blog from chad

Escape from Chad

Escape from Chad

My last day at work! One of our machines needs a software update through an American website, three tries later it simply blocks so I give up! I suggest it is done in France. In the meantime our Directeur-Adjoint, Cherif, invites me for lunch with the new boss Lucien as they want to get to know me — after 3 months… AND the day before I leave!! As I leave the office in good time for my lunch appointment, Annabelle phones me to inform me that miraculously Geyser human resources have got their act together and my salary is on its way from the bank in cash! It arrived at the last minute just before banks closed for the weekend. Needless to say that meant I was late for lunch with the two bosses and with a pocketful of cash! Chad money works in thousands. They don’t even bother to give you change at the shop if it is less than CAF 1000! I started using scientific notation (powers of multiples of ten to the power 3) when counting money.

Well lunch was quite a pleasant affair at ‘Le Central’ run by a Lyonais chef. I see there is pork on the menu. I broach the subject cautiously and Cherif graciously tells me a story about an Iranian diplomatic delegation in Paris who refused to eat in the same room where they were serving wine. He feels that they were wrong as they were in France, the country of wine. I retort that in that case I should respect the Chad traditions, whereupon he said it did not matter as the Christians eat pork. I nevertheless order veal instead of pork as I gathered that the latter might be frowned upon privately by our new directors. It was very nice. They both quiz me about the work I have done for their company and asked ‘what exactly does a surveyor do!’ Scary they have no idea. Get my reports from Annabelle I thought to myself!

I get home late that afternoon and begin packing. In another blog I mentioned the water problems in Moundou, well the SAME thing happened at our house! The pump packed up much to Mohamed, my driver’s mirth! ‘ Boss, the water problems seem to follow you. What do you do with our Chadian pumps!?’. Geyser, my company, replaced the pump and since then the plumbing has been groaning under the strain of its newfound water pressure! The house literally started talking from all the taps and hot water cylinders. Pfuit Pfuit in the bathroom with a wolf whistle from the kitchen as you walk in and in the back bedroom a slow pshht. At night it can be quite annoying until you get used to it! The garden hose burst a few times much to Parmanas, the guard’s, annoyance.

Our new director Lucien took a liking to our house a few weeks ago on an inspection when Rosie was there and he was not very subtle in asking me when exactly was I leaving! He is welcome to the house! There are a few other booby traps which he will have to discover for himself! Goodbye house you served your purpose.

They only allow access to the airport from one road, heavily guarded on all sides with a checkpoint 700 m from the actual terminal building. Once allowed in you have to pay CAF 500 for the privilege of dropping off your passenger. Only the passenger is then allowed in with a designated porter who eagerly guides you through to the baggage check-in and promptly disappears once he got the obligatory tip – Sorry sir this note is too torn, unacceptable as a tip! The lower denominations, still CAF 1000, are so overused that they wear out quickly! With a sigh I part with a CAF 2000 note. I get taken to the departure area where they take my photo and fingerprint both hands. I was then allowed back out into the city until boarding time a few hours later!

Before I boarded the plane I had my last meal with Annabelle and family. Last minute goodbyes, instructions and fond farewells. Mohamed, our driver, insisted that he would take me to the airport with or without Annabelle! At my departure we encountered a very harassed passenger who was clearly a new arrival and starting his stint in Chad. he looked nervous and terrified by the huge presence of soldiers with machine guns, so hailed us and demanded to be taken to the Kempiski hotel! Mohamed smiled and said ‘sure’ and promptly got paid ! He clasped my hands warmly and left…… friends for life, as he hurried away with his new client. In my suitcase I had packed his parting present to me …… A pale grey embroidered Jalaba and baggy matching trousers, made for me by his own tailor. I was quite touched!

Boarding is much smoother but they still check your boarding pass, now with an official stamp, passport, visas ( which hotel were you staying at? What, NO hotel! Give the tel number and contact of your company ) checked and your cabin luggage checked once at the departure lounge and AGAIN (open up please) just before boarding the plane! The result of Chad helping in Mali! N’Djamena airport is a target – police are everywhere, surrounding the plane and even at the actual steps of the plane itself and you can see they mean business.

At midnight we took off. The flight was uneventful except for a woman dreamily coming down the aisle just before landing. The air hostess had a fit, shouted at her to sit down at once and phew she sat down seconds before touchdown. She got a real rollicking afterwards!

Paris CDG airport is quite confusing. All the passengers from our plane get stopped in the corridor leading onto the main one and every passport scrutinised VERY closely. The police hold it up in the light to check for any false ones! Up and down stairs, lifts, follow signs to luggage. I had checked the layout of the airport on the flight magazine and knew which way sort of! Except that suddenly you are confronted by a metro like train. Must I board this to get to my luggage?! OUI OUI Messieurs vite !!! Three stops further at last another sign saying ‘luggage’… I recognise some of our passengers amongst the throng of people. I keep following signs LUGGAGE . There is method in this madness as by the time you have figured out where to go they have had ample time to deliver your luggage! I know which way the TGV station is, but there is no way out? I must go up escalators, manhandling two suitcases, forget the lifts as the queues are too long – must have been a plane from China as they are all jabbering Chinese and jostling to take the lift. No sign for TGVs simply a sign ‘trains to Paris’. But from the layout it must be the same way. I arrive at a railing two storeys up, a massive board advertises all Arrivals and Departures and two storeys below I spot a TGV sign. Phew!

I have 1 1/2 hours to kill but I know my ticket must be exchanged for a proper TGV ticket but there’s no one at information. 5.30am …. It is too early. It is a mild 8 degrees but it feels cold to me coming from 48 degrees. Where can I get coffee? Over in the far corner is a CLASS CROUTE. Do they mean casse CROUTE?!! An immense queue and only a single serving girl! She is in no hurry. A TGV just arrived from somewhere disgorging an endless line of grim looking passengers all clamouring for their croissant and coffee, computers get whipped out, obviously colleagues traveling together for a meeting the other side of France and they discuss their strategy for the meeting. I finally manage to get my croissant and coffee and settle down for the long wait. My visions of finding a nice comfy and cosy bistro and possibly doing some shopping are utterly dashed. Welcome to France! The croissant definitely tastes better than those in N’Djamena!

I got my ticket, found the train and Avignon here I come. Trees, church spires, green fields, no African huts nor car wrecks along the way. Bonjour, somehow I feel different like a stranger. I wonder if the french notice this. No, too busy with their own lives . Not everyone though, as the customs lady who stopped me on the way out, waved me through with a sympathetic smile when she heard I just arrived from Chad.


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