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So Why Is Carlo Measuring Trees?? Why Indeed …

Measurin a village fence

Measuring a village fence

Up at 5.30am most mornings, and in the office by 6am, Carlo attends  the daily safety briefings given to the surveying teams before they go out on site.  A brief lull around 8am allowed him to dash back to the hotel for a first and much needed cup of coffee (after all he is a Belgian) and at 1pm for lunch.  This was the pattern for our first week in Moundou.

A GPS trainer,  from Paris, arrived that same week.  Let’s call him Monsieur B.  The idea was for Mr B and Carlo to teach the young, local surveyors how to measure using a GPS in a different way to normal.  They were given aerial photographs with various points marked on them and told to go to these points to measure their location.  That all sounds quite simple in principle.  Trouble is these points, identified from the air, were quite obscure, to put it mildly.  It could be a lone bush in the remotest countryside,  a hole in the road, or even the corner of a temporary grass matting fence in an African village.

 

Measuring a road sign!

Measuring a road sign!

 

Measuring a mark in the road

Measuring a mark in the road

Being a GPS exercise you should take the straightest line to the point to be measured.  That meant Carlo driving the 4 x 4 off road through dense forest bush, semi- desert and even mud.  If he tried to go around a village Mr B would yell ‘you’re too far off line, go straight!’.  Well straight often meant arrogantly driving through a thatched village and driving through someone’s living room in our terms!!  Carlo was not happy about this but our Parisian was insistent.  One of the young black surveyors, who spoke Arabic, had the unenviable job of explaining to the locals why this was necessary.

Measuring a log in the middle of a village courtyard

Measuring a log in the middle of a village courtyard

They measured trees on the left and...

They measured trees on the left and…

They measured it on the right side

They measured trees on the right side!

Mr B is a short stocky man, a bit abrupt but pleasant enough once you get to know him.  He’s unquestionably an expert in his field BUT a little out of his depth and nervous when it comes to being out in the wilds of Chad. This was not helped by the dictates from the French Embassy who advized the French against all road travel outside the capital of Chad.   He was nearly 500 kms from the Capital so a bit of tension was in the air.

On three occasions the vehicle, 4×4 or not,  ended up stuck in mud or deep sand and Carlo had to bribe local villagers (there are always some around no matter how remote you think you are) to help push and often to guide them back to the nearest road to get back to base!  Mr B normally stood back and watched.  Cadastral mapping work can be a challenge.

All the data collected on these missions is sent to Belgium where a company produces precise aerial maps which will then be used to establish cadastral  rights(property rights) for the Chadians.

Mr B’s attempts to  escape from Moundou at the end of his project and to get back to N’Djamena on schedule are a whole story in itself , one for another blog… a story of dust storms, Presidents taking over planes and much, much more.  It resulted in our Parisian announcing he was never coming back to Moundou!!

We were later told Mr B did get to NDJ by air and indeed even found a moment to do some final cadastral mapping, before flying back to Paris. When he set out to find the points he had to measure  five of them were in another country, across the border in neighbouring Cameroun.  One wonders sometime!

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Chilly Willy Tomato Ketchup!

17 days in a small hotel in the middle of nowhere could have seemed a very long time but somehow it didn’t.  I whiled away my time at Coton-Club-Chad by reading, studying French online and writing this blog.  I threw in some floor pilates to keep fit and  of course  spent plenty of time chatting to the staff and other guests.   Carlo was meanwhile out in the bush measuring trees and our 4 x 4 vehicle went with him.  Marooned I was but it didn’t seem like it.  At this point in time no question who had the best deal.  I called this my ‘ wind down time’ as life had been rather hectic prior to us coming to Chad and so had our first week in N’Djamena.  Now the batteries were fully charged and I was ready for whatever came next.

I would have dearly loved to swim at the hotel but the pool wasn’t quite up to scratch.  The tennis court had seen better days and in fact Carlo and colleagues used it one day to set us their surveying equipment (nice flat surface).  There was a table tennis table but it lay on its side in some dark corner of the grounds.  None of this really mattered as the hotel seemed to be a base for transitory workers passing through on their way to the nearby oil camps.

50 shades of green .....

50 shades of green …..

 

Carlo's crew using the tennis court for work!

Carlo’s crew using the tennis court for work!

The hotel laundry service was excellent and everything came back immaculately folded and ironed, in spite of the rustic washing line.  Curious because we have been told never to dry out clothes outside because there is a rather nasty moth that likes to lay its eggs in the seams of fabric.  What happens next is not pleasant as the eggs hatch and little worms find their way into your flesh.  If you choose to dry clothes in the fresh air you need to iron the seams with a very hot iron.

Laundry service and our clothes drying fast in the hot sunshine

Laundry service and our clothes drying fast in the hot sunshine

Most of the staff seemed to come from neighbouring Cameroun and speaking to them they had come to Chad as there were more job opportunities.  Timothy, the gardener, spoke the most perfect English, probably better than I do.  The waitresses Mireille, Angela,  and Diane all spoke French and Arabic.

The entertaiment may have been limited but at the bar there was a television which had Eurosport so we were able to watch the final of the Australian Open tennis match.  Murray what happened to you?!  Not a very good photo but here it is below (remember you can double click on any photo to open it in a larger format.  Many were taken on the IPhone).

 

Watching Murray lose the Australian open tennis final

Watching Murray lose the Australian open tennis final

The other guests were an eclectic mix of black Africans and white foreign workers.  Most whites were working on the nearby oil project and others  were with Aid agencies – Medicin Sans Frontiers, the UN, Unicef, Red Cross, World Vision etc..  There were some amusing groups gathered in the bar each evening i.e. the Italian, the German, the Frenchman and the Spaniard who worked together and who socialised together each evening ….. their common language, English of course.  Each evening the bar area resembled a cyber cafe as most guests brought out their laptops and IPads.  It seemsCoton-Club-Chad has the best broadband reception in the town. It also has the only decent restaurant in Moundou.

That restaurant caused us many chuckles as during our stay as they regularly ran out of dishes. One of the staples, and a dish considered safe to eat by many, were the four varieties of pizza. and inevitably the day came when it was  ‘plus de pizza’ much to everyone’s dismay.  Next day they ran out of bottled water and local beer.  But to their credit, and I don’t know how they did it as Moundou doesn’t have supermarkets or similar, stocks were replenishes within 24 hours.  Impressive.  Our favourite dish was the local fish called le capitaine and that was always in good supply.  It became ‘shall we have capitaine brochette today, or maybe capitaine meniere (heavily laced with garlic and parley),  or filet de capitaine, or a whole capitaine?’.  The capitaine repertoire was the largest thing on the limited menu.  Only other decision was ‘with rice or chips’.

Our food and drinks bill at the end of 17 days was a mighty 401,000 Francs.  That equates to €613.  We skipped breakfast, had a one course lunch and one pizza and one local beer between us for dinner.  And of course we drank copious bottles of water @ €1.50 each.  On that basis, not cheap.  But nothing is cheap in Chad.  Prices are at least double what we are used to paying in France and most products are imported from France.

I grew very fond of Coton-Club-Chad.  It brought a breath of fresh air to this otherwise overly complicated life.  It had a simplicity and charm.  The riverside setting was calm and peaceful.  The staff were gentle, warm and friendly folk , not to mention the ever present,  affable and humorous manager, Monsieur Veau.  There were so many endearing eccentricities here but not least the bravado to serve tasty ‘Chilly Willy’ tomato ketchup ‘avec les frites’!

Le voila!

Le voila!

 

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Mangoes, Papayas and SIM Cards

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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