So I made it on to Gillian Gibbons flight home. As usual it was touch and go. And as usual my trusty fixer Al Siir came to the rescue.
The small band of reporters in Khartoum had been pretty confident that she wouldn’t be flying out until Tuesday morning on the British Midland flight that went via Beirut. It was a British airline – usually favoured by the Foreign Office on missions like this – and she would not have to get off the plane. Other options involved a transfer. And we had an ace up our collective sleeves. Her name was on the manifest.
As Monday afternoon wore on, one by one we made sure we were on the flight. As confidence grew – a whisper here or a sighting there – we began upgrading to business class.
And then at about 18.30 disaster. It turned out the British party had also reserved seats on the Emirates flight via Dubai. For 10 minutes I dithered. It was too late, I thought. With 30min before check-in closed there was no way I could turn my reservation (seats had been held on different flights for days) into a ticket, race across town and make it on the flight.
But I went anyway.
No, there was no way I could get a ticket, the check-in staff told me. Electronic tickets were no good and their booking office had shut minutes earlier. But then their manager had a brainwave. I needed a ticket stub, she told me, and I could get that from Sudanese Airways. It didn’t matter which airline it was, so long as it said Khartoum-London they could get me on the plane.
First I raced one way across the car park and then all the way back again trying to find the Sudanese Airways office. My shirt was wet through with sweat by the time I found it. A seat to Dubai was $750. I had $500 in my wallet. Another £65 was found. Still not enough. By this time I was desperate. The Emirates manager had agreed to keep check-in open for an extra 5 minutes but this was eating up time. Was there anyway I could get the money delivered later, I asked. By this time Al Siir was at my side. He’d left the car and come to help. Two minutes later I had a ticket in my hand and was racing back to check in. Al Siir had promised pick up the rest of the cash from my bag at Meskel Square’s house then drop it off at the airport.
By now there were three or four people I recognised from the embassy loitering outside. It was definitely the right flight. And with seconds to spare I was on it. Nevermind that all I had with me was a phone, laptop and passport and that my clothes were altready stinking.