27 Jan 2013

Mali: the long road to Gao

I could tell you where I woke up this morning, if I’d managed to get some sleep.

I must have dozed off a little bit, but we spent all day and all night gradually progressing towards the northern Malian town of Gao.

As dusk fell we passed the rock formation they call Fatima’s Hand, like a giant causeway in the desert. We were worried about how we would get our story to Channel 4 News as we went on air just after six.

We rigged up our satellite dish and producer Philomene Remy held it out of the window. Cameron Soren Munk lashed everything together, dialled in and to my amazement we were sending pictures and I was speaking to London as the car kept moving.

We entered a village and suddenly the village of Gossi were talking to London too, crowding round the vehicle and shouting “Vive La France” and “welcome, welcome”.

It was an amazing moment.

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We drove on through the desert as the light faded, thorn bushes growing darker and the sound of goats bleating drifting across the desert. The moon rose, a full moon haloed with clouds and I could just make out Orion’s belt in the sky.

We kept driving, stopping and starting again, at least 100 vehicles, stretching along the road. I don’t know how our driver, Abdoulaye managed it because he was not allowed to put on his lights so the vehicle in front was scarcely visible.

As the night wore on the three of us tried to catch a bit of sleep, but he had to stay alert. We’re now waiting to get into Gao, the military commanders have asked us to stay as a little mayor’s office on the outskirts of Gao because they say it is not yet safe.

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The mangled wreckage of a jihadi vehicle and the bodies of four tragically young men wearing jihadi clothing are a testament to the airstrikes that occurred in this area yesterday.

We are able to use this time to recharge the batteries on our computer and satellite dish in the hope of sending another story tonight – and I can see Abdoulaye stretched out, finally able to sleep on a blue tarpaulin near wear the soldier are cooking a cow the grateful villages gave them yesterday.

Follow Lindsey Hilsum on Twitter at: @lindseyhilsum



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