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.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Something new under the sun?

                                                                               International labour day  1st May 2016 spot the 2 Chadian flags

A time to arrive and a time to leave,

A time to work and a time to rest,

A time to teach and a time to learn,

A time to laugh and a time to weep,

A time for greetings and a time for goodbyes.

‘’I know that there is nothing better for people to do than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil - this is the gift of God’      Ecclesiastes 3 (12-13)

Farid meowed at the door on  Saturday morning, it must have seemed a normal day to him, a good night out  hunting and now he could now look forward to his day job of lying around the house and being fed some delicious left overs. This is all he has ever known, but things were about to change. Firstly he was enticed into a box, then put into a car (did that really bring back unpleasant memories of a trip to the vet?) and off we set to a new home on the far side of town, a small walled compound in the middle of nowhere.  With our departure he can no longer stay at GII, so we are very happy to have found a place for him with Dia, our head midwife. She needs a new cat to keep the mice under control and to replace their much loved cat Princess who died recently. So long as he can adapt he has fallen on his feet, as cats tend to do. We will miss him.

Monday morning 7am and here I am in bed writing a blog, Andrea is making a cup of tea and Rebecca is still fast asleep on the veranda. Something new? This time last week the usual rhythm of the last 6 years was still there but change was in the air. Rebecca had already set off in the car with Dogo  for her last week at school to write her first exam paper, Philosophy, and Andrea and I were getting ready for our final few days and nights of work at Guinebor II.

The Friday before that (3/6/2016) a bit in advance so that it was before the first day of Ramadan, we had officially thanked the hospital staff and shared a meal together. Speeches were made and we received some fine gifts, amongst them a new leather briefcase for me and a mother and child statue sculpted in wood for Andrea. Really thoughtful and generous. The mayor came thanked us for our hard work, wished that we could stay and jokingly asked what we had done that we might be sent to Bardai (not a sought after posting by most Chadians)

By the following Friday, 10/6/2016 all was said and done. Bert Oubre, (CEF President and new Medical Director), his wife Debbie (Obstetric nurse) and  Kalbassou Dabassou ( Surgical technician/nurse) had arrived on Tuesday, handovers had been made and then by 5pm on Friday our time here was finished, only the packing up  of the house left to do. The day will always be remembered, Ruth got very good results from her first year at university and emailed them from her holiday travelling around Eastern Europe with friends. Rebecca sat her final paper for her Bac, and is now waiting upon results. It was Andrea’s birthday and also 33 years since we got engaged to be married. A life changing day for our family.

I did say goodbye at the Friday morning staff meeting from Andrea and me, and being the last day did make it seem a bit more real than the week before. We thanked them again for working with us as a team to serve our patients, each of them had played their role, nurses, midwives, doctors, cleaners, guards, pharmacy laboratory administration, health care assistants and sterilisation. Everyone depended on each other and will continue to do so, but we will miss the pleasure of serving with them.

And then I said goodbye, and  yes I said it in English. Au revoir just isn’t the same, although till we meet again is a fine sentiment, I preferred my mother tongue to really express my feelings. Goodbye a contraction of the old English ‘God bless you’

Good bye Guinebor.

Our last management team meeting May 2016

Saturday, 21 May 2016

The sun began to rain

A gentle patter of rain on the roof wakes us and we wonder what is happening .More confusion as I realise I am in my bedroom and not on my camp bed on the veranda the normal place to wake up to the bird song and the sun in the hot season. Yes it is raining not, I concede, a rare event in England in May but here we are having our second good rain in 3 days .Temperatures have plummeted to 23 degrees and humidity shot up to 90% and more. Little shoots start coming up out of the ground and butterflies have been seen flying around. Soon the frogs will join us singing in the rain as we did on Thursday when it arrived.

It made me wonder how it would be when it rains in Bardai (meaning cold) in the North of Chad. There it rains but a couple of times a year and sometimes not at all. It is a very small town surrounded by mountains in the middle of the Sahara desert not so far from Libya.

Thanks to Dave Forney MAF for flying us there and this photo of Emi Kosi
We flew there a few weeks ago to have a look at the hospital, meet the missionaries and see if we might feel called to work there. Flying over the desert in a small aeroplane was an experience never to forget with miles of sand dunes and then rocky mountains. We even got to fly over the highest mountain in Chad an extinct volcano.

On arrival after being fed a delicious meal made by one of the very versatile missionaries with dried meat (no meat available in town except occasionally camel) we visited the governor. He was extremely welcoming, then to our delight we were taken to see some prehistoric carvings in the rocks just on the edge of the town no entry fee or queues just there for all to see. Strange to imagine that elephants roamed the area at one time.

The next day we visited the hospital a surreal experience it was an exact copy of Goz Beida but empty .It has been open since 2011 and as yet no operation has ever been performed despite having 2 fully equipped operating theatres. Most of the very good equipment was still in its original packing. The doctors there have about 10 outpatients a day 7 deliveries a month and anything complicated is referred to Libya a 12 hour drive across desert or Faya in Chad a 24 hour drive through the mountains. Many staff who are transferred there are not keen to stay because it is so isolated and the doctor in charge of the area has no surgical experience and has only been qualified 3 years not an easy situation.

The need is obvious but the population small and life there would certainly be different, houses are very simple and we slept outside under mosquito nets to avoid the scorpions,(they are such a problem that the hospital stocks anti-venom). It was a welcome respite from the heat of Ndjamena as we huddled together under a sheet, Bardai living up to its name even in the hot season.

The next day as we left looking down over the town surrounded by the date palms it was hard to imagine the wadi filled with water but apparently just  2m  down there was water available and last year the centre where the missionaries work was flooded. Meanwhile we continue to ask where God is leading us and enjoy the water all around us here in Ndjamena as we finish our time here.