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 !

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Dry as a crisp and not just the weather

I think we’ll just become vegetarians was the line we were taking as we considered life in the North of Chad and the fact that meat was only available for parties when people decided to kill a camel.

Then we thought well maybe a tin of something meaty once a week. How-ever choices in Ndjamena seemed limited and expensive when we visited the supermarkets and then how much weight are you allowed to take in an aeroplane or how much space can we have in a pick-up. What about the fact that vegetables are not too readily available and don’t even mention cheese. So how to have a balanced diet- maybe just dried beans would be fine.

Finally one of our new team mates arrived in Ndjamena and we took her advice, followed her expert tuition and started drying meat. Boil mince meat for an hour or so then slow dry in the oven was her advice and its ready when it looks like light coloured coffee granules! So now we have several jam jars of meat ready to go with us. It’s amazing how much water there is in it.

Inspired we moved on to fruit and vegetables- we hope we may grow our own- but as we are not going as agriculturists we may be a little hungry at first and even later on. Some veg will be available but it all depends on trucks coming into the town with supplies and on us not being too busy and getting there before it’s all sold.

So we have dried green beans(chewy) and cabbage (not sure) and peppers (definitely nice like roasted ones). We have also dried pineapple and guavas (a bit seedy), apples and bananas soaked in lemon juice. Sadly it’s not mango season because as many of you know from the summer they are very tasty. We’ll have to get Rebecca trained when we’re away to do some for our next trip.

We’re still waiting for tomatoes and carrots to go down in price and then we will add them in. All these have been done in the solar cooker so no extra cost, not too difficult and finally no weight or space to transport them. It’s amazing what advice you can get on the internet when you’re not sure how to do things.

So now all we need is some recipes and we’ll be cooking on gas well not quite actually we will be using kerosene stoves and our solar oven!

The other good news is that we now know all the words for these things in Arabic and are even allowed to say them. So far we haven’t ended up with any of the wrong things at market but bargaining in Arabic money is not always easy but that’s another story…………





Wednesday, 5 October 2016

So you speak a new language


Well that’s the aim but not out loud just yet.

 We arrived back in Ndjamena 2 weeks ago – our first job was to collect all our belongings from Guinebor where they had somehow managed to get dusty even shut in a container. Then we unpacked a few necessities and set up in our new home in the middle of the town on the TEAM compound as it happens where we stayed the first ever night we spent in Chad although we have the big house so we can sort our things more easily. It’s been good to start to get to know the other TEAM missionaries and feel part of a new team (this could get confusing!)

 After asking for advice from one of the other missionaries as to how to find a language helper just a week later we had our first language lesson. This however is a lesson with a difference do you remember how you learnt to talk- well maybe not but do you remember how your children learnt. Well they didn’t write much down and they didn’t speak to start with and…… that’s what we are doing.

With the aid of pictures and objects and a nifty small MP3 recorder ( that we fortunately found on the market)  we are learning a new vocabulary but not actually speaking very much. So by tomorrow we will have 150 new words that we can recognise and we continue building on this for another 2 weeks with very little speaking till we get to 300.  We do know some words already and also we have obviously been doing the listening bit for a long while so we have spoken a little but are still following the method fairly closely. It’s fun but challenging too.

 The method is called GPA or Growing Participator Approach and the idea is that learning a new language means that, to quote the study guide.

‘You don't learn the language! Rather, discover a new world, as it is known and shared by the people among whom you are living.’

This gives us an excuse to go to market and practice our new words well actually so far rabbit, snake and the parts of the body have not been too useful. However Mark decided that if he looked the part perhaps it would help so we ventured into the clothes part of the market to buy a Jalabeer. He wanted a simple cotton one -not as easy as it sounds lots have a lot of embroidery and we were assured that the readymade one we were offered was 100% cotton until we found the label saying 100% yes but polyester!! Eventually the cloth was bought -at a price and the tailor paid and we picked it up last Friday. So far there hasn’t been any major change in the Arabic but perhaps it would help if he wore it!

 So we continue to learn a new language and to speak a little, one big advantage being no faux pas yet until we have to open our mouths.


Sunday, 21 August 2016

Pictures at an exhibition?

Mother and Child- a present to Andrea
from the midwives at Guinebor II 
Half way through August and nearly at the end of our whirlwind tour of the UK up north to Lochgilhpead and down south  to Penzance and then across west to Penarth  and east to Eye too. Visits to BMS churches, friends, medical courses and holidays have all been squeezed in. Meanwhile we have been making plans for our return to Chad. We will return to Ndjamena on the 16th of September and be based there whilst we learn Arabic. Initially for 2 months and then afterwards in Amtiman practicing what we have learnt.

After that the next challenge begins getting ready to move up north and another language to learn. However as  we move on we thought we’d also look back one more time. On leaving our house in Guinebor II we emptied it and put all the contents in a container rather the reverse of our arrival where we had to empty the containers and sort out what had been eaten by termites or melted by the sun. Hopefully that will not be happening  this time.

Looking around at all the pictures we had collected over the last 5 years it gave us a chance to reflect and here are some of our thoughts.

The market scene just like the central market in Ndjamena where we or our house help do the weekly shop. This was a picture Mark bought on a roundabout of which there are rather a lot in Ndjamena he bought it soon after arriving in Chad when he spent a lot of time driving the girls to school and waiting around-before they could really speak French and we didn’t have our reliable driver Dago it seems a long time ago.

The second is a picture we bought
at Dougia a small hotel with a pool where we spent a quite few weekends relaxing. It is just south of Lake Chad on the river bank with Cameroon just 400m across the water. Sadly due to security advice we have been unable to go there for the past couple of years.
The artist sold us the picture, it shows a typical Chadian scene, a herd of animals in the desert reminiscent of cave paintings. The image glows as it did  in reality the day we drove to elephant rock and again not so long ago when we flew over the desert up to the North of Chad.


We keep this picture up of rice fields in Guinea as it reminds us of our time and friends there. All that we learnt in Guinea has been so helpful to us as we opened and ran the hospital from planning the pharmacy to knowing at least a little about the French employment code. It also gave us all a great love for rice with nearly every meal something readily available in Chad, although Chadians prefer boule and we are taking our time to fully adapt.

These women walking towards us remind me of the Arabic women in our hospital heads covered most wearing laffees (a long strip of material wrapped around over your clothes) and reaching for their headscarves immediately they awake from the anaesthetic or leave the consultation room.  I remember when we opened the hospital and wondered if anyone would come we have served so many patients since its becomes hard to remember them all. I also begin to wonder if I will ever get used to wearing a laffee as I hope I will in Amtiman and afterwards. I guess so as even at Guinebor it felt strange leaving the house without a headscarf.

Another group of women this time in relief the surface is hard and Chad can be a tough place to live heat and dust our constant companions not to mention flies they are incredible in Chad everywhere you go they follow you soon learn the value of a plastic fly swatter and mosquito netting.

Ruths picture from an old fort on the Isles of Scilly reminds us both of her and our holiday there a few years ago a magical place to relax and all our good times of rest in the UK away from the business of Guinebor.

A map of Chad made by women who have had fistula surgery  in Ndjamena and are looking to start afresh now cured. We look at this and think about our travels up to Bitkine over to Abeche and Goz Beida and down to Mondou. The quiet of a morning at Zakouma seeing a giraffe appear out of the trees. The sunset over the hills of Bitkine and the fun rickshaws in Abeche. The whole of Chad such a mixture of people with great needs for health, education and peace.

Women walking away from us-bought in a new craft shop in town this one was one of the artists old style pictures which made the price much better!! This is the last picture we bought and reminds us that we walk into a future that will still involve caring for women and children just as we have done at Guinebor and there is still work to be done.