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Story Publication logo May 28, 2007

Will Gabriel be on the Plane?


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Gabriel Deng, Koor Garang and Garang Mayuol, Southern Sudanese "Lost Boys" in the U.S., were forced...

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Multiple Authors

David Morse, for the Pulitzer Center

The seven us are pecking away, each in his own tiny stall in a sweltering second-floor Internet cafe. We've just consummated a successful foray into the Kenyan bureaucracy, thanks to Jen's careful advance footwork and - who knows? the fact that the woman greeting us at Immigration happened to have spent a summer at the University of Connecticut. "That's just a couple of miles up the road from me," I tell her. She writes a letter approving our planned six-day stay at Kakuma refugee camp, which will take place on the return leg of our trip to South Sudan. She not only has the letter typed up, but sends a secretary down to tell us it will be ready in a couple of minutes.

So we've got the permission for us to be at the sprawling Kakuma complex, where our guys hope to teach classes, see old friends they haven't seen for six years, and where Jen and I plan to interview refugees. Such approvals can drag on for weeks, and I saw enough of the bureaucratic hurdles at Kakuma when I was here before to liken them in my mind to the shiny coils of concertina wire that surround the place. The letter brings sweet relief, especially following as it does yesterday's struggle with the SPLM office, which took some sort of prize for dysfunction and killed a whole day, despite efforts that began two months ago to expedite our application for traveling permits in South Sudan. So we're using this time to catch up on our e-mail and blog.

Suddenly Gabriel rushes up the narrow stairs, an expression of horror on his face. He's mislaid his fanny-pack, containing all his money, his passport and other documents. Or it's been stolen. In Nairobi, it doesn't make much difference. Whoever found it probably thought he'd died and gone to heaven.

There were lessons to be learned, to be sure. Never carry all your money in one place. Forget fanny-packs and backpacks. Keep everything deep on your person. But in any case it was a disastrous loss. We all felt terrible for Gabriel.

So we've spent the past two days trying to recover. We planned to be waiting when the American Embassy opened at 8:00 Monday morning. That's today. Only trouble it it's Memorial Day and the embassy is closed. And with our charter flight leaving at 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, it's looking very much as if Gabriel will not be on it. We tried and failed earlier today to get a "special dispensation" from the Kenyan dept. of Immigration that would allow Gabriel to leave Kenya and re-enter, but the Assistant Director turned us down adamantly and coldly. It would be a violation of the law, he said, for the Kenyan government to provide what amounted to a travel document for a citizen of the U.S.

So as of this posting it appears Gabriel will not be on the plane. He and Melinda Simons will stay behind and try to catch space on another later charter.

One of the beautiful people who has helped through all our travails has been Sally Ndegwa, the unflappable maestro of Delta Connection. Sally has listened sympathetically more than once to our tales of woe and found some solution. It is she who is trying to work out the Rubik Cube puzzle of piecing together a way for Gabriel and Melinda to join us in Akon in a few days. We're counting on you, Sally!


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