Bottles of Fuel, Barbed Wire, and Café Espresso

14 janvier 08

UNHCR in N'D. 14 Jan 08 Men in solid dishdasha (Muslim robes) and women in two-piece African dress meander through the busy streets of N’Djamena. Last night the streets were lit by only a few lamps with small groups of teenagers gathered, laughing and smiling as I once did with friends in high school. Now the streets are busy with motorbikes, white vans and beat up old cars. We pass two schools with young kids lined up waiting for what the day’s lessons will bring. One university hosts groups of young people outside its walls. So many walls and each with men guarding it – red, blue and black berets some with guns, some shouting across lanes of traffic, others staring directly back into my eyes. Through the back seat of Mubarak’s car I see various litre bottles on tables that look as if they are going to fall apart if only one more was added, behind men sit swatting flies with sticks longing for the shade that their competitor across the street has found. These are gas stations, Mubarak describes. We pass the internationally known Red Cross symbol before pulling in front of the big, bold, light blue UNHCR gate.

We talk with Ann Maymann, a friend and Director, who has only been back from leave about as long as we have been in Chad, and colleagues for a while. Mostly our conversation is of projects and rebel/army action in El Geneina, Sudan. Ann describes a vision of villager participation and collaboration for projects that excites me and brings me back to the foundation of organizing and empowerment that my Thai Ajaans (teachers) gave to me. This trip and for future projects, along with UNHCR, we will seek to increase the ownership and leadership of villagers; beyond creating a council or committee who is asked questions and makes recommendations, but to deepen their involvement from the beginning. “In the end,” Ann says more than once, “these programs are for them.” A task that is not easy, and many times is not an objective of an incoming agency. As we make our way back to Le Meriden Hotel, I am more ready than yesterday to leave the capital and meet our friends in the camps.

N'D Streets We hand Mubarak another set of whitewashed passport pictures and walk to the back of the hotel. For a moment, we watch as pirogues carry Chadians from our side of the river to several farm plots on the opposite side. Gabriel mentions that last time he was here, mud huts stood where crops were now growing. I take a 360 degree view: guarded by barbed wire I see green grass, bushes, a tall Jackarhonda tree. It brings me home for a moment, I hope the one we have growing in Portland, OR withstands the winter, it looked sick when I left. The images that can bring back memories and thoughts always surprise me. Gabriel and I bring the computers to the lobby to work for only two reasons: Coka et café espresso – thank god for the French, eh?

Now back in the room repacking for our flight to the East and thinking of the day, I can smell the gasoline from the morning’s trip and remember the juxtaposition of walled streets and barbed wire gardens.

Peace, KTJ

Katie-Jay keeps i-ACT running on several levels. Much of her work entails coordinating partnerships with other grassroots organizations and implementing the campaigns developed by Gabriel and seeing through the details. She graduated from Portland State University with a BA in Sociology and a focus on Community Development. She has previously worked as a community organizer in Thailand, Guatemala, and with grassroots organizations across the United States.

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8 Responses to “Bottles of Fuel, Barbed Wire, and Café Espresso”
  1. Becky Blumer says:

    KTJ,
    I am humbled by your commitment to the people of Darfur and your incredible journey. Thanks for sharing your experience with me. Safe travels my friend.

    xoxoxo
    becky

  2. Ashley Straley says:

    KTJ and Gabriel,

    I wanted to send my best wishes and blessings to you on your journey. As a college friend of Tiffany’s she directed me to this site and I look forward to reading more about this amazing journey you both are embarking on! I feel inspired to know there are people like you both that are committing your lives for others. Good luck, stay safe and thank you!

    Inspired,
    Ashley

  3. Brenda Hodges says:

    Katie-Jay,

    Just wanted to send a quick note, and let you know I am thinking of you in your journey. I enjoyed reading the first account of your travels. I have learned a lot from you, and look forward to seeing Chad through your eyes. Be safe, and take care, my dear.

    Mucho amor,
    Brenda

  4. Parkers says:

    Hey KTJ, Just wanted to let you know that we are thinking ’bout you and you are in our prayers for protection. Hi from snowy Colorado and the whole crew at the Happy Day Ranch. We’re all very proud of you… Uncle Dave

  5. Nell says:

    Reading your entries – on the ground with you there in spirit.
    So appreciative of your making available this connection.
    Thank you!
    In solidarity,
    Nell

  6. Rob Hadley says:

    Hey Katie,
    I am excited to see you are on the ground in Chad. We are all looking forward to “seeing” you via the webcast as soon as possible. I can hopefully get my kids to watch them. My end of semester is next week and I get a new crop of students…so its transition time. Its ivy cold here in Portland today…schools are delayed…
    Take care and stay safe.

    Rob Hadley
    Portland, OR

  7. Lisa says:

    Hi, KTJ!
    So glad to find you and Gabriel have touched down safely and are reconnecting with friends/colleagues of past trips. Thanks for sharing the vivid descriptions of your surroundings and the connections you make between these images and your memories of home. Such graphic reporting by you and Gabe helps us to feel the intensity of life in this affected region. Hopefully, teachers and students here, who have just returned to a new semester at their schools, may read of the limitations and dangers faced by the Chadian students you’ve seen, and be moved to action. We wish you safe travel, and success in spreading strength through encouragement and empowerment.

    Salaam,
    Lisa
    San Antonio, TX

  8. Zahara says:

    Hola Chica,
    Estoy con ustedes en el recorrido, me da gusto que apoyes a Gabe, eres increible KTJ.
    Mucha suerte en los campamentos la acccion apenas empieza!!!
    Te extranamos un monton aqui en casita, hay mucho silencio….sera que Gabo no tiene con quien Jugar:)
    Abrazos
    Z y el resto del equipo.

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