Sunday, October 30, 2005

I'll throw in one N'djamena sunset for you, on the Chari River.  Posted by Picasa

Energetic boys of Abeche - can you see the little car in the back? Those are the taxis! Posted by Picasa

Tell me that this doesn't look like a good time Posted by Picasa

Abeche: Sweet girls that I tried to befriend along the road. Posted by Picasa

Sans Peur

I am starting this entry because I am locked in, or am I locked out? It’s Sunday morning in Abéché, after a rather bizarre Saturday evening, and I’ve found that the door to the rest of the house is closed. While it’s not locked, nobody has bothered to put a handle on the door, so it can only be opened from one side, namely the side that I am not on. I reasoned that at least I have the kitchen on my side, but it dawned on me that I do have a door to the outside and next to that door is a pile of keys. I’ve gone through every key several times, but cannot open to the outside world. So now I’ve resigned myself to sit with my $2 coke and pass the time until my colleague comes through – I slipped a note under the door, declaring my precarious situation.

Hummm, Abéché. Desert, sand, donkeys, children pushing huge carts filled with watermelons, men in horse-drawn carts, women wrapped head-to-toe with eyes averted, the most spectacular stars, but then huge white SUVs transporting the “humanitarian community” to and fro (yours truly included). Abéché is the home of le President Deby – he was in town when I arrived attempting to negotiate with army defectors who’ve apparently crossed into Sudan. I’ve seen his home from a distance, but warned to never drive or walk there, and after the incident with the US Ambassador’s wife in N’djamena, I’ve no need to tempt the gods. Biggest downfall are the horrible allergies I seem to be debilitated by – apparently Claritin has not made it to the Chad market yet…

It’s been a couple of good days here and I am not sure if anything can beat a Saturday night out in Abéché. It started with a Cameroonian dinner with colleagues and then off to the French Army base. I am not joking. The French Army base is where to be on a Saturday night and what a strange scene it was! I took it for a little anthropological experiment, but I admit quite enjoyed myself. Do humanitarians and military mix? Well, no, but they were rumored to have the only Heinekens in town, and as I find myself saying all the time, “When in Tchad…” So I arrive a little suspicious with my colleague and am immediately amused by the strange scene. Within minutes, a cold beverage in hand, I am putting my stellar Franglais to use, and in no time, on the dance floor showing the French soldiers what’s up to 80s French music. I think you had to be there…

So here I am, still attempting to get my feet beneath me. Tomorrow I will finally be heading to the field, catching a tiny World Food Program flight to Iriba (not a fan of little planes!), and settling into my home base. As Ramadan ends this week, it probably will not be the most productive. My colleagues contend that it is somehow cold and winter-like there, but I just cannot fathom it from where I now sit. Oh, did I mention that it is hotter than hell here? That I take three showers a day (and will have NO shower in Iriba)? That I’ve moved my bed to the center of the room to be directly under the fan? That a cold water is not cold for long? That washed clothes dry in minutes or that the moisture is all too quickly sucked from my beloved baguettes, leaving me with a dry, stale rock to smear my laughing cow cheese?

I am happy for a chill Chadian Sunday and being freed from my room would help immensely. I even left me cell phone on the other side. Doh! My luggage has yet to make its way from N’djamena and I’ve now been told it will travel with our organization’s radios by road. I cannot even tell you how many descriptions of “banditry” I’ve read about central Chad, so I am not counting on my bag ever arriving, though I am in dire need of that peanut butter, box of wine, some clothes, and a razor!

Ah, I finally made it out! Domestic Sunday, washing clothes, and after fasting the day away, attempted to make eggs in a pot over the gas-cooker device. As one colleague described our situation in Chad: it’s like camping, only with a house.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

My old office in Lira, Uganda

I got a text message Tuesday night informing me of the following incident with my former colleagues in Northern Uganda. I was distraught, I called one of my colleagues in Lira to see what was going on.

Two aid workers for Christian Children’s Fund (CCF) were attacked near Lira in Northern Uganda, where they were working on CCF health programs among internally displaced persons (IDP). The attack on CCF staff resulted in two injuries. In subsequent attacks, aid workers from two other organizations were attacked, resulting in two deaths and two injuries. CCF has suspended all activities in Northern Uganda for one week, pending an investigation of the attacks on non-governmental organizations.
The two wounded CCF workers, both from Uganda, are Patrick Erach, 27, and Nelson Munu, 28. They were shot Tuesday morning, October 25, as their car was on the way to the Okwang IDP camp on the Okwongo Road in Northern Uganda. The car, which carried CCF-Uganda identification, was reportedly sprayed with bullets. The driver was not injured.
Erach was shot in the chest, and Munu was shot in the foot. Both were airlifted from the Lira hospital to Kampala where more advanced medical treatment is available. Following surgery, Erach remains in intensive care.
“This is a tragic event, which has become all too commonplace in conflict areas around the world,” noted CCF President John F. Schultz. “Humanitarian agencies depend on safety and security to carry out our work.
“Patrick and Nelson are representative of those professionals who selflessly give of themselves to help others in need,” Schultz continued. “Their goal is to help the villagers who have been terrorized daily in the ongoing regional conflict.
“CCF has been working in Uganda since 1980. When the conflict escalated between the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Ugandan government in Northern Uganda, we continued working in the region distributing food, establishing Child Centered Spaces in IDP camps, initiating health interventions and child protection programs,” Schultz noted. “It’s tragic when aid workers, who give of themselves to help others in need, are injured, kidnapped, or even killed. We hope that governments around the world will take action to stop these kinds of tragedies.”
Erach and Munu work for CCF as contractors, carrying out health interventions as part of a UNICEF health grant, which focuses on prevention of common diseases in IDP camps.
CCF is an international child development organization working in 33 countries, assisting 10.5 million children and family members, without regard to religion, race or gender.

Made it out!

Super quick note. I am dependent on the kindness of UN staff possessing internet to allow me to connect to the outside world.

I arrived safely in Abeche: gateway to Eastern Chad. I will hopefully be able to post something meaty in the next few days before I fly out to Iriba. But I am happy and healthy in the desert, just going over that list of things I should have brought!!

Until soon, insh'allah!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sans problem

This is just to say don't worry!!
I am doing just fine, just biding my time in N'djamena, hoping that I can get on a flight. I should be departing tomorrow.

Monday, October 24, 2005

No papers, No travel

Alright, I should know better than to assume that everything will go according to plan. I am stranded in N’djamena for the time being, awaiting some big bureaucrat’s signature on my papers for travel and work in Eastern Chad. While I shouldn’t complain, and I should indeed enjoy some of the capital city comforts, N’djamena is a bit of a purgatory. In addition to what I’ve mentioned about security in the city and my inability to move around freely, there is nothing I can accomplish work wise from the capita – N’djamena and Eastern Chad are essentially worlds apart. I am simply on hold until I can get out into the field. And to give you an idea of just how expensive this place is; in under four days I managed to burn my entire food allowance. Yesterday I joined some people at one of the hotels for a buffet lunch and swim at a total cost of $40. I am currently surviving off of handouts until I can get another allowance…

I am doing what I can to be somewhat productive. I’ve met some of my colleagues who are Iriba based, and in addition to briefings of my predecessor, I am getting the Iriba/Eastern Chad lowdown. Those on their way out of Chad love to point to little N’djamena luxuries and taunt how I won’t be seeing that anywhere in the east! People have stressed over and over again the importance of sharing resources. To put it more bluntly, I need to make friends with the right people to get what I need in Iriba. Using my Franglais, I’ve already started the building blocks to wooing colleagues from other organizations possessing showers, satellite phones, and wine. I think the winning ticket was my Michael Jackson dance skills, as I at least think the others are convinced that I would make a good addition to any Iriba party.

Again, rushed on the internet. There just isn't time.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Sweaty and Weary in N'djamena

A long trip to N’djamena, Chad. The only noteworthy moment was in a Charles de Gaulle airport bookshop where in the travel section, and to my absolute astonishment, there was a Chad guide! Leave it to the former colonial power to promote and protect its enclave of French-speakers en Le Tchad. Somehow I think the only people interested in such a guide, as this isn’t exactly a tourist destination, are the crazies like me who come here for work.

I arrived in N’djamena late in the evening on Wednesday and was immediately overwhelmed by that smell that I come to call the smell of Africa. Within moments I was ushered into the hot, overcrowded terminal, choking on the cigarette smoke of the Frenchies fresh off the plane. To my great fortune, there was a young Indian man there to greet me who ushered me ahead of the customs line, though that did me little good, as we had to watch the airport staff manually toss our luggage through the window, as the conveyer belt was apparently broken. About half way through this operation, the luggage belt suddenly started moving and progress was ours. Always a relief, my luggage arrived in tact and, already with clothes soaked through with sweat, I was ushered into a strange van and whisked away to the guesthouse/office. I quickly realized that I was a bit spoiled in Uganda and was a bit disappointed in my Spartan accommodation, but whatcha gonna do?

I’ve been in the race to get acquainted with my new surroundings and get caught up on the goings on with work, which apparently includes another set of baggage equipped with gossip, drama, and whole lotta hearsay. I’m trying to get the necessary information without getting myself mired in the mess. I will fly out of N’djamena on Monday to Abéché, which is the hub for all humanitarian action in Eastern Chad. There I will meet some of my colleagues and get acquainted with all of the major actors in the area. At some point I will board yet another plane and make the journey to Iriba, a little village near the border of Sudan where I shall be based. I’ve been pre-warned on the state of affairs in Iriba but choose to await all lamentations until I see for myself…

N’djamena is one crazy place, not to mention the most expensive country I have ever been to - yes bypassing the UK! I am under no circumstances allowed to walk on the streets, whether broad daylight or what have you. Too many staff have been mugged in broad daylight, not to mention the US Ambassador’s wife getting shot dead when her car broke down outside the presidential offices. Today I was walking with a colleague from a café to an internet café, which was literally next store, and we had to request that a guard escort us the 15 feet to our next destination. Tonight, after finishing a dinner at Le Bistro at 8:30pm, I felt I was taking the biggest security risk yet, as we had to cross the street to hop into the MSF vehicle which had come to pick us. Is this Africa or Iraq?

Ah, already so much to describe, let alone the social and political developments. Deep breaths. While I may find the time to write about this all, postings may be few and far in between due to complete lack of communications in the town I will be based. I’ve only gotten ankle deep into the Chad dynamics, but with frequent conflict with Libya, the complications brought on by Sudanese conflict, and the general contention between different groups in Chad (primarily North versus South), this place is one complicated “state” delicately balancing the scales between façade of stability and total collapse. I am told that President Derby pretty much has no liver and may keel over at any moment, in which case I will either be elated to be isolated on the Eastern border with Sudan or ecstatic to have my “emergency” bag backed to be evacuated the hell out! At a minimum, I can already attest to Transparency International’s ranking Chad as the most corrupt/least transparent country in the world.

So much more to say, just don't know when I will get to say it all!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Chaos Grows...

October 18, 2005
Chaos Grows in Darfur Conflict as Militias Turn on Government
ZAM ZAM, Sudan, Oct. 17 - The outlaws who rode into Geneina on camelback one recent afternoon represent the latest grim chapter in the desert war in western Sudan.
Janjaweed militias have focused their wrath on innocent villagers for most of the two and a half years of the conflict in the Darfur region. But on Sept. 18, in a scene that aid workers described as something out of a Hollywood western, the militiamen surrounded the police station along Sudan's border with Chad, roughed up the chief and freed several of their members from jail.
The fact that militias trained and armed by the government are now emboldened enough to turn their guns on the government is a sign of trouble. It was government support of the janjaweed at the outset that ignited the fighting in Darfur that killed tens of thousands of people and displaced two million villagers.

For more, read:

Only the best

Transparency International has announced that Africa is the most corrupt continent in the world. Guess what lovely country in Africa was awarded THE most corrupt of the corrupt?

"Chad, however, with a score of 1.7, had the dubious distinction of not only being named the most corrupt nation on the African continent, but also the world’s most corrupt state."

Chad shares the bottom ranks with the likes of Turkmenistan, Burma and Bangladesh. Whose on top? Iceland, Finland, New Zealand, Denmark and Singapore.

Monday, October 17, 2005

En route

Destination: N'djamena, then Eastern Chad.
First stop: town in the southern US, which shall remain nameless

And so the next journey begins. I'm writing from a hotel room, which is certainly nothing new, unable to sleep after a long quest seeking a simple salad without the word "fried" or creamy ranch-blue cheese in the title. I've gone through yet another round of hellos and goodbyes, with more hellos to come, and I am just now allowing my mind to wander towards that ellusive Chad.

Yet another trip to Africa and I can't help but reflect on the journey I have traveled from Rwanda to Uganda, back to Uganda again, and now Chad. I have to wonder what is it all for and will I ever actually be able to offer more than I get out of this? I shall obstain from the philosophical digression on the merits and downfalls of aid work, but it somehow remains an unavoidable dilemma. But what I hope to do is provide some insight into yet another corner of the world that many can never imagine exists. The challenges will be many, not least of all, simple communication. No mobile phone networks this time around. Satellite internet? Not at this time. And unlike my colleagues across the border in Darfur who are increasingly targets for simply doing their work and have to obstain from being outspoken due to fear of being deported, arrested, abducted, and I dare say killed, I hope that the imaginary border that seperates Chad from Sudan will provide a little breathing room to be frank and upfront. But we will have to see about that.

Until Chad...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Republique du Tchad

Here it is! Chad, also known as Tchad. You pick. I'll be working along the border with Sudan, including the town of Abeche, which is nicely labeled on this map.