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#1 Mar 30, 2022 11:46 am

New Historian

An interesting co-passenger

Thursday, 6 June 2002

Asmara – Djibuti – Nairobi

Yesterday, there was one helluva sandstorm; the locals call it “taka". It's the same dust I saw the previous day in Khartoum and is very unusual at this time of the year. It means that rain, a precious commodity up here, is coming, so people bear it in good spirits. Clogs up your nose, chokes the throat, covers everything in a fine red dust. By the end of the day I was gagging; had to imbibe liquids to keep moist.

Eritreans are a good-looking people: fine features, thin noses and curly locks - and pretty women. About half the population are Muslim, and the women saunter round town, swathed in several layers of muslin robes (Muslims in muslin?), very slow, unhurried. People stroll slowly across the road; and the cars patiently wait for them to cross. The entire town dies for long, leisurely lunches, and probably a little siesta afterwards too. Eritrea is the last country on earth without cell phones (“Eritrea: The Final Frontier”).

Leaving Asmara had a slight problem, and had to rush to the Immigration Office to get some magic piece of paper, before heading to the airport. Made it ok though. My plane stopped in Djibouti (in Djibouti) on the way down to Nairobi. Ho hum, another slum. Just before we landed in Nairobi, I realised that the man in the seat directly behind me, who’d been chatting to his mate the whole flight, was none other than John Garang, leader of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army. A quick check on the net reveals:

Human Rights Watch/Africa reported that the SPLA was guilty of, amongst other things, summary executions, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, the deliberate starvation of civilians, abducting civilians, mainly women and children, torture, forced recruitment and forced labour, theft of civilian animals, food and grain, and the THE SHOOTING DOWN OF CIVILIAN AIRLINERS, incidents involving considerable loss of civilian life.

Good thing no one decided to put a SAM-7 missile up his arse on that particular flight.  He got off in Nairobi, met by an official car.

PS: In July 2005, John Garang was killed – in a very suspicious helicopter crash.


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