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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 August 2005, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Sudan trek diary X: Arrivals
Bill Lorenz

Bill Lorenz of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has been keeping a diary for the BBC News website as he helps thousands of Sudanese trek home to Raga in the south-west, following a deal to end a 21-year war.

The group reaches the end of its journey but the mood is reflective, as Bill considers the future of the group and the prospects of the Sudanese people.

Saturday 6 August

We are bogged down in so much mud that we finally abandon the land cruiser. The rains we have tried so hard to outpace have beaten us at the last post. The land cruiser is left by a river with no bridge. We cross it on foot, carrying what we can. The water is waist high.

This river was at a junction in the road. We take a path to the right that leads to Deim Zubeir. If we had gone straight, I find out later, the road would have taken us to Bile.

We are just over 19km from Deim Zubeir. Commissioner Resiki is still behind us with the tail end of the community. The heavy rains have put an end to the trucks transporting people. The trucks are either broken down - or stuck in the mud.

I make arrangements for bicycles to come from Deim Zubeir and take Belal, the sick truck driver, and Aden back to town. Belal can't make it on foot in his condition.

Sunday 7 August

There are amazing thunder storms during the night. Twice we thought our tents would blow away or collapse under the weight of rainwater.

Our handyman Hassan and I set off early. Andrew and Abbas, my two colleagues, stay behind with all of our things. Aden has hired ten bicycles with riders from Deim Zubeir at $10 each to come and collect our things. Andrew and Abbas wait for them to arrive.

These remaining 19km give me time to take in the events of the past 90 days. The group had planned to walk 400km in 30 days. But they had been unprepared. Their journey has taken three and a half months and longer than 400km. There was a lot of hardship and suffering on the way but I know we have helped.

Things could have been much worse otherwise. And the thought comforts me.

These last kilometres are horrible. We cross four more rivers and lots of small swamps in between. By the time we finally arrive at Deim Zubeir, I am just so thankful it is over.

Officials from the Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SRRC) and the garrison commander want to host us. In the end, I stay with the garrison commander and the others with the SRRC. This way, we offend no-one.

Monday 8 August

The best night's sleep I've had in months. A comfortable bed and no crying babies.

I check the airstrip at Deim Zubeir first thing in the morning. This is where our plane is landing tomorrow. It's not as long as we thought but the plane charter company tell me they will still be able to land.

With that sorted, we can finally go to Bile. It's a 45 minute ride by bike. People have camped on the southern side of the road, close to a river, while plots are being demarcated on the northern side.

Some 6,000 people have travelled more than 400 km
People on the trek home to Raga, south-west Sudan
People are milling around. A lot of them have nice clothes on. Starched even. They are talking to each other and greeting enthusiastically any new arrivals. Theirs is not a hugging culture. But still, one hears the joy in the voices. It's impressive that they have made it.

Officials from UNOCHA, WFP, the ICRC and IRC are registering people in the camp. There will be another food distribution on Thursday by WFP. When we arrive, there are about 400 people queuing at a registration point under a clump of trees.

Most of the group is now here at Bile. Only 500 to 600 people are still to arrive. Among them the Commissioner, who I am told is coming on foot and should arrive tonight.

People keep coming up to Aden, Andrew, Abbas and I and say thank you. It's nice. I see a boy doing some kind of break dancing and other children playing. A man called Gabriel from Raga tells me people are happy and happy to be resting. Kamilo Khamis, who is 75 years old, tells me he will see his eldest son for the first time in four years tomorrow. The Red Cross had been their communication until now.

Aden tells me Shefron, the boy with a ruptured appendix, had been well enough to walk the last 20kms. He will still need an operation but it can now wait. Akello, the other medical emergency, is being brought to Bile by bicycle. Aden is so relieved at the way things have worked out.

Although 43 people have died on the journey, including 24 in an accident at the very beginning of the trek before we got there, there have been 33 births. When you think about it, it is amazing. Tomorrow, we are handing over to another IOM team to tie up all the logistical loose ends of this operation and leave for Nairobi. We have done our best but now it is time to say goodbye and move on.

Below, Bill answers some questions sent in by BBC News website readers.

Kipruto in Nairobi, Kenya, wants to know how Bill deals with the level of suffering he has seen on his trek? She adds: are there any NGOs in Deim Zubeir?

You feel bad when someone dies, it is emotionally disturbing and you do reflect upon it. But you have to think always about all the people who are living. They still need your help. So you push on and ensure you do everything you can to make sure there is less suffering. We also know that we could stay here longer and there would still be a need. But at the end of the day, you do your best and that is all you can do. And then you have to walk away. We are sure that we have done our best.

As far as NGOs are concerned, there are no local NGOs here. There is, however, an international one, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) as well as organisations such as UNOCHA, WFP and the ICRC.

Benjamin Daniel, a Sudanese American living in Salt Lake City asks, do you think the situation in the south, and Sudan in general, will ever get back to normal?

I am fairly hopeful, optimistic even, that things will get back to normal.

The dinner with the garrison commander on Sunday night included also people from the government of South Sudan. The two offices are very excited about the peace process. They want to get on with development. The soldiers in Deim Zubeir are happy because they won't be attacked, in fact, they haven't had to fire their guns for a long time.

People here are optimistic about the peace process. It might not be the same elsewhere. But hopefully people will have realized that they don't want to go backwards to what the situation was like before, despite the shock and violence that followed John Garang's death.

Some of them are. Howiya and Hassan, often mentioned in this diary, were a trader and a butcher respectively before and want to return to their old professions.

As far as schooling goes, the local government and NGOs will organise that in communities where the people finally return to. There are also plans for a school during the people's stay at the camp in Bile. Education is seen as a priority.

As far as counselling goes, I don't think so. This week the focus has been to get to Bile and then deal with the death of John Garang.

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