Man, I wish I had brought a French dictionary! Slowly its all coming back to me – all 5 years of reading and writing with very little speaking of French still gets puts me in situations of “Je ne comprends pas ou Je ne sais pas!” But as I hear more and more, I begin to feel more confident, even if I don’t’ know exactly what the other person is saying!
Yesterday was the last day in the capital, at least until after we return from the camps. I must admit the most entertaining part of the day was not my Parisian style eggs topped with mushrooms and red sauce (I tried to get Gabriel to branch out of his omelet and pizza, to no avail!) but meeting Ashis for lunch which produced a great many laughs. French military personnel sat nearby wearing shorter shorts than I would ever imagine wearing in public and a few business meetings were taking place in the garden. We discussed the history of Chad and its relationship with Sudan. I listened as Ashis bounced around from idea to idea of what in the world he could possibly put his energy towards – a speakers tour, teaching at University, or playing futbol in camp Oure Cassoni. We laughed a lot, he dished them out and in my usual way, I had no problem handing jokes right back. In this type of work, laughing and light hearted comments go a long way.
We spent the rest of the day waiting…wondering if our permits, one of which had the wrong date, were going to be ready by 6am today, and taking a visit to see Abraham, the luggage god of UNHCR. “We have over 70 kg more than we are supposed to,” we struggled to say. With a smile, “I think it will be good, come tomorrow and Bienvenue Chad!” I crossed my fingers and somehow, even after being late for the plane, it all made it aboard this morning.
After landing in Abeche we line for a stamp; the man two people ahead of me was enduring yelling from the ominous general in the security office, as Gabriel looked around for our ride to UNHCR, which here is only HCR. Upon making it to the front, I struggled with my few words in French until Eva, a UNHCR worker translated – thank god for aid workers, eh? Hahaha. He wanted to see my official press badge…what, I thought? He asked what I would do if he sent me back to N’Djamena – mental note: make i-ACT press badges for next trip! – I shrugged my shoulders and looked innocent, or at least tried too! He stamped it and greeted Gabriel like an old friend.
Once on the road, my eyes shuffled between dirt, piles of trash, donkeys, a small herd of unattended goats, and walls. But the kids huddled around what looked like an ailing rubber tree and women selling Heirloom tomatoes, were still smiling. Once inside the blue gate of UNHCR, we made our way to various desks – Annette, Marcel and Victorian. Discussions of our itinerary, focus in the camps, and education initiatives filled the morning. We would return in the afternoon, but first, PERMITS. I know have 13 official stamps either on my passport or my precious papers calling me a professional journalist. All which cost us several days and more cash than a Doctor earns here in a month.
The most exciting part of today was speaking with refugees who were participating in a secondary school initiative through RET (Refugee Education Trust). There were 10 refugees age 15-25 from each of the 12 camps testing in Abeche to earn their secondary diploma. We interviewed one young man from camp Oure Cassoni who wants to be a journalist and who translated for a few others. It was exciting to think about how our community, your community, can partner to strengthen and widen the effects of such programs. Among many others, this is only a pilot project, but each refugee spoke of the desire for more education and emphasized education as the key to successful personal and community development. A similar view that many of us share.
I am beginning to get comfortable with the camera and now can take photos and film simultaneously! I am only beginning to know what Chad is like and today I received lesson 101 in interviewing refugees. I am eager to continue and look forward to bringing you more stories from Chad.