The streets are empty as we travel to UNHCR in Abeche to drop off extra luggage and then to the airport. We are the first ones this morning – and a good thing since we have a tad too much weight still! Government soldiers rolling up their mats and gathering at various gates around the airport, smile and wave, Bonjour. As in N’Djamena, the World Food Program and UNHCR planes leave at the same time. Although by air our destination was only 20 minutes away, we have stops at the two most Northern UNHCR field office sites first. Dropping off some people, and collecting others.
From the plane, I can see dry riverbeds; most lower than the rest of the land. For the small tributaries that are too small and too dry to see I can still tell by the curved lines of tress and small shrubs where the water flows during the rainy season. We are only a little more than four months past the rainy season, and the water has already stopped. In and near some of the riverbeds local villagers have planted crops. The almost universal lines of small green tops reminds me of what is growing back in Portland – garlic, arugula and bok choy. I wonder about the crops they are growing below.
Every so often we see small compounds of several huts, all of which have some sort of fencing surrounding them. As we get closer to landing on the dirt runways, distinct only by large rocks or painted dead tires, I can see that the fences are of wood or mud. In the middle of nowhere, why a fence? Animals? Protection from other humans? Or perhaps the simple feeling of security that comes with enclosed spaces.
We finally land in Guereda. Three vehicles escort the plane to the landing strip – two Land Cruisers with aid agency logos and a pick-up carrying several missiles (or at least that’s what they look like to me – about as tall as my waist) and 6 or so men standing in the bed of the truck, a huge gun mounted on the top.
We are at least a kilometer from Guereda and several more from the two refugee camps the UNHCR field office serves. First I see a few herds of camels and goats, then two young boys smiling at our car. One rides a donkey dragging a huge piece of dead tree, enough firewood for perhaps a week of cooking. We pass one mud hut, then another, then another – enter Guereda. The streets look similar to those in N’Djamena and Abeche. Clear and black plastic bags scattered among foot high grass and shiny tin cans sparkle in the bright sun.
Ahh, the now familiar blue gate of UNHCR. Hala, the local director greets Gabriel, as others have, with a hug and warm welcome. We talk for while about education in the camps and our schedule while here before we travel the short distance to try and gather stamps. I say try since as I am writing this, we still are two stamps short to be able to enter the camps. Again, we hear about the effects that the Zoe’s Arc fiasco has had on aid workers – more levels of bureaucracy and skepticism of raison d’etre. I notice for the first time today that we have met very few American aid workers since our arrival in Chad. Why do you think this is? Is it because the Peace Corps is used so often as the life-changing humanitarian work for us? Are we scared to leave the comforts of our lifestyle? Or is simply because more of us study Spanish than French?
We begin i-ACT tomorrow, and its timed perfectly since tomorrow is the first day we step foot into a camp. Here we get to reunite with Ahmet’s family, Jacob, the teacher whom we met in July, and Aziza. Tomorrow will be an exciting day, I can’t wait! Please join us for our first i-ACT January 2008 view of the camps and stories of survivors.
Together with you,