|A common sight, if you live in Chad. Or if you're Amish.|
“It’s close,” he told us, “only 300km.”
“So why don’t we go and come back in one day?” asked Hervé who was graciously coming in during his vacation month, hoping to keep this trip short (don’t feel too sorry for him—he often comes in while he is on “vacation” because we have sometimes-functioning internet and AC and no children).
“Oh no,” said Djibrine, “It will take us at least 7 hours to get there.”
Now, if we were talking about driving somewhere in South Sudan, absolutely I would believe him. It’s taken me 12 hours to go 200km before. But Chad has a lot of paved roads, and it hasn’t yet gotten to be full on rainy season where soupy roads and newly-flowing rivers can delay traveling, usually because some idiot thinks he is going to be the one to successfully drive through the wadi, even though clearly, two other trucks tried and failed before him.
|Example from another trip of someone |
thinking his car is stronger than mud
I offered a compromise: we plan to stay the night but if we make it in time to finish our work and get back in one day, then we come on home. This was acceptable to all involved, so the next day, with my expired but mostly-unnecessary-anyway travel permit, we embarked on our journey of 300km? 7 hours?
Of course, I pushed our ETD to 8am from 6am because, 8am is always better than 6am. Djibrine said he’d come by at 7:30 because for some reason, he was super-stressed about this 300km/7 hour trip. I was not. I told him to err on the side of 8am because I planned to run before we left, and I wanted to make sure I had enough daylight hours to do that because I’ve learned my lesson about running in the dark in certain places. There are limitations that one has to accept if one is a woman who does not own any pepper spray. As it turned out, I was able to run and be ready by 7am, so I texted Djibrine to come on over. Naturally, he turned up at 8:15. The best laid plans…he blamed his wife for not waking him up in time. He has two wives, though, so I don’t know how he ever gets any sleep.
I like road trips. The only times I prefer to fly are when I have time constraints or when the alternative was the Mundri Distress. Ours started off great, albeit with a bit of a delay. We headed to the petrol station to fill up before the trip and bought some water, even though poor Djibrine was fasting and couldn’t partake. He insisted that we did though, and since Hervé was driving, we made sure he was well hydrated, while Djibrine went back to sleep in the backseat and I tried to take instagram videos for Neverthirst. I was soon called out for one of my dumb jokes on the instagram page, which is why I should not be trusted with social media, but since everyone has editing rights, they were able to re-serious the account.
Puttering along, we came to our first péage exiting N’Djamena. We’d been on the road for about 15 minutes at that point. We had just whipped out the 500CFA to pay the guy, when a motorcycle pulled up by our car. It was the man from the petrol station. We’d forgotten to pay him and he chased us down. Oops. Fortunately, he did not seem to harbor any ill-will towards us for that.
|Trees full of birds|
The trip was fairly typical for Chad—the first part of the trip started out nice and paved with jarring sections of potholes to make sure you don’t fall asleep. Throughout there are military checkpoints where you are either stopped and questioned and must present valid papers (that you write yourself before you leave) or the kindly soldiers might just wave you through. The likelihood of you being stopped increases if the weather is nice and you are female. If it’s hot and stopping your car means moving out of the shade, you will likely just be waved through. Being a female only benefits if you need to be charming because your papers aren’t exactly up to date. Fortunately, Ramadan fasting was on our side, everyone was conserving energy, and no one really cared about our papers on our trip, so I didn’t have to be charming at all. It's easier for me to remain in my natural state.
Throughout the trip, I was supposed to be trying to do something called “Insta Stories” for our Neverthirst social media. Or it might have another official name, but as an elderly person, I’ve not gotten into Instagram on my own, being quite content with the limitations of Facebook, so I’m not super up on all the Insta-Stuff. I did have a quick lesson with Brandon on how to Insta Story, but in the real life of the field, it turns out that Chadian cell phone data options do not favor Insta-Anything. But I was already caught up in taking short videos of cool things we see here that you don’t see elsewhere—camel trains, market day, people in traditional clothes working in the fields or walking by the road, donkeys pulling carts, cows pulling plows, grass-roofed mud brick houses, trees full of white birds, and the general beauty of rainy season Chad. Of course the problem is that once you see something while you’re speeding down the road, you’ve usually missed your opportunity to film it. I’m not dedicated enough to the media to go back for the shots. Consequently, I ended up with lots of dumb videos, which I diligently posted to Instagram before being gently told later not to do that anymore. Sorry Insta-people! I feel this need to share photos and stories of people and places I’ve seen with others who haven’t had the same opportunities I’ve had, whether you want me to or not. Thus—this blog. I’ve done my duty, and no one is making you read this (except, Mom, you have to because it is your maternal obligation).
My favorite part of the trip is always once we leave the paved road. That’s when the real adventure starts. In our case, we missed the road we were supposed to take several times. And by the time we got to that road, we’d already realized that this trip was neither 300km nor 7 hours. And it wasn’t entirely due to our not knowing the road.
We took a decent unpaved road to a town called Koudalwa. There we met with the chef du village and I told Djibrine that this better not be the place he wanted us to build a well because there were already several water points. Note: this was already 8 hours in and more than 400km. “No, no, this isn’t the place. We just wanted to talk to the chef. Now we will go on out to Badel.” Amanda: “And let’s go now because we are running out of daylight!”
This part of the trip was on much worse roads (still nothing on par with South Sudan), and we splashed through puddles and scraped against trees, smashing our way into the jungle (which is what the bush becomes during the rainy season). On the way we passed several villages and maybe 2 working water points. I particularly enjoyed driving by some villagers loading up a truck with piles of cotton.
“We have to stop!” I yelled, suddenly unconcerned about lack of daylight and my job. “I have to jump in the cotton!” Like most of my ideas, it was a brilliant one. Cotton is bouncy and soft, like what you imagine walking on a cloud would feel like until Science ruins your fun with Facts. Also entertaining, the men on the truck burst into song and dance for us, just because they are fun people. Caught up in the excitement of the moment, our security guard decides to shoot off his gun loudly, right in my ear. But even this annoyance and mild concern about gravitational pull on bullets could not keep me from joining in the fun—until Hervé yelled at me to get back in the car. But I really want to go back and put a well in that village too, so donate to Neverthirst already and tell them to use the money for wells in Chad. Do it now.
|If you could see this photo Djibrine took of me|
in the "LIVE" version that somehow shows up on my phone,
you can tell that I'm jumping and my hair is flying around,
and that kid is questioning my sanity, as one does.
|Climbing out of the cotton pile-|
it's up to my knees!
We finally arrived at our destination about 30 minutes before sunset, significant because it’s Ramadan and people are breaking fast at sunset. People have been fasting from water and food all day. They are tired and ready to eat. But they graciously took me to their closest water point, which is not really in use much right now, as rains have brought green but not refilled the reservoirs. People in Badel go to holes dug in the riverbed and get water from there. Since the holes in the riverbed closest to them are now mostly dry, they are going another 5km beyond to find water.
|Hawa shows us the proper way to get water.|
Also, clearly this is not good water.
This is what they are drinking.
Go donate to Neverthirst.
The group with me agreed to pull up some water from the hole to show me the quality. At first there were only men with us, and a man gamely tried to get the water. I have a video of us all laughing at him as he dropped the bucket. A woman came out (presumably from the confines of the kitchen where she was putting the finishing touches on the Iftar meal) and showed him how to do it. It just proves the old adage, anything boys can do girls can do better. Or in this case the boy couldn’t actually do it and we had to call in a superior talent.
The water was predictably terrible and the people were predictably quite excited about the coming of an improved water source right in their village. We had a meeting about requirements and expectations, and then it was time to Iftar. Hervé and I sat by the car while everyone prayed and ate. I was a little surprised, but not upset that we didn’t get invited to join in the food. As soon as everyone finished, we got back in the car to head to the first bigger village where we were going to spend the night in the chef’s house.
We made it back, driving in the dark, stopping to wipe mud off the windscreen once or twice and checking to make sure that one tire was holding up (it barely made it). At the chef’s house we were offered a Ramadan meal and then laid down on the floor to sleep. I was also a bit surprised to be sleeping with the men, but at no point during this trip was I considered a proper female, so I guess it shouldn’t have been that surprising.
|Iftar meal in Chad. Got to be honest, it is not my favorite.|
I've never liked soup much because I prefer to chew food.
People always seem to want to break fast with soups here, though.
And giant spoons are for communal soup consumption.
It wasn’t a super restful night, though, what with Hervé’s intense snoring and the 3am wake up call for pre-daylight eating. I was very impressed with how quickly Hervé fell asleep. Seriously, I always thought those people who lie down and are out right away are lying, but it seems like that is what happened with him. I mean, there was really no reason for pretend snoring in this situation, so I have to believe it must have been real. I ended up just getting up at 4am and then pushing everyone else to get up so we could leave by 5am.
Anyway, we made it home in time for me to join the ladies celebrating Minga’s birthday and watching Wonder Woman in the theatre here—made even better because we can openly bring in a large pan of brownies for movie-snack time. Chad is Freedom. Don’t you want to come visit?
Here is where I planned to insert several videos:
1) A video of a swarm of bugs splishing against our windshield. If you have the sound on you can here their guts juicing out. It's melodic.
2) A video of the guy dropping the bucket into the hole and everyone laughing at him.
3) A video of the cotton men singing and dancing. Since I can't currently make those happen, please enjoy this closer photo of the cool dancers.
One possible way for you to see the videos is if Marian will upload them for me. A slightly smaller possibility is if the internet dude actually shows up tomorrow to fix our internet. But don't get too excited. We are on Day 3 of him promising to show up tomorrow and fix it right away.