Dear friends and family,
Today we left N’djamena for Abeche.
The day started with some drama at N’djamena airport, where we found that our luggage was way above the weight limit of 15kg per person. Mind you, it wasn’t that we brought a lot of extra items from home – just that with all that equipment and food to feed three people for a week, the weight adds up fast. The night before, KTJ had come up with the good idea of putting all our “must have” items in one set of bags, and our “nice to have” items in another. The “nice to have” items were placed in the duffel bag in order of importance. So for example, food went at the bottom, whereas a fancy VoIP speaker-phone we wanted to field went at the very top. If push came to shove, we could just take stuff off the top to make the required weight.
Turned out though, that the entire “nice to have” duffel bag had to be left behind (actually, even that wasn’t enough – we had to leave other things as well). We tried the “Yuen-Lin doesn’t weigh very much” argument, but that didn’t work. So now we’re left with about two pairs of clean clothes each, and a bit less food than we’d hoped to bring. Bit of a bummer, but I think we’ll adapt just fine :) For the most part!
Our friends at UNHCR Abeche gave us a warm welcome and have been extremely helpful. In a tough environment, we appreciate this very much indeed. We are put up at what can be considered a luxurious guest-house — air-conditioned, wi-fi from neighbor, across the street from clean food and water source. I took a shower using water from a bucket — it felt really good. The journey from my present home near San Francisco to N’djamena, Abeche and the camp is an exercise in appreciation and gratitude.
The refugees in Chad and the internally-displaced people (IDPs) in Darfur have lived at the borderline of the basics for over half a decade now. As you read this, know that the expulsion by the Sudan government of 16 relief agencies operating in Darfur is causing deaths from thirst, hunger, illness. The son who, already malnourished, had his emergency feeding interrupted. The father who contracted meningitis because his immunization fell on the day the clinic staff packed and left. The mother watching her baby slip towards death from the diarrhea brought on by cholera – when in storage nearby were oral rehydration salts but no one to hand them out.
At lunch, I realized that as basic as the food is for the aid workers and military people here, it is still a huge jump from the food that the refugees and IDPs receive. At the cafeteria today there was chicken, rice, french fries and a salad (a bit lacking on the vegetarian options). The refugees receive a table spoon of oil and sugar a day, along with a handful of grain. It’s unfortunate that we live in a world where this alone is not sufficient cause for urgent action by those with power.
There are rumors of Chadian rebel activity at the border — we are keeping vigilant and are in close contact with UNHCR, so don’t worry. There are plans for all scenarios, and we are in good hands. The alert level for the region is 4 out of 5, but perhaps one can recall that the threat level in the US has been at orange (second highest) for years. When so much of our affairs as human beings today involve violence and the use of force, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we face so much insecurity.
Tomorrow, we move on to Goz Beida and Djabal camp. Looking forward to getting started on the work we’re here to do.