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The Road to Moundou

[subscribe2]The Road south to Moundou

 

Taken from the car as we head south

Taken from the car as we head south

The plan was to leave before 8am, we leave after 9.  But that’s  Africa.  We set off in two vehicles, one Annabelle’s 4 x 4 with Carlo and I and our more valuable baggage, the other our 4 x 4 driven by our current driver Mohammed who takes the bulky baggage, various theodolites and other equipment needed by Geyser (Carlo’s employers) in Moundou, 450 long kms away to the south.

The first challenge is to negotiate our way out of NDJ (N’Djamena).  Road diversions take us into crowded, almost impassable corners of the city.  We come to t-junctions where all traffic is coming at us and we see no way forward!  It’s incredibly dusty, crowded and noisy ……. and very atmospheric for photos BUT Annabelle gently says ‘don’t take any unless we have an escape route!’.    OK got the message loud and clear.  At this point in time the only escape route is vertically as we are grid locked in this crazy central market mêlée of people and traffic.  We sit patiently in our air-conditioned bubble and inch forward painfully.  Somewhere in this madness we are due to pick up Annabelle’s driver.  Thank heavens for mobile phones as he is finally located sitting patiently by the roadside near one of the last roundabouts leading out of town.  There he is with his luggage tied up neatly in a carpet and his prayer rug tucked under his arm.  He changes with Annabelle and now we can hit the open road………

Clusters of mud huts flash by, village after village.  The tarmac road is good for the moment.  The driver is cautious though as cattle, camels, goats and Africans can cross the road at any time, traffic seeming irrelevant to them and they definitely take priority!  We pass through various ‘peage’ where our driver hands over 500 francs.   As the drive progresses I get braver and take out the IPhone, trying to grab the odd village photo without too much blur.  The driver does not like this in spite of Annabelle’s persuasion.  I can see the visual side of our stay in Chad is going to be VERY difficult.  Here are a couple of shots taken on the run so to speak ……..

 

Quick snap from the IPhone!

Quick snap from the IPhone!

 

Lunchtime and we are all starving.  We reach the halfway town of Bongor where Annabelle has been told about a reasonable restaurant in one of the back streets. It takes us several detours of this busy town before we locate it.  Down a rough dirt track a narrow doorway opened into a dusty courtyard and there inside is a covered cooking area, a palm tree, a few plants and a shaded eating area to the side.  Our driver brings the car into the courtyard for safety.  Bowls of water and soap are bought to us and I should then have known what was coming next ….. or should I say what was NOT coming next, CUTLERY!!   Not being able to understand what was on the menu (the verbal menu) we were invited into the kitchen to check the contents of each pot.  Smelled and looked good.  We all agreed the lamb stew with vegetables was for us.  With it we ordered ‘maize’ which came in the form of a solid white lump made in what looked like a jelly mould. Mohammed, the first driver, ordered a meat sauce to go with the maize.  Our driver was still washing himself in preparation for praying.

Lunch being served - meat stew.

Lunch being served – meat stew.

 

Our lunch en route and not a knife or fork in site!  Fingers only!!  Right hand only.

Our lunch en route and not a knife or fork in sight! Fingers only!! Right hand only.

 

We all sat around a low table and ordered drinks.  The safest option was soft drinks from bottles.  Various fruit flavours were offered.  They came in the brightest, most fluorescent colours that I have ever seen in a drink. After drinking the grenadine flavoured one Annabelle had a bright red indelible moustache for the rest of the day.  Heaven knows what colourings and preservatives they contained!  Though the drinks were unpleasant to say the least, the food was delicious once we learnt how to get it into our mouths with our hands.  It was a matter of digging into the maize with our fingers and then dipping the white starchy blob into the hot stew.  I would have found chopsticks easier!!  Watch and learn I thought as I studied our drivers deftly eating with long, elegant fingers.

After the meal was over water and soap was again brought to our table to wash our now very messy hands  – at least those of Annabelle, Carlo and mine!  Our table looked like a two year old had been let lose without a bib. THEN we were offered the toilets.  Annabelle just raised her eyebrows and said ‘You might find Chadian toilets quite a challenge!’.  She opted not to use them. I thought I might as well see what the fuss was about.  Behind a corrugated iron door was a concrete floor in the middle of which was a round hole about 4 inches in diameter, yes 4 inches!!  There was also a tiny stool about 6 inches high.  The room was quite clean in an African sort of way so I was just left to conclude that the Chadians must have the most incredible ability to aim well for that tiny hole!!!  Perhaps this is where the stool came into play? I was almost afraid to try using this toilet.  No paper of course but then we all know why we don’t use our left hand to eat.  More washing of hands followed.

This is becoming bit of a ‘warts and all’ blog!  Hope after the above you will stay with us and continue the journey!  In the mid 1970s I spent a year driving across Africa, starting in the south.  That way I had gradually and slowly become acclimatised to the tougher and more basic side of Africa.  On this trip, and 35 years later, we were being flung into it at a head spinning speed, and all this in less than a week in the country!  My eyes are wide open in amazement this time round but  already, day by day, I sense a familiarity returning, thanks no doubt to that trip from my long distant past.  For Carlo, as always, he just takes it in his stride, the African genes being well and truly cast in his blood from his childhood and long life living in Southern Africa.

Back into our aircon bubbles we continue for the next 100kms on a ‘diversion’ along a dusty and potholed red (laterite) earth road before rejoining the main tarmac road running south.  The tarmac road being repaired, runs parallel to the dirt road and sits on higher land than any around it. This is to protect it from the serious floods in the rainy season.  Last rainy season the local villagers had to sleep on this road when their houses were under water!  Now we also understand why suddenly we are seeing rice paddies replacing the earlier sorghum fields. The terrain has changed.

Once we get back onto the tarmac we wished we hadn’t as it is so potholed that the journey became one of zigzagging from side to side to avoid the bone shatteringly deep holes and trying to do so without colliding with slower or oncoming vehicles.  We reached Moundou as the sun was setting.  It was a glorious blood red ember in the clear sky but as soon as we got to the town proper it became obscured by a hazy cloud of dust and pollution which hung in the air like an opaque blanket.  Quite atmospheric pictorially (I silently imagined my fingers on the shutter of my Canon) but a nightmare for those driving their mopeds or walking around.  I noticed quite a few cyclists wore surgical masks and that the trees which lined the streets were coated in a thick film of red dust.

Welcome to Moundou and Geyser’s southern engineering operations in Chad.  It took about 8 hours to get here.  Carlo’s teams of young surveyors gather around him the moment we drive into the compound and as on day one Annabelle introduces us as we shake the endless hands of  Maxime, Ma-loum, Badoum, and even Cherubin (!)  all beaming from ear to ear and ready for their two week’s training.  Way you go Carlo, I’m off to write my blog in the isolated splendour of the Cotton Club Chad hotel!  More Fawlty Towers than you can imagine ……… until next time.

Our abode at Le Club-Coton-Chad hotel.

Our abode at Le Club-Coton-Chad hotel.

 

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6 Responses to “The Road to Moundou”

  1. Sheryl Wright Says:

    Hi Rosie, love the blog, such and adventure! Have given details to friends in Australia who are also fascinated and will follow your story. I am just back yesterday and settling back to country life after a city fix, complete with 47 degrees one day which broke all previous records for the highest temperature in Sydney. Didn’t slow me down one little bit, had so many people to catch up with in only 2 weeks. Looking forward to the next epsiode. Love to you both, Sheryl & Michael

  2. jane and mike Says:

    We will never, never, ever complain again about the M6 or about the horrendous service stations, where at least you do get a knife and fork! If only we could send you a couple of plastic bibs with turn-ups on, we’ve got a lovely Winnie-the -Pooh one stashed away somewhere! Thank goodness you two are both such great adventurers and that you are both right handed!
    Greetings itinerants extraordinaires-tis M qui va continuer.Your journey copares favorably with one I took driving to Mallaig in my 1921 Singer(no,not really) enjoyed all your descriptions-think u should include in your memoires.Lif here could not compare with these daring exploits so congrats on remaining alive! But why isn’t big C not wearing a solar topee like a good colonial should on your ‘sun terrace’.We have just got rid of snow on the mountains but cts & dogs still descend-u probably haven’t seen any for a bit,but if it does rain your roads will presumably become mud baths! Sorry-the end of space arrives,so abientot -be sure we r thinking of uboth & full of a mix of amazement & hope for your survival among the nearby armies & overhead jets A bientot-et bisous de nous ducksM/J

  3. achatfro Says:

    HI Jane & Mike, as always you do bring a smile to my face with your funny e-mails. It will be fun to catch up in the spring when we are all back chez nous a Cabrieres. Stay well and enjoy the rest of your time in the UK. Rosie xxx

  4. Ailie Says:

    Goodness! what an experience. It is pretty nervewracking eating with one’s right hand but so satisfying once you get the hang of it.

  5. Sue Bastable Says:

    I have a great friend staying with me who is a foreign correspondent for the Sunday Telegraph. I just read this last piece to her, she loved it and said how brilliantly you write. Very atmospheric and beautifully paced. Thought you would like to know!

  6. achatfro Says:

    Hi Susan that is such a lovely compliment and how kind of you to tell me. I am really pleased! It will spur me on to better things I hope! Hope you are now feeling back to normal and enjoying the mild weather?