achatfromchad

blog from chad

Archive for February, 2013

Mangoes, Papayas and SIM Cards

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Thank heavens for iPads with 3G functionality!  This wonderful gadget has been our lifesaver here in Chad, as indeed it was when we first bought if for our trip to Namibia in 2012.  The only difficulty is trying to work out how to buy the necessary SIM card when you arrive in a country like Chad.   Time to ask our fountain-of-all-knowledge, Annabelle.  No problem she says, just ask the driver to take you to the TIGO shop (Tigo and Airtel are the two local Chadian network providers).  Local broadband is either painfully slow or non-existent which is why we prefer/or need to take the 3G route.

Long live the iPad!

Long live the iPad!

At this time my temporary driver was Jacoub.  He drove me to a very crowded street where we parked, leaving the 4 x 4  in the middle of the street (!). We wound our way on foot, through a sea of robed men as I silently noted not a woman was in sight.  At the end of the street we turned a corner and found a line of men selling TIGO SIM cards from a small roadside stalls.  Dozens of SIM cards were laid out with their phone numbers showing.  I was deliberating and looking for a number I liked the look of while Jacoub just stuck his finger on one, beamed and the decision was made.

iPads take mini SIM cards and I hadn’t seen any of those here in Chad.  I shortly realised why.  You buy a normal sized card and on the spot they cut the larger card to make it fit.  African ingenuity yet again!

Annabelle had told us about an easy way to charge up our TIGO cards, both for our mobile phones and the iPad.  For his she took us to her favourite vegetable stall and introduced us to Monsieur Ali.  ‘Il est honet’ she added.  Lurking around Monsieur Ali’s stall she normally finds her man called Moussa.  Moussa is a TIGO salesman and we gather he works on commission!  We find him washing himself in preparation for his prayers.  We wait.  Introductions made , SIM card phone numbers given, money exchanged  (50,000 CFAs, that’s about €75 for a 30 day period to have the iPad connected!) and we are online and back in contact with the outside world.

Papaya

Papaya

Now the best thing about meeting Moussa is that no matter where we are in the country, if our cards run out, we just ring him, he charges them remotely and we pay him next time we are in N’Djamena buying vegetables!!  What a good arrangement and we kill two birds with one stone.  What more could one ask for than a good papaya, and mango to go with a newly charged phone card!  IT’S A CRAZY WORLD.

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Sandstorms and Powercuts

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

We were still at the Club-Coton-Chad hotel in Moundou. Carlo had gone to work at sunrise and I got up lazily an hour later. I extricated myself from my mosquito net, turned off the air-conditioner, unplugged the anti-mosquito gadget and opened my hotel room door with relief, anticipating that first breath of cooler fresh morning air. I had to rub my eyes because my vision was very hazy. My sight did not clear and it then dawned on me that the air was indeed like that of an early misty morning in England. Only it didn’t smell like a misty morning. It smelt, well dusty. Just as I was contemplating this the gardener, wearing a surgical mask, walked by and said ‘best to keep your door shut today’. Overnight a dust storm had quietly rolled in over Moundou, on its way south from the Sahara Desert.
I needed my first coffee of the day, regardless of any sandstorm, so I want over to the hotel bar and with my cup in hand retreated back into the relatively dust-free cocoon of my hotel room and obediently closed the door. I guess it would be a good day for writing BLOGS. I wondered what Carlo was doing out in the bush in this weather.
Dusty streets of Moundou, BEFORE the sandstorm

Dusty streets of Moundou, BEFORE the sandstorm

The sand storm meant the flight from N’Djamena to Moundou was cancelled but it seemed everyone affected was quite resigned to the fact they either waited until the next day or tackled the dusty 6 hour drive. By the next morning the dust had moved on and life was back to normal …. well almost. 30 passengers eagerly awaited the early arrival of their flight back to NDJ only to be told quite bluntly ‘no flight today!’. Pressed for more details the official finally confessed the President had needed the plane and that it MIGHT pass this way later in the afternoon so they should all return to the airport at 4pm. They did and guess what, no plane. The President and delegation had not finished their day’s work. The following day the plane DID eventually arrive.

Road outside our entrance gate

Road outside our entrance gate in N’Djamena

We hadn’t given a moment’s thought as to how bad the sand storm, which hit Moundou, might have been back in the capital. So it was a horrible shock to arrive back at our house, after long, bumpy and dusty day’s drive and to be confronted by a garden shrouded in orange dust. Worse was to come when we entered the house as every surface was coated with a thick layer of sand, from the beds and sofas to the floors and tables. At this moment in time I had a serious sense of humour failure!! Those of you who know me well know about my dodgy lungs and therefore my wariness of dust!

Our shelves after the sandstorm!

Our shelves after the sandstorm!

The house doesn’t possess a vacuum cleaner or even a dustpan and brush. The cleaning material consists of one worn out broom, and a bucket and mop which we bought on arrival. After some moments of cursing we set to and began wiping away the dust in the best way we could. We stripped the bed, and shook the curtains. Carlo had meanwhile rung Annabelle to ask if she could find us a cleaner to help. She had been so busy that week that she had forgotten about our house. She had lived here before us and knew only too well that it leaked like a sieve. She and her younger son drove over to offer moral support. By the time they arrived we were under control, at least enough to allow us to have something to eat and go to bed. The rest would be tackled the next day when we were less tired.

Our entrance seen from our dirt road

Our entrance with Parmenas just visible

And so that is how it happened. Carlo went to work early and with renewed energy, rubber gloves and copious buckets of water the layers of dust were despatched. A 4 x 4 drew up at the house and one of the company’s employees arrived carrying an old vacuum cleaner! Thoughtful Annabelle. Hot and sweaty I grabbed a glass of water and to cool down turned on the two overhead fans in the living room. What a mistake that was as suddenly there was another sandstorm! I had forgotten to wipe the dust off their blades. SO back to square one! Aaaaaagh this b—– dust! Shortly after this the power cut out – it does so most days – so what use was a vacuum cleaner now. I hadn’t the energy (or the know-how?) to crank up the noisy outside generator but in the neighbouring properties I heard them burst into life. A week or so earlier Carlo had instructed me how to turn on ours. ‘You push this lever down on the outside electricity box on the garden wall, then you go to the generator and flick this switch, before then flicking this one, before then finally pulling down these 3 levers. Clear?’ ‘As mud’, I thought!

THE generator.  Note spare deisel sitting beside it in the barrel!  Trouble is no one had the key to open the fuel tank on the generator.

THE generator. Note spare diesel sitting beside it in the barrel! Trouble is no one had the key to open the fuel tank on the generator.

To be honest dust is a losing battle because our garden is a leafy canopy of trees and low shrubs and the sandstorm had coated them thickly, as it did everything else, so each time there’s the slightest breeze the air is a haze of fine dust which of course comes straight into the house, which as I said before, leaks like a sieve. I persuaded our guard to hose down some the dustiest plants. Not easy as our water pressure is so low that it only trickles out of the hose. I am now beginning to appreciate why Annabelle suggested we should have a cleaner as this is a daily cleaning project if you want to keep on top of it. As yet I have not succumbed, being a lady of leisure with time on her hands. Even better news is that my lungs have not succumbed either.

Our dusty garden with piles of dried leaves waiting to someone to remove them

Our dusty garden with piles of dried leaves waiting to someone to remove them

All this reminded me why the Arabs wrap swirls of fabric around their heads. When the dust blows they just bury their faces deeper into the rolls of fabric until only their eyes are visible. Remind me to buy some material.

Metres of useful fabric

Metres of useful fabric

A few days later, on one of my shopping trips around the town I said to my driver Mohammed ‘lots of dust in the air today. Is this a another sandstorm?’ and he replied ‘no its a fog’. ‘Oh’ I replied, curiously adding ‘where does this fog come from?’. ‘The Sahara’ was his reply!!
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Why Do We Have Drivers and Guards?

Thursday, February 28th, 2013

 

Our vehicle with driver Mohammed posing nicely outside our gate

Our vehicle with driver Mohammed posing nicely outside our gate

Why you might be wondering do we have drivers and house guards?   Are we pampered expats?  Far from it I am afraid.  Both are deemed necessary for our safety and security.

 

Driving in Chad is somewhat similar to that of India for those who have been there.  Total madness and very few traffic rules.  Only difference here is that I haven’t as yet come across a cow lying in the fast lane of a highway, as I have in India.  Here it’s camels, cattle, donkeys, goats, and kids (the human variety) crossing roads without any seeming sense of the damage a car, can do to them.  Combine that with hundreds of cyclists and helmeted motorcyclists in colourful  billowing robes, coming at you from all directions, regardless of what side of the road they should be on.   I can only equate it to ‘dodgems’ at a fairground,  with lots of near misses but without the collisions.

One of th many wrecks which litters the roads outside town

One of th many wrecks which litters the roads outside town

Traffic lights ….. hmmm,  sometimes they are working, most often they are not and in any case they are largely ignored.  I think there are only five sets in the capital anyway and it seems that you can turn right, left or cross them regardless of the colour of the lights showing.  We seem to be constantly swearing and saying ‘blimey where did HE come from?!’ as another motorbike cuts us up.  Yesterday we sat obediently at a red traffic light and a car went past us on both sides.  One of the few existing Chadian guidebooks described the drivers as ‘undisciplined’.  That is an understatement.

Vehicles are often overloaded with people ...

Vehicles are often overloaded with people …

Others are overloaded with goods AND people ...

Others are overloaded with goods AND people …

Or are simple overloaded!  You can't see in this photo but wood is also stacked underneath between the wheels.  Any space is filled with the wood. We passed one of these yesterday and the rubber from a bursting tyre hit our windsheild.

Or are simply overloaded! You can’t see in this photo but wood is also stacked underneath between the wheels. Any space is filled. We passed one of these yesterday and the rubber from a bursting tyre hit our windsheild.  Take a look at the state of the tarmac road in front of the lorry.

Roundabouts ….. priority is given to those coming INTO the roundabout, like it used to be in France I believe,  so much of the time the roundabout is nothing but one chaotic and tedious circle of almost stationary traffic.

Some of the city roundabouts are very beautiful like this Mother and Child one in N'Djamena

Some of the city roundabouts are very beautiful like this Mother and Child one in N’Djamena

Pedestrians  ….. fearless children and a mass of humanity weave in and out of all traffic and mostly in a haze of dust which in low morning or evening light means they are hard to see.  If they are hard to see then perhaps imagine what it is like at night when their dark skins make them almost invisible.  Hence we are strongly advised not to drive at night.  Stray animals crossing roads, and potholes, compound the problem.

Cattle have priority!

Cattle have priority!

So that’s why we need a driver?  Well I am afraid that is not quite the full story.  The main problem is that here in Chad if you have an accident in a car, regardless whether it is your fault or not, YOU are liable and have to pay the costs.  You can be stationery and a cyclist runs into the side of your vehicle, and believe me they can and do as their shoe leather is often their brakes, well that would be your fault.  The car driver is always at fault and you end up in a court liable for huge expenses.  Imagine what that means should it be a fatality.  Hence foreign companies prefer to give their employees a car which comes with a local driver.

This one ended up against a tree

This one ended up against a tree

Rules are of course only there for guidance so having said all of the above, Carlo and other foreign workers do drive themselves to and from work.  They just do so with great care and keep an eye out for wayward cyclists and pedestrians.  When we first arrived in Chad we were given a road safety briefing which basically said if we are involved in a road accident get the hell out of the location and immediately ring Annabelle, the police and the head of security at Carlo’s company.  The latter used to be the head of police in the city.  A useful man to have on your side.

Parmenas, our daytime guard

Parmenas, our daytime guard

So now why do we need a 24 hours security guard at our house?  Ex-pats, foreign workers and wealthy blacks are mainly housed in one specific part of the town, le Quartier Klemat.  It’s conveniently close to the airport, in fact so close that from our bedroom we hear the planes taxiing for take-off.  With the recent arrival of the Mirage jets, involved in the Mali problems, it has been quite noisy!  I used to complain about living in the flight path in London, here we are living virtually on the side of the runway.

Parmenas comes to work on his bike.  He insisted I take his photo with it.

Parmenas comes to work on his bike. He insisted I take his photo with it.

The bottom line is that if a number of deemed wealthy people, be they black or white,  live together in a given area of any city with much poverty, they become an obvious target.  From what our driver says, many of the beggars and thieves are not Chadian.  They are refugees from the Sudan, Nigeria and the Central African Republic.  Several times I have tried to give them something and Mohammed has scoffed, saying ‘they’re not even our own people so why should they be begging from us?’.    Each house in Quartier Klemat has its own guard/s,  electric gates and high stone walls topped with barbed and razor wire.  Parmenas in on duty during the day and Alexandre at night.  They have their own little house at the end of the garden.  Both are delightful young men with open faces and wide smiles.  Carlo is a little sceptical about whether they would stand their ground or run if there was trouble but I doubt we’ll have to test this theory.

No surprise in this blistering heat that Parmenas nods off from time to time!

No surprise in this blistering heat that Parmenas nods off from time to time!

Well must go.  Parmenas, has just knocked on the door and said ‘Madame Rosie, the car is singing!’.  One of us must have left the radio on!!

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