Monday, 2 October 2017

A picture is worth a thousand words

A not so  old camel
Art in Bardai has been around for a long time, 5-10 thousands of years in fact. Pictures of elephants ostriches and panthers together with their hunters are found all over the rocks near the town. Not quite so old, but equally fun to see are pictures of camels also etched on the rocks a mere 2500 years ago.

But you don’t need to go back thousands of years to see art in Bardai just 30 years ago a French Artist decided to make an art installation not far from Bardai. We visited twice while we were there, huge rocks in a valley painted with what seemed to be red, white and blue a peaceful place to spend a Sunday afternoon. One day we hope we will walk there, the last time Mark played golf with some of the other missionaries and Chadian friends -only 2 clubs and dig the holes yourself so interesting.

Art in the desert
Amazing views

Browsing the internet whilst back in England ,we even came across a copy of the guide to the rocks as they were in the beginning, bright colours startling against the austere brown rocks which surround the valley. We discovered that they had been purple as well and that there were small signs on some of them-we’ll have to look and see if they are still there next time.
Nature too brings its own art work as the colours of the mountains change under the light of the setting and rising sun from brown to orange to yellows. The view from our house is stunning each evening as the sun sets behind the mountains.

Setting sun on the rocks

Occasional clouds too change how the mountains are perceived  and highlight layers previously unseen.

View from our house


The local people may not be so aware of the colours of the mountains or the changes of light, they have been watching it for a long time. However they are aware of the changes of the colours of the ripening dates and our Teda language lessons are teaching us all the names for the dates as they change from white to green, then yellow and brown and we’ve also found out how the different seasons are closely tied in with the date harvest. Showing how the Teda have always been so dependent on the dates for their livelihood.

How to pollinate dates
It’s hard to remember all the words and that’s not the only complex thing about the language. The first thing we had to remember was that the sentence seems to be the wrong way around with the verb at the end – not a totally unusual thing but needs remembering. Then you have the same word meaning more than one thing depending on how you say it- was that a cloud in the sky or a dog or a drum? Well it all depends on the tone.

The verbs too have proved fun with each verb having two forms depending on whether you are putting down or buying or picking up or so on, one or more things and the two words  don’t even bear any resemblance to each other. Add in the fact that if I give you or I give him something the verb also changes at the front and our brains are swimming.
Nature walk as a lesson looking at  parts of trees

Looking at the volcanic rocks

So we thought we’d be sensible and concentrate on the medical terms for a bit as that’s why we especially want to know the language. However, still more complication it’s not as simple as saying I am vomiting but rather the vomiting is happening to me which makes the verb extremely long and almost impossible to say never mind remember.

Despite all this we are making some progress, someway towards a thousand words, or one picture. It always seems worthwhile when we are able to use a little and get a smile from our patients and neighbours.

We are hoping we have not forgotten it all and looking forward to getting back to our hill top house but we have to be a little patient and wait until mid November as at present we are ensuring that Marks Mum and sister who have both been unwell are back on their feet again and not needing us around.

That means chance to see more art work as the seasons change here in England and the Autumn colours begin something we haven’t seen for 7 years.
Autumn beginning in Scotland

Friday, 19 May 2017

A Theological Gardeners Question Time

And now this week's letter question to the panel is from Mr and Mrs Hotchkin, in Chad, which is, if I'm not mistaken, somewhere down south.


 ''In hopefully a wise move, we are in the process of acquiring a new home with a west facing rocky hillside garden at an elevation of 3000 feet in the Sahara.  It has only a small amount of poor soil that has been imported to the plot arranged in two small beds. The first in the middle of the yard contains a flourishing young fig tree, the second has a tenacious small vine that is starting to grow over one of the outhouses.  What other suitable preferably edible plants would the panel suggest to complete this biblical picture of peace and prosperity. A photo of possible candidates from our current plot beside the local wadi (dry river bed) is attached.''



PS: the fig tree is currently bearing fruit, however the vine has yet to show any sign of doing so, any suggestions as to how to resolve this unusual problem''

PPS: basically this is a quiz, how many edible plants can you spot? (answers at the end of the post).


You will have gathered that we are moving house, we have been borrowing our current home from a Swiss couple who work as linguists for the project and are due back at the beginning of June.  We have told you a bit about the garden but for those of you that don't listen to radio 4, let's try another tack for the house itself.


Location is apparently  all important in the choice of a new property, and then although it may not yet possess all the features that are required for modern living if it has potential it can be bought up to scratch without too much effort and expense. So how does our new house measure up?


Location, Location, Location -Yes .The view is fantastic, the house is in the foreground above, and the place is  ideal for us, being attached to the other  properties of a friendly local family .It is within 5 minutes walk of the hospital, ideal for call outs at night without being too close. Finally  being half way up a hillside, that nicely eliminates the possibility of flooding that is believe it or not a real risk amongst the date palms in the floor of the valley.

 BUT what about the house? The main building of the house itself  is a traditional local stone built flat roofed structure, ideal for retaining warmth in winter months, but rather hot for the summer. No problem as there are a number of semi-permanent rushing covered outhouses in the walled yard  that can be useful for day time shade and sleeping when needed. (the rushes grow in permanently damp areas of some of the Tibesti wadis, as climate changes and the water table falls,  they are harder to find, and no longer grow at Bardai).Just a small change needed inside with a concrete floor to replace the sand.

The kitchen is basic, with a low reed roof and poor ventilation. So more changes this time. The walls are being raised, and rendered and a less flammable metal sheet roof has been made. The removal of the open fire, and the replacement with a kerosene burner takes away some of the charm but will make it much less sooty. Soon a concrete floor will replace the sand making it easier to keep clean and rodent resistant. Wood for simple shelves will have to come from Ndjamena at a later date, meanwhile we can use metal trunks to store our food -it will soon be high standard living for the area.


Water now that was a different issue - here we nearly had to change our minds. The town water supply has an open pipe about 50m from the front door, a long way to walk to fill the kettle so 4 large barrels have been obtained (ordered especially from Libya) that we can replenish on alternate days when water is pumped. To save us having to carry it in buckets we have also bought a small pump to boost the intermittent supply up to our house.

And then the all important bathroom, being less than basic it needed improving. There is a simple outdoor shower but no latrine. With difficulty one had to be dug/hewn from the rock and an outhouse will be built around it- a perfect solution.


All this takes time but thankfully we do have an expert Changing Rooms team of 3 Chadian builders and local team members as well, giving supervisory and logistical help. One of them is related to our new landlord, what more could you need? There is no shortage of sand and gravel here, and cement was for sale on the local market, but all the wood and roofing sheets had to be brought specially from Libya and all we have to do is provide the builders tea (green, no milk and lots of sugar) and money for bread and sardines for lunch.


So for us this fits the bill and we are excited to be moving in soon.


Meanwhile we are free to continue to learn the Teda language, help to reorganise the work at the hospital and  do a weekly outpatient clinic there too. Putting down roots and getting bedded in takes time, perhaps that is what the vine is doing too.



Answers to the plant quiz:   Basil, male melon flowers ( can be fried), flowers from local rocket salad, yellow sprouting broccoli, moringa ( an edible tree leaf). The Zinnia is ornamental only as far as we know.






Saturday, 18 March 2017

Cool Camping


Words can have more than one meaning, so cool camping may not mean what you think it does. But lets first take an example in Tudaga, Kûdi, it   can mean dog or drum (falling tone), and with a slight change (rising tone) bed or cloud. No doubt this can lead to confusion, but beating a dog in church would not be a normal activity so I guess the context usually makes it clear. English is less complicated, there are no tonal meanings that I am aware of, but words such as ‘cool’ can all the same lead to confusion.  Cool camping is a website that we have used  in the UK, cool in the sense of special, less frequented, beautiful and often simple. I guess a campsite in  Bardai would probably fit the category quite nicely.  It could also have a difference sense of the word ‘cool’ that is ‘chilly’ with night time outside temperature down as low as 2° C ( yes only  just above freezing) since we have been here, that would fit as well. Therefore camping might not seem to be such an attractive idea, but I am not sure that it is a lot different from how we live.

The house we are living in at the moment
Andrea unpacking our trunks just arrived from Ndjamena

So welcome to Cool Camping Bardai, (in as many senses of the words as you choose to understand). It has received ***** reviews for its spectacular  situation but rather less for its facilities.  We are living in a simple breeze block house, borrowed from a linguist couple who are out of the country for a few months. It consists of a main room and a bedroom each of which have a  small ( 30 X 30 cm) shuttered window. There is a veranda and a separate kitchen. The roof, doors and windows are all made of corrugated aluminium and there are no ceilings. It is fully equipped so we only had to bring our personal items from Ndjamena with us, clothes, books, household objects, some medical supplies and equipment, and  dried food etc.. in 3 large metal trunks which now double as cupboard space.

 It has a reasonable sized yard with a small garden plot and we have some tomatoes, aubergines, hot and sweet peppers plus some herbs growing. So far only a handful of each but hopefully more with regular watering.

 We are a 15 minute walk up a sandy road to the hospital, it is  like walking in snow in that it takes more effort than normal.  The main street with its collection of lock up stores all of selling  the same collection of tinned and dried food is about 200m away.

Having spent our first night at Bardai it was rather chilly and so we decided to have breakfast outside, the air temperature rapidly rose and the sun felt warm. Next we organised the house, made book shelves in the lounge with large dried milk tins and planks. Then we  put some postcards on the wall.

In addition to sponge mattresses on the concrete floor of the bedroom we have a large pop up mosquito net. Due to lack of water there are no mosquitoes, but scorpions are a real problem. A four seasons sleeping bag from the UK along with bedsocks and a rug, is enough to keep us warm.

The kitchen is also pretty simple, having a single kerosene stove supplemented by the solar cooker. There is  no running water in the kitchen but the stand pipe in the yard has an intermittent town  water supply, 4 hours every 2 days so we keep a couple of  large 150l drums full. We wash our pots and clothes by hand and all the waste water gets poured onto the garden.

We have electricity from a solar panel on the roof and a single large truck battery. The computer and phone can be charged by day and the 12v fridge in the kitchen is amazingly efficient, but then again it is the cold season. As I write this the light bulb has gone out, we usually have one on at a time.


Finally the bathroom, always a selling point in a house, it has a fantastic view and the sun warms you by day. It is situated  next to the garden, just behind the  washing on the line in the picture above. Bucket showers with solar heated water are very nice. The toilet, a simple pit latrine, is  separate  being just outside the  wall and again it has a fantastic view of the stars.

So as you can see living here really is rather like camping, but that’s fine as that is something that  we have always enjoyed  doing. Now that the weather is warming up it is getting much easier, dressing for dinner no longer requires thermal underwear, which is a nice change. Strange to think that in  a couple of months time we will be sleeping outside as it is too hot to be  within the walls of the house.
However we are not really camping and we are settling in to our new routine, from the first week that we arrived we have had a 2 hour Teda language lesson in the  morning, followed by private study. Also we have been  helping out at the cultural centre some afternoons a week and are spending a couple of afternoons  working at the hospital mainly sorting out and organising all the material. In between shopping, going for walks in the hills, visiting neighbours  and watching a football match. Its a cool place to be!

Key:  A : Hospital
          B: Water Tower
          C: Telephone Mast
          D: Church
          E: Mosque
          F: Our home is somewhere in the date palms

Thursday, 2 March 2017

This is not a holiday………..

……………. but if it were it would be the holiday of a lifetime.
So here we are in the Tibesti mountains that we had first seen from an Air France flight to Ndjamena in 2009 with a spectacular sunset. Could we ever make a visit we wondered, as we looked at the beautiful sunset with long shadows from the mountains in the midst of the desert. Eight years later, having been invited to in the hospital, we are making the journey to our new home at Bardai and on the way passing by the spectacular Trou de Natron. We are stood on the rim of an old volcano, at about 2500m (8000 ft.), it is chilly despite the cloudless sky and eerily quiet. It is 700m to the base of the crater where there are scattered trees, large white mineral deposits and just above Andrea’s head in the picture a volcanic cinder cone that is actually 200m high. The entire crater is 7 km across, so about 22km to walk around or perhaps take the track to the base and greet the hermit that lives there? But not today, this isn’t a tourist trip after all.  It is midday and were are still 4 hours from Bardai so after a 15-minute break we set off again on a rocky track travelling at 20km an hour, having to walk at times to ease the load on the vehicle. And just in case you wonder about visiting we have been on the road for two and a half long days from Ndjamena heading north, setting off before dawn and stopping after sunset sleeping rough.

In Ndjamena a few people asked me how I was going to drive to Bardai, try getting a route on Google maps, it will tell you that there isn’t a route, and it’s quite right or at least not one that you can take by yourself. Thankfully we travelled with 2 very experienced colleagues, and another chadian who would do the cooking. They made all the preparations, the necessary paperwork, a barrel of petrol, a barrel of water, food for the trip, our trunks, other project materials and other necessities such as material for an upcoming wedding plus my guitar were all loaded onto the Hilux 4X4 the night before. (Yes it is petrol driven, the Teda apparently prefer that as they get more power and acceleration) We set off early next day heading North passing villages on hills with walled fortress type houses.

 After  midday we stopped at Mao, used the facilities of the small town-  the last petrol pump and eating place. Women don’t eat in restaurants so a back room was found so Andrea could eat as well. Then we set off into the wastelands thankful to have a sat nav, and sat phone with us. There is a track but it is not always easy to follow, I guess this is desert, but it is not sandy yet, scrubby hills with occasional nomad settlements, a few camels and goats.

By nightfall we arrived at the edge of the sandy desert, where the north south track meets and east west track and there are a few small shelters and a handful of trucks parked for the night. In the dark our guides cooked a lamb stew with macaroni, it smelt and tasted very high and gamey, having travelled with us from Ndjamena in a plastic bag. They saved the rest of the raw meat for the next day.           
Usually everyone sleeps outside, it can be cold and is often very windy and dusty, but we were fortunate with clear skies and Andrea and I were offered a hut made of matting to sleep in as again Andrea was the only woman around.
Setting off the next day was quite different, the track disappeared in the soft sands and we stopped and let some air out of the tyres to help with spreading the load. Every few hundred metres large tyres had been left to show the way. This is a truck route from Libya and we saw a few, often undergoing repairs or stopped to cool down an overheated engine. The soft sandy desert with dunes gave way to a vast flat featureless landscape.

We stopped to refuel at a service station  (spot the yellow hose in the picture syphoning the fuel), stretch our legs and find a bush (quite a difficult task).
Early afternoon we stopped at this small oasis, at the most amazing picnic spot ever, nearly everyone (4/5)  agreed the lamb was too far gone and so it was tuna and spaghetti, Andrea eating apart from the men as is traditional.

A few more hours and we approached Zohar Ke on the edge of the Tibesti mountains, a small trucker’s town and having found a small hut/restaurant serving roast chicken with coca cola this time 2 men in a back room were asked to move to make way for our strange party with a woman. We again camped out on the edge of town, this time in the open air. With our two fourteen hour days we had made good time so we slept in and had breakfast, bread brought with us  from Ndjamena and some dried salted beef, as the sun rose. Our colleagues warmed their hands and feet by a fire before tying the ropes over the load on the vehicle.

 Once out of the town at the foot of the first mountains we again stopped and reinflated the tyres and then it was the long hard climb through the mountains, walking from time to time so as not to damage the vehicle. Here in this barren landscape we saw wild donkeys, camels and even deer in the distance.

 Our highest point was rewarded with one of the most spectacular views in the world and then we began the slow descent to Bardai. The trip had only taken 3 days, we had planned for 4, but we had not even had a puncture.

The sign in the road outside our home shows where we are, 1734 km from Ndjamena. We slept well inside and woke to a cold sunny morning, 10C inside 3C outside, welcome to Bardai (which means cold in Arabic). The holiday is over, now it’s time to get ready for work.
PS: Don’t be fooled by this blog into thinking that the internet functions well here, this has been sent from a smart phone as several attachments to an email and then posted by Rebecca in the UK.

Moon rise from our yard, first night at Bardai.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Days of honey and onions

Cows hoping to get a lift on the way to Amtiman
Travelling in Chad can be tiring, long dusty roads in the baking heat and slowing for villages, sometimes there's a school, you can tell by the yard with a flag and collection of temporary shelters of rushes or perhaps they have a school building. Some will have a health centre and a few lock up stores. They all seem to have donkeys , dogs and goats.

Typically the small flock of goats scatter as the vehicle arrives, the dogs turn and run after the car barking, unless its midday, in which case they are sleeping. The donkey, well he was slowly crossing the road, but as the car comes, he stops and turns slowly to look at the car, and causes us to slow right down or even stop, whatever is he thinking of? Its not like he's an elephant and he's showing his power.

Well Ahmat our language teacher shared a tale with us that explains it all, (it also made me feel better as I wondered how he coped with our anthropomorphic children's illustrated books and the talking frogs).

A donkey, a dog and a goat wanted to travel to the next big town to go to market and so they went to the taxi stop and got into a bush taxi. The donkey paid the right money 1000 francs, the dog gave a 5000 franc note and the taxi boy promised him his change as he got off. Finally the goat said he had no money but his brother was meeting him and he would pay later. Once they were all on board they set off and pretty soon they were whizzing along enjoying the breeze, stopping off at villages and eventually they were there. The donkey just sat there, they asked him to get out but he simply said that he was comfortable, had bought the seat and still wanted to sit in it, and so he did. They dog got out and was waiting for his change when suddenly the goat made a run for it, joining his waiting brothers and skipping away without paying. At this the taxi-man put his foot down and shot off after the fast disappearing goats and the dog ran after him barking.

And to this day they do the same, when they see a car the goat runs off, to avoid paying the fare that he owes, the dog runs after it, to get his change and the donkey, he blocks the road so that he can climb on board and sit back down in the seat that he has already paid for.

Well that was the first story that we ever understood in Chadian Arabic, is it useful? As a marker of progress in language learning ,yes, otherwise probably not I tried to make this into a parable and failed miserably.

On another day Ahmat was amazed looking at our calendar of Yorkshire, it was so beautiful and I told him that it wasn't a land of milk and honey but there were problems there too. 'Laban and asal'  (milk and honey) is not an Arabic phrase so it had to be explained to him and he then said that in Chad they say 'Yom asal, yom basal' (days of honey, days of onions). It really has the sense of sweet times are followed by tears an all to frequent reality in this country where children die all too often and life is hard. 

A taste of Amtiman

Sunset from our front gate at Amtiman
Question: Why does living in Amtiman make Andrea think of a Sunday School outing in Penzance?   
(Answer at the end of the blog)

So does Amtiman make us think of  anything else?

Yes Amtiman- the name itself means mother of twins- 
Wikepedia says the reason for the name is unknown but it seems pretty obvious to us. In the neighbourhood where we live we have visited 2 sets of twins and another had recently left for a nearby village. The first set were nearby and one was sick so Mark has done his best to treat the little girl but she is still not fully better- it’s strange not having a hospital to take her too. The local one here sent her back home when we sent her there for further tests. The other twins were at the hospital as they were small and we visited and then were able to take part in the naming ceremony when they came home.

Drinking sweet tea- an essential part of life  -

At 6 am wrapped in our laffees our American neighbour and I arrived  for the naming ceremony with our knives at the ready to help prepare the food .We were too early so we were offered sweet milk to drink and biscuits and then tea and donuts and finally sweet peanut  porridge which you drink  so I guess we were very early .We then got to cut onions and they were all amused at the need for a board and provided a stick and then when that was a bit wobbly a bigger one! Mark and her husband went later and joined then men (including the dad who is himself a twin) to eat.

 Living separate Lives -men and women

Over 150 children were treated under this tree

The official photo, we slept in the hut in the background
When we go out visiting - the women visit the women and the men the men and lives are lived very much apart. This was really noticeable when we went out in a village to help with a Schistosomiasis  treatment programme it’s a disease where  worms cause  you to have blood in the urine. We did not see each other all day being in different parts of the village and eating separately a massive platter of meat for men and sweet potato stew for the women . After exceptionally being allowed to sleep in the same hut we separated again and Andrea was fortunate to be  present at a delivery when a healthy baby girl was delivered while Mark helped with the treatment programme. Here in Amtiman Mark has found some men to talk to (including some adult  twins) when he goes to buy phone credit they are always ready for a chat in Arabic as limited as it is and Dianna and Andrea visit the women in their houses.

Jalabeers and Laffees

Rebecca visited at New Year with her friends
No going out visiting without wrapping up- Andrea in her laffee and Mark in his jalabeer (he is allowed out occasionally in T shirt and jeans) it’s good to get used to wearing them and Andrea is surprised that you can shop in one without it falling off all the time.

Watching a film under the stars

Preparing food, vegetables only please

The Christmas celebration at church on the 24th of December involved  women preparing from early morning onions again- this time 100s and a sheep and cow and chickens to go with them. Men helped with the meat and plaited the intestines into a sausage , but most arrived  later to eat!!

 All sorts of local dignitaries and others are invited and the meal is followed by a sermon and songs from the choir and bible verse reciting until early evening when we were able to show the Jesus film in Arabic under the stars. Maybe 300 people were    watching from all round the church quarter. 

Choir singing, the screen for the film is behind

Donkeys and Camels - Giraffes and Lions

Amtiman is full of donkeys carrying people or wood or market goods of one sort or another. Camels too are frequently seen on the streets as there are many nomads nearby. Not in town but in the near by safari park we enjoyed seeing lots of  giraffes and even five lions lying down together  over the New Year.

Melons and Saffron buns-

Although there are many things that are harder to get here than in Ndjamena the melons and tomatoes are plentiful and cheap and have dried well filet steak is £3  a kilo  and then the saffron buns  sold by Marks local phone credit  man are what make Andrea think of Sunday school outings -although they are sadly lacking in sultanas and half the size they still make a nice breakfast at 7p each !