Reporters on the Job
• Getting There: Staff writer Abraham McLaughlin got his own taste of the logistical challenges facing aid agencies working with Sudanese refugees in Chad (page 1). His trip from Johannesburg to Chad was supposed to take about 13 hours. It took just a little longer than expected.
"My planned two-hour layover in Gabon turned into a two-day stop when the connecting flight was inexplicably canceled," says Abe. "A little discouraging but on the third day, as I flew into Ndjamena, Chad's capital, I began to relax.
"I'd been told by several knowledgeable people that I could get a visa upon arrival, as is possible in many African countries. But for some reason, the authorities in Chad were having none of it. Despite all manner of pleading and arguing, including the help of an American Embassy official who happened to be at the airport, I was ushered back on the plane I'd just gotten off. Two hours later, I was in Cameroon. It was after midnight, and there wasn't another flight to Chad for four days.
But the next morning, Abe found that there was an overnight train heading to northern Cameroon, which is near the Chad border. "So I jumped on that, had a great night's rest in my sleeper bunk, and got off the train 14 hours later."
He was gaining on his destination, but was not there yet. "I found a Greyhound-sized bus that wound through the lush, mountainous terrain of northern Cameroon. Then, I transferred to a minibus bound for Chad. With 14 of us - and two chickens - packed inside, we began a drive that should have been a lot shorter, but actually took 12 hours.
"Every few miles there was a checkpoint. At some of the stops, local officials expected bribes. One official, quite surprised to see an American on board, took my name, address, and e-mail address, apparently in lieu of a bribe. 'I have an American friend,' I imagined him saying to friends that night. 'No, you don't,' they'd say. 'I can prove it,' he'd reply and show them the new entry in his address book."
Seven days after leaving Johannesburg, Abe arrived in Chad. Then, he started reporting.
David Clark Scott