14 janvier 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.
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.