The Human Operator
Road outside Rewiel, South Sudan.
A convoy of Land Cruisers and trucks move across the desert in the far distance.
Closing in on a UN WFP Land Cruiser bouncing down a long dirt road. Long dust plume surging behind.
Zero in on Hale on the right side of the back seat. Her face bounces with every rut and pothole. Silent conversations cross her face like she’s talking herself into something.
“Are you sure we’re gonna be safe from the warlords?” she asks the driver.
The ruddy South African driver Byron beams behind his Oakleys, jerking the wheel back and forth to dodge ruts in the dirt. “You got nothing to worry about. We’re secure cuz we secure the entire zone.”
Hale getting jostled hard, grabs the strap for dear life. She looks like she’s gonna puke. “What if they block the road?”
Byron grins ear to ear, having his wild man adventure. “Security isn't a guy with a gun, it's blanketing an area, controlling all communication, satellite transmission for the entire area. If they block the road, we block them.”
Hale wears UN WFP body armor as do the two beefy Sudanese security guys sitting beside and in front of her, Kalashnikovs down by their feet.
The guy next to Hale, Reynaldo, turns languidly and explains in his musical Sudanese accent “The warlords are demanding we distribute the aid through them. We don’t like that idea.”
Thomas up front adds “So it’s like, we have to establish a perimeter just to deliver food.”
Hale’s head leans against the window. She turns slowly to look at the guys. “Who does your comms?”
“We get a little help from friends,” says Reynaldo.
“Who are your friends?” says Hale.
“Who are your friends?” says the driver, looking at her in his rearview.
Hale slouches back in her seat and stares back out the window at the vast emptiness speeding by. “I have no friends.”
Thomas snorts and puts his foot on the dash. “There’s a lotta people like that who come here.”
An awkward moment as the guys all think and stare at the orange desert drift by in silence. Byron breaks the reverie. “So whatcha doing here?”
Hale doesn’t lift her forehead from the window glass. “Um ... that’s classified.”
The dust kicks off the convoy up over the vast desert. As the line of trucks below veer toward another direction and turn into tiny dots.
The truck convoy pulls up in the square in Rewiel. It’s a large town full of low slung concrete buildings mixed with desert tents and huts.
As they slow, hungry people approach them. Some bang on their windows and doors. They know the UN WFP logos on their trucks mean food. Hale looks around at all these faces.
Byron begins readying their exit from the vehicles. “The warlords barely provide for them. They're ready for their drop.”
Hale looking right in the eyes of her hosts. Feeling sick she can’t help. “Are they starving from drought or rebels?”
The UN WFP convoy parks along the side of the square. The townspeople’s pounding intensifies. Everyone readies to exit the vehicle.
“At your feet, that's your go bag,” says Thomas.
Hale examines the go bag.
“If we should need to exfiltrate. Keep it on you.”
Hale’s face reacting, not sure at all about what she’s about to do. “What happens if I get separated from the group?”
“Do not get separated from the group,” says Reynaldo.
“Do you want to be left alone in Rewiel?” says Thomas.
“We are not gonna let you get separated from the group,” says Reynaldo.
“Ready?” says Byron.
As one they push their way out the doors of the Land Cruiser into the crowd. Hale has her go bag over one shoulder, backpack on the other.
Hale takes in the vista. Purple mountains in the distance. Brown huts and tents. UN care packaging everywhere being used as improvised clothing, rope, roof tiles on buildings.
The UNWFP guys busy themselves unloading the trucks as the villagers inspect their haul.
A Kazakh man watches Hale from across the town square. Hale sees him.
Thomas and Reynaldo use pallets to set up a perimeter to guard the freight from being stolen.
Hale glances back. Reynaldo stacks cans in a makeshift barricade. Thomas talks to a knot of villagers. Hale darts toward the Kazakh man.
Movement through this crowd is chaotic as Hale gets pushed and jostled making her way through the crowd.
Reynaldo glances up only to see his guest darting away. Oh shit. What is this now.
The crowd heats up. Confusing. Hale getting pushed and shoved by bodies. She’s losing sight of the Kazakh up ahead. Clutching the straps of her bags, she sprints to catch up as the Kazakh disappears around a corner.
Reynaldo whistles at Thomas. He looks up to see Hale scurrying away. Thomas and Reynaldo abandon the food perimeter and follow her.
The Kazakh pacing rapidly through a corridor of huts. Hale in pursuit.
The UN World Food Program guys try to keep after them. Bouncing through this jostled crowd.
Excited faces pop up right in Hale’s face. Pushing through. Trying to catch up to the Kazakh man. He looks back to see her behind him.
Feels like things are about to pop off. Is this a riot? Or a murder about to happen? Feeling more and more intense. Loud. Ducking around faces making their way toward the square. Is violence about to break out? Rushing now. Pushing through this desparate crowd.
Hale has almost caught up to the Kazakh when he disappears into a large tent.
Chaos. Bam. Hale pops inside the flaps of the large tent.