I am sitting in my hotel room in Timbuktu with Fr Columba and Walid. Walid is sitting on the floor next to me holding his head in his hands. We have all just said the Lord’s Prayer and a Hail Mary. There are burst of machine gun fire close by to our north, most probably at Hendrina Khan, a hotel which has been taken over by UN forces. Now and then a lone shot (a sniper ?) is heard very close by, it seems almost in the garden of the hotel, where we left hurriedly only some minutes ago when a sudden, prolonged series of machine gun fire broke out. Now the air is filled with the sound of helicopters and the close firing is dying down it seems … There are voices in the hotel corridor ; we keep quiet- are they friendly voices ? who are they ? The hotel staff ? Walid is suffering from childhood memories from his country the Lebanon and is taking this harder than Columba and I- he knows where it may be leading.
This may be the death knell of the new Project, even on the day it was supposed to start.
I just called the Governor, my new friend that I met at the Flandres Hotel last month and who conveniently gave me his card. No reply. But two minutes later he called back. He was in Bamako. He was aware of a disturbance in Timbuktu he said. « Just stay put where you are » was his advice. And of course there is not much else we can do… Oh dear, there was a bang just on the other side of the wall ! We do not speak any more, we do not know if we can be heard. I feel I should not even keep typing because of the slight sound I am making…More helicopters over head…
A litte later…Eva contacted me this morning. She has spoken to the commander of the Swedish UN forces here. He called me a little later just so we are in contact. We spoke about our security in general and I said I would get back to him when we had figured out whether we were going to take on a couple of guards during our time here. That seems like such a long time ago now but it was only two hours ago… I tried to call him but there was no answer. (I expect he is busy right now!) But I sent him this text : «There is shooting all around us . We are hidden in my room at the hotel, Sophie ». No reply yet.
Just sent an SMS to Eva. And this is what she sent back : « Hello Sophie.I have just got a message from Timbuktu. You are quite right. It is UN head quarter West which is under attack. The Swedish contingency is on its way from Camp Nobel to relieve them. You should absolutely stay in your room and lock the door and keep quiet. Keep calm. Hugs. We’ll keep in touch. Eva. »
It seems quieter. But sporadic fire.
New message from Eva : « The Swedes have arrived and are securing the head quarters. I have told them you are at the hotel. Stay put until someone gets in touch. Eva. »
Phone call from the Swedish commander : « We have been having quite a rough time. We are now searching the place and securing it. Stay put until you hear from us ».
Phone call from Edgar, another Swedish commander. He wants a detailed description of each of us. I think they are coming to pick us up as soon as they can.. more soon inshallah...