When travelling, we put so much focus on the destination and all we will do when we get there. The journey to get there is seen as the price we pay to enjoy what awaits at the end of the road.
It was not always like this. From the stagecoach to the train, to the bus and the car, from the hot air balloon to the airplane… with each improvement in getting us to where we wished to go, the journey was always meant to be part of the fun.
Even in Africa, a journey can be fairly predictable and uneventful, a race against the sunset, when I’m travelling in Twila, our Speed The Light vehicle. But last week, as our family returned home to Abéché from N’Djaména, we had a serious flat tire that destroyed one of our two spare tires. We cannot easily replace it just yet, so, when a journey to help a refugee friend became necessary, I was forced to depend on the public transportation system of Chad to get me there. And because the connections are never assured at each step, the journey is often as interesting as the destination.
The first key to facing an unpredictable situation is to get up as early as you can. So this morning, I woke up at 5:15 am, and left the house for the N’Djaména bus station. The rickshaws and clando taxi travel more frequently from there than from our street.
At 6:00 am, I bought a few packages of tissues and caught a moto taxi to the bus station. The wind was cold against my face all the way, and I was glad I had brought my winter coat.
At 7:00 am, I had eaten some beignets with tea at a small restaurant and was in the front seat of a pickup truck. I like my beignets with salt rather than sugar, and was able to find the salt at a meat restaurant preparing to open.
When there were only two of us passengers, it seemed like a good idea to ride in the front. But, three passengers later, the ride quickly became a game of twister as I tried to keep my left leg out of the way of the shift while making the best of the three inches I had on the right to sit next to the passenger beside me. There was no middle seat, so I put my briefcase in the gap to hold up my left side.
The sun was rising as we left town, and time passed quickly with the conversation and landmarks that passed us by.
By 8:00 am, I was already in the town where we turn off to go to the refugee camp. I asked a few motorcycles for a ride to the camp, but they wanted me to pay as much as I just paid to get to this town. So I hesitated.
A helpful soul showed me where to wait, but, after a while, I decided to try to walk toward the camp, just in case there was no one to bring me there.
At 8:30 am, a convoy of NGO vehicles going to the camp was passing me by, and they almost did not stop except that one of the passengers recognized me. I found a spot in one of the Landcruisers, and, along the bumpy road, these people quickly became good friends.
I caught up with my refugee friend, and he showed me around the camp during the rest of the day.
Through him, I met a lot of patient, kind people who, after ten long years, still find themselves trapped between a host nation who is struggling, but doing what it can to help, and a birth nation who is still too unsafe to welcome them home.
The camp is full of children, for, as one of my refugee friends put it, there isn’t much for families to do, especially after dark. These children are the hope of a brighter future for Darfur, and each of them is welcome in this world, and a source of healing to their parents.
I was especially impressed by the World Food Program’s food distribution that was taking place today, and the RET Secondary school, full of students with dreams of a bright future pushing them to study hard.
When travelling, we put so much focus on the destination and all we will do when we get there. The journey to get there is seen as the price we pay to enjoy what awaits at the end of the road.
I am just back from a trip to Iriba, and to Dana, where the camel is. I have a friend who is trying to settle in Iriba, and this was a chance for him to be up there and to see what sort of houses are available for his family.
On the way up to Iriba, I wanted to mark the turnoff that avoids the dangerous crossing of the Wadi Fira, a right turn that avoids your vehicle having to climb vertically up the wadi cliff. We brought a can of red spray paint with us this time around, so I was able to spray an arrow on a flat rock at the turnoff. Then, when I accidentally took the right turn just before Ba Si that takes us toward Kalaït, I painted a small Sodom’s Apple Tree red. It looked like a pitchfork, but that pitchfork will keeps us, and many others, from heading helplessly north, possibly to our peril.
In order to be home in Abéché on Thursday, we loaded up the car on Wednesday, and got a late start, sleeping in Dana that night under the starry but moonless sky. Because of the Kalaït turnoff mistake, we were obliged to follow the GPS into the village in the dark. I felt like I was navigating my way in a submarine, being only able to see maybe ten feet in front of me. At a certain point, Y, who had come to the village ahead of us, found us because of our headlights, and helped us finish the trail, which was good since the biggest wadi, the one with lots of trees and drop-offs on the edges, is close to his village.
The next morning, our challenging journey was rewarded by being able to see the camel saddle that had been prepared for us. It is beautiful! I am told it has the features of a saddle for a married man, but is fancier. It makes the coming journeys feel that much closer…
On our way back from Iriba, we brought back some things that were being stored up there, several of which are making our lives a little bit easier back here in Abéché. We have a second Katadyn water filter once again, which keeps us from having to work late into the night so that we have enough filtered water. We are also thankful for three other cabinets, which means that the floors in the kitchen, living room and girls’ bedroom are much less cluttered.
I tried to establish contact with the new Sultan while in Iriba, but he was not there. I was told that he was in Biltine, so, on our way back, I stopped by the compound marked as the “Sultan’s palace of the Biltine Zs.” I approached the front porch, and saw that someone was sitting on a chair. It was Sultan Bokhit Abderahman Haggar, our old friend. It was great to catch up with him again over a cup of tea.
9/19/2013(Th): Early this morning, I was taken to see the camel we were buying. He is an albino camel of twelve years old, and let me mention two faults I thought I saw that will make those of you who know camels laugh out loud at my ignorance, as did all those present who were there to see which camel I would choose. Number one: it looked like he had a wound in the back of his head, but apparently all camels apparently have a gland there that sweats oil. Number two: it looked like its back legs crossed a bit too much at the knees, but, as I compared his gaunt with other camels, it seems that this is also perfectly normal.
Now I don’t know very much about camels, and I freely admitted that to everyone concerned… but through this process, I am learning, thanks to my teachers. I watched my camel walk around, then asked to see a younger one do the same, one that outwardly looked like it was in better shape. When they were both kneeling on the ground, they both seemed to be the same height, but the legs of the younger one were longer and thinner, which struck me as less capable of carrying a load than the original one offered to us.
After settling on which camel I was going to buy, I paid the amount still outstanding, which was only 15,000 CFA ($30). I then received an intensive course in camel saddles, of all the pieces involved and why each one is important.
As is typical in this kind of transaction, I did not have enough money with me, having only half of what was needed for all of the accessories. So when I come back to the village, we will complete our payment for all of the accessories to begin making trips to distant villages.
The rest of the day was spent driving my friend’s father around to the main town and to different villages, as he is an important official in this part of Chad.
These visits were to mostly people in neighboring villages who were sick or in mourning. Then, there was a quick stop at his office to check on what was happening there. From these visits, I learned that my friend’s father truly cares for those around him, and wants to tarry and take time with people rather than rush off to his next meeting.
Wherever I was walking today, burrs and thorns were sticking into my toes and feet; from time to time, I had to stop to pull one out before continuing. However, I was rewarded very handsomely for serving as his chauffeur, by being able to take all sorts of pictures of homes and some truly beautiful places… especially from the village on the mountain, where another friend’s grandmother was suffering with stomach issues. The number of visitors who had come from many different villages to wish her well was hopefully very encouraging to her.
I was awakened at 10:30 PM for a late supper of roasted sheep meat by moonlight. It was fairly soft and delicious… but I am SO thankful I brought dental floss!
Like my mother taught me, what you don’t finish up for supper, you’ll see again at breakfast. After another pleasant encore of re-roasted goat meat, I spent the rest of the day waiting for Yusuf’s father to arrive. It was a chance for me to help charge other people’s cellphones, to prepare SD cards using a solar-powered duplicator, to read and to rest. Scattered throughout was a battle to have my rug where the wind was not blowing too much, and where it was coolest, while not being too windy or where the flies were the worst. I fared best outside, but had been forced inside at noontime when the hot wind was less bearable. I was then forced out again by a mighty army of flies landing all over me, but aiming especially for my nose, mouth and eyes.
Time spent waiting is not time wasted. We spend so little time in the US doing basically nothing in a pleasant environment that we have to take time off each year and call it a vacation. It’s really too bad, since waiting can be somewhat refreshing if you have an active mind. It has a way of clearing our heads and preparing us for what is coming. I am also learning that it buys us cred to ask things to hurry up a bit. When you can preface your plea with “I’ve been sitting here doing nothing for three days!”, almost anything you want is possible!
Around 4:00 PM, the waiting became too much for my host, and he decided to go with his friends to the hole in the wadi where they get water. To get some exercise, I decided to go with them. All the way there and back I collected samples of thorny seeds that stick to your pants and shoes. On the way, there was a place in the field where the camels had eaten up everything a few weeks back. We arrived at the well just in time to help a girl whose heavy load of water had fallen off her donkey as she tried to climb the steep edge of the wadi.
I walked back, satisfied from my little bit of exercise for the day, then fell asleep. When I woke up, there was my friend’s dad, sitting in front of me! It was time to eat, and the boule (millet paste) was delicious. As I was washing my hands, out from the rock near my hand came a large scorpion! He was more scared of me than I was of him, and for good reason: someone eventually found a flashlight and a long stick, and soon he was no longer a danger.
We got a late start to my friend’s little village, leaving town at around 8:00 AM. It seems as if the rains have ended, leaving behind places here and there where the road is washed away, especially as we got closer and closer to our destination. However, each of these bumps and narrow places testify to a rainy season that will surely meet the need of each farmer and herdsman who was not so discouraged by the way it began to give up.
We did not see a variety of wild animals along the way as we often do, as if these families of foxes, felines and other furry friends were satisfied, sleeping in thanks to what this season had produced. What we did see was a wide variety of birds, especially hawks, falcons and other birds of prey. The large number of turtledoves and birds of vivid blue, yellow, black and white helped explain what might have brought out the hawks.
As we made our way across the 6.3 km from the main road to the village, we came across a pair of magnificent secretary birds. I had just been reading about these birds in science class with my youngest daughter, how they can eat poisonous snakes because their long legs are immune to snake bites. I was glad they are “on the case” against poisonous snakes, but nervous at the same time of what their presence in the neighborhood meant.
As soon as we were on the modest hill upon which this village is built, the Airtel signal from the big village nearby kicked in. I had prepared for this trip by buying an Airtel SIM card for my old cellphone. I’m glad to have this way to have this way to stay in touch with my family.
The moon is full tonight; we can walk almost anywhere in the village without a flashlight, including the “bathroom” behind the hill. The stars and moon and cloud wisps are pleasant and peaceful; it difficult to close my eyes to go to bed.
We had a great trip back to Abéché. From time to time along those 900 kilometers, we kept running into rain. Even here at our destination, it is raining as well. We are thankful to God for this, mostly because of the blessing it is to our many friends with fields this year that need to grow, but also because of the cooler temperatures this brings. We are often able to leave our windows open in the house until 11 AM or noontime!
The next morning after we got home from N’Djaména, I was on the roof of our house. It was Eid Al-Fitr, the celebration feast after the fast of Ramadan ends. It was a thick cloudy morning, permitting me to dare work on the solar panels without the fear of being electrocuted. Our solar panels had been giving us very little power, and I wanted to investigate why as quickly as I could.
As I checked everything, I discovered that one of the solar panels’ internal wiring was loose. Because we had two pairs of solar panels wired in series, this little error was probably the reason why two of our solar panels had been useless to us. After re-wiring everything in parallel, we now have refrigeration that freezes the bottles! And surprisingly, the rainy weather is not affecting the solar electricity much.
And now we have town electricity, and town water! It will always stand out to me that the day we arrived back, when all the water barrels were empty and every water guy was on vacation because the Ramadan fast was over, the water spigots began to run in our neighborhood. God provided once again for us in a desperate situation! And so now, the water comes on overnight, and we make sure that all the barrels are filled as quickly as possible.
It is taking time to adjust to having these blessings. We forget to turn on a light in a room, or a fan for naptime, even though these utilities are at our fingertips more often than not these days. I chuckle when I end up spending a few hours in a dark room when I didn’t have to – but mostly, I feel very grateful, every time I can turn on a fan or a light that normally would have to stay turned off. How easy it is for us to become so used to deprivation that we forget the new blessings God has provided for us.
We have begun using one of the outer rooms available to us for storage. It took a few days to make this adjustment, but now the library and office area does not feel so crowded. And I like that the amount of storage space we have allows us to keep each category together, like electronics, Christmas or tools.
Cleaning out the storage means we came across some of the clothes for when the girls get older, which was a good thing for Susan and Deborah, but especially for Deborah. She is outgrowing her clothes, and needed some new ones. She is really happy about the new-to-her pretty dresses that fit her so well.
One of the outfits has some jean Capri pants which fit her lengthwise, but not around the waist. You cannot buy belts for young children here. We tried putting a clothespin or a safety pin on to a fold at the waist, but it did not work. So, from all the work with house wiring, I took a spare piece of blue wire and had her thread it through the belt holes. Then I got out my wire cutters, cut it to the right length, and twisted it till it was snug. She is very happy with this; she yelled, “Now I can run (with these pants on)!”
We have been in N’Djaména since last week. Our friends were not quite settled in their new home when we left. It would have been better for their sakes that we leave a week later. However, our reservations for a room in a guesthouse had been made a long time ago, so we went and left the house in their hands, and with the refrigerator still not at its best.
The primary reason we came was to renew my visa, but I was also able to make some progress in our media work. We found a long stapler for booklets in the market, and a paper cutter at an office store that was no longer using it… So now we have all we need to publish Z booklets at home!
It has also been a fun time in many ways for the girls. They have caught up with some of their friends, normally scattered in many regions of Chad and Africa but in town for summer vacation. We are using the better internet connection here to begin looking at flight schedules. Two of our girls had their birthdays while we were here; both asked to go to Amandine for their birthday meal. We had ice cream there!
It has also been a great time to stock up on supplies we cannot find in Abéché, such as ramen noodle packs, sponges, popcorn, windshield wipers, Foster Clark drink mixes… And a new feature to the repertoire: Oreo Cookies! We keep a small stock of Kit Kat bars in Abéché as prizes when the girls work hard; I go to one store in town just to get the big boxes at a good price. Things have totally changed in Chad since I first came here twenty-one years ago.
The girls are sick with a stomach bug, so we are staying a few more days, hoping they will recover enough for the trip home. This gives us a little more time to enjoy the large trees, flowers and herbs in this beautiful guest house.
The Ice Riots
Getting ice for our cooler has been one of the things we do throughout the week. It allows us to supplement our supply of cold water and drinks. We usually go to the nearby “Boulangerie” (bread store) to get it, and pay 1,000 CFA per bar.
But since Ramadan, the passion for ice has grown massively. Every Muslim in this desert climate goes without water throughout the day, and a chance to have a drink of ice cold water or orange drink is a special treat for them.
Ice sells really well. The Chadian government has mandated that the ice companies sell their ice for the 1,000 CFA (CAN$2.00), but the going price on the street has risen to 3,500 CFA (CAN$7.00) per bar since Ramadan began. So each bar is providing a 250% profit!
All it takes to enter the ice market is six dollars (3,000 CFA), a long bag, a motorcycle and a heavy metal bar to break up the ice. I have seen many spontaneous ice merchants being mobbed by a small crowd of over twenty people. The four bars tied to the back of their motorcycle do not last long as piece after piece is put into each customer’s cooler.
Fast money, high returns. No wonder the ice companies are being mobbed each time their doors are opened! The police forces are unable to protect the companies from the wave of people who push their way inside, demanding ice. And woe to ice company whose machines break down under the Ramadan moon!
Normally, the Mayor’s Police go around seizing merchandise being sold above the government mandated prices. But in this climate, they wouldn’t dare confiscate a merchant’s ice for selling it too high because of the riot they would cause.
When I woke up this morning, the ice in our cooler was all gone. I began to think like an ice company, and decided to check if the ice was being handed out. My reasoning was that at sunrise, most people would be at home, resting after having to prepare food and finish eating it an hour before sunrise.
I was right about the ice being distributed, but wrong about the crowd. It was huge! Hundreds of people were shoving their way to the front of the ice tubs, all shouting out the names of the poor men whose work it was to distribute the ice. Men and women alike held money in their hands, and with a pleading look begged them to give them a bar or two.
But I came to discover that very few of these people were buying ice for their families; most were sent by the bigger ice merchants to get as much of a share of the ice as they possibly could. I know this because I help a small woman carry her bag of two bars, which she could never have carried herself. Instead of walking home, she dropped them off beside several other women, all waiting for someone to pick the ice bars up.
It bothers me that this dangerous insanity could easily be resolved by allowing the ice companies to set their own prices. If the price at the “Boulangerie” rose to 2,500 CFA a bar, the mob would quickly disappear… And perhaps the price could slowly fall again.
If there is ever an “ice riot” near you for hard-to-find food or supplies, I would suggest either paying the high price on the street, or going without it for as long as you can.
Yesterday and today, we have been going house hunting for our visitors. It is definitely a renter’s market now: everyone has a relative who has a vacant home for rent, and so, it has been very easy to see some nice places.
It is rainy season in Chad, but it looks like the houses we have seen don’t have any leaks. We are still seeing a few of the houses built during the Minurcat boom of the late Twenty-Teens, with each bedroom having a bathroom of it’s own. A few of the homes had weird floorplans with bedrooms you get to by walking through other bedrooms. But there are also some lovely places, like the place rented by an airline for NGOs which comes furnished with a fridge, stove, beds and other furniture! A few of the places already have a guard, and their families seem to be shy, kind and friendly.
We had a problem with our solar electric system yesterday: we were trying to charge everything, but there just wasn’t enough power coming from the solar panels, so the fridge got warmer and warmer, and nothing got charged, including my computer. This wasn’t a bad thing: it was the first day of Ramadan here in Chad, and having no computer to work on meant that I had nothing to do, except take time to pray.
When I woke up this morning, I had an idea: I unplugged the house from the inverter and plugged an extension cord into it instead. Now, any charging of computers, phones, etc. is being done in the kitchen on an “Action Packer” (flat-surfaced, plastic storage trunk). This allowed us to know exactly what was being charged by the system, and when to move on to the next device. And it worked! As we were charging Sharon’s computer, the last computer needing charging, the refrigerator was running at the same time! For now, we don’t have a printer, lights or fans, but at least the two essentials (a cool refrigerator (50F) and charged computers) are being taken care of.
It was a good thing we got the fridge working tonight. I normally go out and buy ice for the cooler at 4:00 PM; this assists the refrigerator in giving us cold water. At this time with the 1/3 reduction in solar power, it was the only thing making ice cold water possible.
But today, there was NO WAY to buy ice. Ramadan’s second day caused a rush of people driving around town with their orange water coolers, looking for ice so that their wife (wives?) and kids could have a taste of cool water when the fast is over. “Boulangerie la Rotative” does not have ice because the motor on the huge ice machine is broken, and this is affecting supply severely at a very bad time. After Asr prayer, fathers in Rickshaws, motorcycles, military pickups and vehicles first rushed to La Rotative, then to downtown to try to find ice. A motorcycle driver with ice would drive to a place on the road, stop and be mobbed by women and men pleading for their piece of ice for their coolers at whatever cost.
On Saturday, I wanted to stay home, rest and read the Bible… but God had other plans for me.
I needed to deliver some bookshelves to a family who has just arrived, so it was a good chance to drop off our guests to the market to do some shopping along the way.
We drove in, and the police with the purple berets jumped out of the back of their vehicle. They asked to see my papers, I got them out, and, after a passing glance, they demanded that I bring the vehicle for inspection to the old Governor’s Residence. The mother of the family was still in the vehicle with her young children as her husband was made to get out of the vehicle to make room for a policeman and his machine gun. The kids were distraught about their father being left behind… and I was not impressed.
I went into the Governor’s old residence, and realized that this was going to take some time… so I sent our guest home with her children on a rickshaw, and prepared for a long stay.
When I got to the Governor’s old residence, it looked like a used car lot, cars parked everywhere. The governor’s palace was empty and bare. All the officials I meet each year to get my vehicle papers in order were sitting. I had to pay 10,000 CFA (US$20) for a blue piece of paper for the different agencies to stamp and sign, saying that all my papers were in order.
It took two hours for the officials to discover that my papers were all in order, and to sign off on this. I knew things would take time when the first table where they were to check my papers was vacant for a quarter of an hour. But God was merciful, and provided an angel to help wisk me through the other desks.
The only tax I had to pay was a tax for the police for 15,000 CFA (US$30), which was added to the repertoire sometime this year, possibly at this regal event. I am glad to pay it; there is no property tax system in Chad, and it is far better to pay the police department a flat rate each year than to have them be forced to stop us on every corner to try to get what they need to make their budget. I did not have the money for this tax on me, so was obliged to run home to get it, then come back. I paid the police fee, then they checked my car to see if I had my fire extinguisher, triangles, license plates, lights and windshield wipers. Everything was in order; there was no fault found. Then came the longest wait of all, when all our papers were wisked over to the governor’s office on the other side of town for a signature and a red stamp. I then had to pay an exit fee of 1,000 CFA (US$2.00) to leave the compound.
Despite having all my papers in order within the limits set forth by the Chadian government, I still had to pay 26,000 CFA and spend two hours to have them to figure that out. But it was a good opportunity to catching up with friends, both Z and non-Z. It was great for my language learning! I had friends among those who went through the experience with me, and among those who brought it upon me. I am also thankful that my vehicle was not held overnight, or for a few days, as was the case for so many others…