Golf balls, tennis balls, bouncy balls from the 25 cent machines, large balls tumble from far above, one after another against the tin roof. More, quicker, louder, closer. I’ve fallen asleep at the UNHCR guesthouse in Abeche and awaken to our first encounter with an amount and a harshness of water that will fill one of the finger-like dry wadi’s to reach the width of the Mekong in minutes. The rainy season.
I remember the iridescent plastic jumpsuit that we brought to “protect” us from the rain, not sure if Coleman will do the trick, we discuss the necessity to carry extra plastic bags while walking the camps. We are hours away from being inside of a camp. N’Djamena permits, check. Abeche stamps, check. Car headed to Oure Cassoni ahead of us, done.
Bouba? Taking the over 12-hour bus ride across the desert from the capital; his name was not on the flight manifest. Seeing Bouba brought back memories of the last time I was able to hold the hand of our refugee friends. It’s as if I am addicted to it. It is all I think about. Even now that the rain has softened to a constant, and lighter, shower I think about the opportunity to sit in one of the tents with Farha as rain begins to seep through the stitches of the now four year old tent, and sweep under its edges.
Chad feels different this time than the previous two trips, which actually seem like three since visiting our friends in January, and the attempted military coup d’etat on our way home almost feel like two different trips. As we drove through the streets of Abeche this morning, more goats than people shuffled through the garbage piles and impeded traffic. The airport, both in N’Djamena and Abeche, were less busy, not quite calm, but with more of a subdued feeling. Everyone, including Chadian nationals, is obeying a curfew since last week an NGO was shot and severely wounded in town. Even though new military presence literally lines the dirt runway, Abeche is becoming increasingly dangerous.
Bouba and Youssouf have moved their families out of the East. Bouba’s have returned to his village South of the capital with no intention of returning to N’Djamena after last February. Youssouf’s family, on the other hand, have left the East and are situated in the capital. Both return to visit their loved ones frequently, but the only consistent work is with international NGOs, like UNHCR or with missions like ours. Even Alpha, who swore off driving after being stuck with Gabriel, Josh, Miah and I for a week, drives for a NGO out of Abeche.
As the sun set’s behind the gray sky, and everyone retreats to their homes in fear of petty crime that can turn dangerous within seconds, I begin to reorganize our things once again. Stock my Humanity Before Politics shirts in my backpack, recharge my camera, download pictures from the day and ponder what 100 calorie dinner I have in store for me. We have another early one tomorrow; rise and shine at 6am, I’ll need to sleep better tonight. In the meantime, as my eyelids close to the methodic rhythm of raindrops, I will be thinking of our friends who are living in 4 or 5 year old tents and struggling to survive yet another rainy season.
I ask myself as a former college athlete who at one time felt I deserved the world because of my status: Is the Olympic Village in Beijing built to last longer than the Olympics? How much money did we pour into these games, infrastructure, practice facilities, potable water, housing, and stadiums to appease our thrill for sportsmanship?
If even 1/3 of that was given to refugees’ survival, what a difference it would make.
Dry from Abeche, ktj