke good English, had nice manners and went straight away to the matter.
We were sitting under a tent, and meanwhile I was talking with the Leader of the JEM; I saw two soldiers killing a goat. My lunch , I thought.
The Leader told me that in the last three months, many people tried to influence him in order to release the captives, but so far he never allowed because he strongly believed they were agents of the government that were caught in the village of Senet (south Darfur).
I preferred not to talk about this matter, and I rather concentrate to hear the needs of this chief that was fighting a war against the Sudanese Government.
Mr. Bahar gave me the names of few locations, and asked me assistance for water and food for his troops. He said he believed that his movement had the right to fight against this corrupted government.
We had lunch together, than after two hours I told him that unfortunately I had to leave because the Helicopter had to return to El Fasher (the capital of North Darfur).
Before living Mr, Bahar told me that in a few days he would have called me and told me when and where to go and take the three captives.
And so it was. After three days I received a telephone call from Mr, Bahar which he told me to go to the village of Senet and take the captives.
This leader gave the orders, so the very day after I flew with a United Nations helicopter and took the three hostages.
The hostages were kept in this small village of Senet , in South Darfur , and the commander of the area Mr. Hisham seemed to me more a bandit rather than a rebel.
He handed over to me the hostages following the orders from his chief Mr, Bahar, without making a comment, but I could spot from the grim of his face some kind of disappointment for the release.
I promised to bring some help for his soldiers, but still he did not look satisfied.
The hostages, instead, were very happy. All of them were from Khartoum, one Arab and two southerners probably from the Dinka tribes.
They happened to be kidnapped meanwhile they were working with their rigging machine by a group of JEM rebels held by Mr. Hisham and for the last three months they had no news about their families and frankly speaking also about their future.
I flew back with them to Nyala, and then from there they took a flight straight to Khartoum.
They seemed very happy when they got on board a the United Nations flight for Khartoum , finally their hostage was finished.
For me, I was very happy about the conclusion of this matter, and I discovered I had a sincere friend among the JEM, a strong leader that for sure Sudan would have heard his name more and more.
After one year of work in all the Greater Darfur, I met almost all the actors of the warring factions present in the country, but still I was missing the famous Minnie Mennawie , the leader of the so called Zagawa tribes.
The leader which later I discovered was splitting the SLA in two groups, and was taking distance from the President who resided in Kenya, and was trying to bring all the movement under his control.
I made up my mind, after several trips in Jebel Marra, to arrange a meeting with Minnie, so finally I asked one of representative of the Zagawa , Mr. Jibril Kora to put me in contact with Minnie.
I met Minnie in a secret location in North Darfur.
Before I started up my trip , I heard a lot of stories about this rebel, that he was very brave and in the same time very cruel with his enemies.
Some people told me that he trained in Libia, where he was under the protection of Geddafi, and now was trying to be the leader of the revolt for Darfur.
Finally, when everything was arranged, I started my trip toward this location, hiding the reason of my journey to the local government, that obviously was keeping an eye in all my movement.
From El Fasher (the capital city of North Darfur), I headed north toward the sandy town of Kul Kul.
After only 30 minutes drive from the Government town of El Fasher, I was entering the area under the control of SLA (the Sudan Liberation Army).
A log in the middle of the road, and a bunch of badly dressed Sudanese with old Kalashnikov reminded me that I was entering a land that was not anymore under the control of Governative forces, but the fear of bandits so real that often it was possible to exchange rebels for bandits.
Along the trip I made few calls via sat to the leaders of the SLA, but the reply was always keep straight, and you will find us.
After two hours of driving in the middle of a semi-desert bush, finally I reached a town called Kul Kul.
Just few huts, and few armed vehicles were the only signs of life in this remote village, and after minutes from my arrival one local commander told that I had still to drive additional one hour and half to meet the leader.
So I proceeded further, as I understood my journey was not over.
The new location was Hashaba ( a locality further north) in the middle of a bush area, where there were no signs of life.
A good place to hide , I thought.
Finally I arrived in a small town, the famous Hashaba. But I was asked not to enter the town as the Chief was waiting me outside the village nearby a Uadi (A river drought) .
The leader Minnie was sitting in a carpet under a tree, and all around him there were about seven well armed men that were sharing the carpet with him.
As he stood up to greet me all of his soldiers stood up as well, but only for respect of their leader.
He asked me to sit down with him, and offered me a cup of tea, which was very well accepted after more than five hours drive under a killing sun.
He was gentle, always with a grim on his face, and he talked about the situation of Darfur.
He complained that his movement was not united and his first goal was to bring unity among his troops. Never he mentioned the Leader of the movement that was far away in Kenia, and the few times that his name came out he seemed not so pleased about.
I told him that not long ago, I shared a tent and a cup of tea with the leader of Jem, and I told him how strange it was that these two groups were fighting each other, but to me they seemed so close.
Both mainly from black tribes, Zagawa, fighting a government that is backing Arabs tribes
“Many things we do not understand “ was his straight reply.
As the night approached fast, there is no light in the bush, and if there is no moon, darkness is fast to arrive, we prepared our tents to spend the night.
Minnie offered me a bottle of Whiskey, for a special guest, and order to slaughter a sheep.
So we spent the night in front of a fire, with guerrillas all around me, talking with these rebels, that few days before just ordered to assault a nearby town.
Frankly speaking I have to say that it is hard not to part a group when you share with them the difficulties of a life in the bush, but I noticed in him, the typical African Leader, that choose the bush, the forest, the mountain and dedicates his life for a cause.
A terrible life is after all the one that expects the rebels. No good food, no security, always on the run, and most of all the fear of bullet from an enemy or even from one of your soldiers that is sold out .
I remember , when once I called Mr. Idris, one of the highest commander of Jem, and taking in consideration that it was a Friday ,I apologize for disturbing him on that particular day, and he promptly answered on the phone “No worry Mr. George, there is no Friday for us , we are rebels”.
After that visit, it happened to me to meet Minnie several others times.
Once in the month of October, Minnie Mennawie organized a big meeting in the middle of the bush, in a locality called Haskaniza.
The meeting aimed to call all the local tribal leaders and rebels commanders of the three regions of Darfur , and get them together in one single location in order to elect the new president of the movement and approve an internal costitution.
Obviously, since so many rebels decided to meet in one location, it was kept all secret for fear that governmental forces may be aware of the location and make raids .
Minnie , despite all the difficulties, the lack of proper phone communication and transportation, managed to organize the meeting.
The meeting was also attended by some representatives of the “Diaspora”, the so called rebels that took refuge in foreigners countries such as Chad, Emirates , and even Italy and UK.
Minnie planned this meeting in order to reinforce his leadership and send a signal to the people outside in the cities , in the capital of Khartoum, that he was the big leader.
On the end of October and beginning of November 2005, finally the famous meeting of the SLA took place.
Minnie received me in a small hut, with the usual group of bodyguards.
We spoke for about 4 hours, and he never stopped to light cigarettes all of our meeting. I felt friendship for him, a true sense of admiration for this 36 years old rebel.
He informed me that he was satisfied with the Meeting, that according to his knowledge more than 730 delegates from all over Darfur attended the meeting, and that for the first time in Sudan a leader has been democratically elected.
He asked me to accompany him in the big tent that was placed just outside the village of Haskaniza where in the mid of many difficulties a meeting hall had been organized.
Minnie wanted to show all the people that even in the middle of the bush, he was able to organize a meeting with all kind of facilities.
I followed him in the visit, during the third day of talks.
The tent was located about 5 minutes walk outside Haskaniza.
All around the tent, security forces were put on place, and only delegates from the SLA movement were granted access.
Soft drinks were distributed, a micro-phone and a speaker was taking to a crowd of more than 700 people that patiently listened .
There were three translators (one in English, one in French and one in Italian, it was a for me!).
During the meeting a constitution was approved , and on the last day of the meeting Minnie was bestowed as the new president of the Sudan Liberation Army.
Finally the first dream of this young Zagawa leader of 36 years old was achieved.
The leadership of the movement.
The next step, was a total war against the government of Sudan and the Arabs Militia.


River Congo.
Why Marlow is going up river?

Often when I come back from my missions around the world, one of the most familiar question is “ Why are you living? Why don’t you stop from going abroad?

Maybe some people asked the same questions to Marlow? Why did you continue your trip up-river? To look for what? Why proceeding a trip in the Heart of Darkness?.

Is there a plausible answer for this question? I really do not know, probably each one of us has got His Answer.
I know that for what concern myself, as soon as I reach a station during my journey in the river Congo, I am already planning to proceed further deep, to continue my trip.

…….”Yes, it is for the unknown prospects , for the finding of new cultures, for the sake of discovery” I may merely mention the above sentence and the questioners will find themselves satisfied.
But that won’t be the truth.

There is a inner sense of discomfort that drives me out in the river, a sense of non-belonging to anyplace a search for identity that only the solitude and the travelling in remote areas stirs up.

Marlow as a young boy dreamed over “The Globe” travelling in Africa and far east countries, a century later I had got a “Map of the World “ hanging on my wall, and imagined encounters and travels in the remotest corner of the world.

It is this feeling that this place is not enough to contain ourselves and therefore we go out and search for breathing life out of our existence.