I loved the movie Blood Diamond for so many reasons. It was conspiracy based, incredibly informative and exciting. Plus it had Leo in it, what’s not to Love. The catch phrase from the movie was TIA, This is Africa. Which after 24 hours in Chad, I can’t say I have been involved in any international smuggling rings, blown anything up, or meet any beautiful and intelligent adventure journalist, but let’s just say I understand. Regardless, today was an amazing day riddled with relaxation, discovery, a Mad Renaissance man named Ashis, and cement shoes.
We began the morning with a 16-dollar breakfast (unbeknownst to us, we thought it was complimentary) and working on the Veranda overlooking the Chari. (This is correction from yesterdays post, for those sticklers about things like spelling) We waited for our passports to be returned from getting approved at immigration. We spent the downtime writing posts, working on videos and laying by the pool. (All work and no play makes Josh a dull boy).
Then in the afternoon we meet up with a friend of the SGN Team, Ashis Brahma. Ashis is one of those rare larger than life people that from the moment you meet them you know they are going to have an impact in your life. He is a doctor by trade who studied in Europe and has worked all over the world in a humanitarian capacity. He is a Dutchman with long curly hair, big smile that sports Versace like glasses and flip-flops. He is highly intelligent with a razor sharp wit and possesses a real world knowledge of medicine and other issues in crisis areas that is as deep as it is broad.
We had the esteemed pleasure of spending the afternoon just listening to him speak about everything from the history of Africa, the modern day challenges in the camps, to the solutions that we can create as Global Citizens. This was amazing for our intention of discovering Abundance, as there were some amazing possibilities created out of our conversations with Ashis. In the interest of time I have summarized two of the more interesting points:
Education and Woman’s Rights as critical factors in sustainable long-term success of the refugee communities:
Much of our conversation was bouncing our ideas about bringing secondary schools to the camps and learning form Ashis about the real world implications of creating this possibility. We asked, what are the areas of most impact to focus energies towards long-term sustainability? He thought that education and women’s rights were critical areas of focus for long-term development. It was very encouraging to hear that our focus of creating a school would have a significant impact in this situation. We also learned a great deal about potential breakdowns and complications that would be involved in creating a school. There were also some amazing opportunities that we could only learn from someone who understood the camps from the inside. Notably:
- Teacher challenge: The challenge of local teachers not being able to receive double pay because of the UNICEF Per Diem system.
- Challenges of the proper curriculum: Most of the refugees are from Sudan but now reside in Chad. So do you structure the curriculum around a Chadian system that may not be recognized in Sudan? Or Sudanese curriculum that does not merit accreditation in Chad? I also wondered if there is possibility of creating an integrated system that would work for both? We are far better prepared to discuss the issues and potential breakdowns with the people at the camps as a result of this conversation
- Creating focus & camaraderie for teenage children: Because there are currently only primary schools in the camps, many of the teenage children end up just wasting time and getting into trouble. Sometimes they can also become isolated within their own tribes. So providing a school would help with this problem and bring camaraderie to the children of tribes that can be at times adversarial.
However, the issue of women’s rights was one that took me by surprise at being in the top two. Not because it isn’t important, but I wouldn’t have recognized that from afar. I guess that is why we’re here. But after listening to his perspective, I have to whole-heartedly agree. I also feel as if this is another issue where having a more in depth education could create huge impact. This is something we will need to explore further and look forward to discussing this with Ms. Katie-Jay, as I know it is one of her focuses.
Africa as a prime area for Sustainable Economic Development: For this conversation you must ignore the pressing security and instability issues in the region that must be addressed before long-term economic prospects can be viable. As a result of my conversation with Ashis I now see Africa as huge opportunity for sustainable innovation, development, and technology. While listening to him speak about the history of China and India how they have come from economic disasters just 50 years ago to now they become modern day powerhouses. These Economies are growing very rapidly and are currently on track to overtake the US as leaders in GDP and consumption. However, this expansion is largely based on the non-sustainable principles of the industrial age. Which has us rapidly approaching an inevitable crash course with natural and economic disaster as we are in the twilight years of the fossil fuel age. And while sustainable technology is very challenging and expensive to implement in the modern societies, here are clean slates of wide-open possibilities. In the more developed countries, much of the existing infrastructure is based on a cradle to grave model. Can you imagine the cost of converting all the homes and buildings in California to renewable energy? The reality is that the cultures here are already much closer to living a sustainable lifestyle. In combination they live with a desperate need for economic development. And Africa is rich with natural energy sources, it is the Land of the eternal Sun, has large rivers lakes and waterfalls, great wind, etc.
So is it possible that this crisis is an amazing opportunity for these communities to become successful using leading edge sustainable technologies? In thinking about this many of examples of this already come to mind; solar cookers, solar powered schools, merry go round water pumps, to name a few. So for those of you out there interested in creating sustainable communities with renewable energy, get those big brains working on some solutions that would fit economically and culturally within Africa.
Afternoon turned into evening and we decided to venture out into the capital and grab some dinner. As we left, it became very clear that this is a place that definitely marches to the beat of a different drum. Everything is very primal and has a native, almost raw feeling to it. At first introduction this is little disorienting and confusing coming from the hard streets of Orange County. Traveling is crazy because there are few to any paved roads in a city of over 700,000 and as a result dust is in the air, chokes the lungs and covers everything. The roads are not paved and uneven with huge potholes that make driving in a straight line almost impossible. It reminded me of traveling the mountain roads of the High Uintas in Utah. Looking for the positive, I did notice there is a side benefit, people drive really, really slow and it would appear that speeding is almost nonexistent. Electricity is intermittent in most areas and comes on and goes off in no discernible pattern. This little complication makes navigating through the city and houses interesting to say the least, but more on that in a minute. There are also the normal language barrier issues as everyone in the capital speaks mostly French.
On the way to dinner Ashis gets a call to stop by the home of UN worker who is sick with Malaria. On the way to the home we drove through an area that would make any slum in America look fairly inviting. At least that was my thoughts until Ashis stated that this one of the wealthiest sections of town. At first I thought he was joking, but then I began to notice that all of walls had huge metal gates built into them.
We reached the home and meet a wonderful woman who has worked for the UN for over 30 years. She has a list of areas she has worked in that was amazing. Every major incident or area of need I had ever heard of in the media. It was inspiring to listen to someone who has lead a life of service and still happily committed to making a difference in this place.
From there we stop by Ashis home, the electricity was out and we had to navigate up a cement pitch black and dirty hallway by the light of his cell phone. As we topped the stairs we reached the door of his flat. He disappeared into the living room as he kicked a piece of cardboard out of the way. He mentioned that his kitchen is around the corner. Being a curious fellow I stumbled in darkness towards the kitchen as I checked the place out. As I entered the kitchen I could barely make out something against the wall and I began walking towards it. The first indication that something was drastically wrong that I felt my feet begin to sink into the floor and there was a wet almost gritty sensation coming through my shoes. Mud? Sewage? No, the smell it’s oddly familiar though… Oh my Gosh! I thought. I did a pirouette and leaped in the darkness for the foyer. Turning my digital camera flash on the floor it confirmed my suspicion. Wet cement! Ashis, “We might have a small problem” I explained. Unknowingly, his landlord had laid wet cement onto the floor. Which is now a Joshua Tree original with 4 ½ randomly placed 10.5 puma prints.
From there we were off to Le Carinvore, the only all vegan food joint in N’Djamena. Not really, between the catfish and Le Carinvore I realized that meat light may have to be on hold while I am in Africa.
I have the burger with frites while listening to an awesome Jazz Band as we talked the night away with plans of changing the world.
You’re excited for the moment and looking forward to tomorrow citizen journalist.
For more information about the work of Ashis, visit his blog http://www.ashis-africavision.blogspot.com