We almost failed to make our flight out of Johannesburg, on our way to Darfur as '360' focuses next week on the humanitarian crisis in Africa.
The booking was fine for the first sector to Nairobi, Kenya, but it was the continuing sector to Sudan that was 'choc-a-bloc'. We did the only thing journalists do in that kind of situation; we begged and begged and begged the airline officials like our lives depended on this 'mission'. They must have seen our sincerity (or is it desperation?) that finally they checked us all the way, complete with 18 pieces of baggage, digital news gathering gear, laptops, satellite phones, bottles of water, clothes, everything we would need for about a week in what's been described as THE world's worst humanitarian crisis.
Both sectors of the flight were uneventful and we finally landed in Sudan later that night. Clearing immigration proved easier than expected and our luggage made it, believe it or not. We were ecstatic as we wheeled our FIVE carts towards the customs officials and the first of what was going to be a lesson in patience and tolerance. We showed our paperwork to one of the officials who barely glanced at it before handing it over to his colleague and on it went until the fifth customs officer took a quick look and yelled something back in Arabic to our fixer who'd met us at the airport. 'He has to call his superior,' Akram told us. 'Ok,' we replied. Five minutes, ten, twenty, half-an-hour. 'What's the delay,' we aseked? 'It's Ramadan,' was the answer, the fasting just ended for the day and no-one's available.' This was understandable given the timing of the flight and the Muslim Holy month. 'How long do we wait?' we asked 'He'll soon come,' the official responded.
Two hours later, we'd finally gotten the necessary paperwork sorted we were walking out of the now deserted airport, humbled but happy to have all our gear with us. We eventually got to the hotel, checked-in and crashed for the night.
The next morning we were up early. Copies of passports were made, photographs taken, ID at the ready. First we had to register with the authorities, let them know we're in town. Then to the Ministry of External Affairs to get accredited and receive permission to film, then to the Internal Ministry to get permission to fly to Darfur, then to the police to make sure they know we can film in the streets of the capital. In a word, Sudan is a bureaucrat's dream, paperwork, paperwork, and more paperwork.
Two days later, we just about have everything in hand, except the all-important permission to fly to Darfur. That's been promised by Saturday and we plan to be 'wheels-up' Sunday to a place called El Fasher in Northern Darfur, a region as large as Texas or France. From there it's a helicopter ride to a camp that was the recent scene of bloody clashes. Fingers crossed until we actually set foot in one of the world's most wretched locations.