Briefly speaking…

Briefly Speaking from Chad

What am I doing in Chad? It is a question I have been asking myself a lot since I arrived a month ago in N’Djamena, Chad’s hot (45 degrees C°), dry and dusty capital. There are lizards everywhere and it is not unusual for them to crawl over people if they are in a hurry to get from point A to point B.

About N’Djamena

N’Djamena is one of a few cities in Chad and is spread out over several kilometers. It is divided into quartiers (neighbourhoods) and each quartier has a chef (chief). Some quartiers are safer than others. The city as a whole reminds me in many ways of the Delhi I used to visit as a child, before the growth of the Indian middle class changed its urban landscape. Like the Delhi of my childhood memories, the air here smells of roasted peanuts and somewhere in the distance, the sound of a radio can be heard.

The main roads are paved but the roads that branch off are dirt and gravel, making for slow and bumpy travel.  Small shops line the roads and children beg and peddle used water bottles filled with peanuts. There are also several open-air markets where you can stock up on staple foods such as fresh camel and fried crickets. As well, there are a few stores, restaurants/bars and hotels that cater to affluent Chadians and the expatriate crowd (an interesting mix of oil, military, UN and NGO types). Most homes that I have seen are basic one storey concrete buildings. Homes in the more affluent quartiers have water and electricity (most of the time), are enclosed by high walls topped with barbed wire or spikes and patrolled by guards.

My Work

I am the new Humanitarian Affairs Officer (HAO) with MSF in Chad.  Not all MSF missions have HAOs.  HAOs are deployed to countries when MSF is of the view that the situation requires additional advocacy expertise in relation to medical aid and witnessing (témoignage), the two elements that make up MSF’s work. What drew me to MSF is the fact that its advocacy is very concrete.  It is based primarily on what MSF teams working on the ground see, hear and document.  I already have one story to share.  For me, it illustrates how having to leave one’s home to access water (a task that is traditionally allocated to women and girls), can put one’s health at risk.

On my first Saturday evening in N’Djamena, Ali (name has been changed to protect privacy), an MSF driver, was bringing my colleagues and I home from the office.  We asked Ali how he was.  “So-so” he replied.  “Why just so-so?” we asked.  Ali said that the previous evening, two of his daughters, aged 4 and 8, left home to fetch water.  He explained that the city opens the taps twice a day and the taps are a favorite meeting spot for children.  The tap the girls normally went to was closed so they decided to walk a bit further to try to find another tap and got lost. When Ali and his wife realized that the girls had not returned, he began to search for them.  He went from quartier to quartier while his wife waited anxiously at home. To his relief, he found the girls the following afternoon. Fortunately, they had not been harmed. A woman had noticed the girls’ distress and had helped them.  It turned out that they had walked almost 15 kilometres away from home. As the girls later told Ali, the woman had wanted to call him but they could not remember his telephone number. The woman had fed them and left them with the chef of her quartier, which is where Ali found them. While this story has a happy ending, things could easily have turned out differently and this makes me sad.

To Be a Chadian

The 2013 UN Human Development Index, which measures development by combining indicators of life expectancy, educational attainment and income into one statistic, ranks Chad 184th out of 187 countries. The average Chadian can only expect to live until age 50.  Things are worse if you are a woman or child under five. Chad has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world and for every 100,000 children born alive, 1100 mothers will die. Of those 100,000 children, 17,300 will die before they turn five. Even if they survive, chances are high that they will not be able to read and write and that they will grow up to be poor: 65.6% of the population is illiterate and 61.9% of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day, even though Chad has been an exporter of oil since 2003.

About Chad

Chad, a former French colony in Africa, achieved independence in 1960. A large landlocked country (1,284,000 km2), it shares borders with Sudan, Libya, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroun and the Central African Republic. With a population of 12 million that is comprised of over two hundred ethnic groups, Chad is culturally and linguistically diverse. Chad is divided into 23 regions (split between desert and tropical), including the capital N’Djamena.


This entry was posted in Chad, healthcare provision, Humanitarian Affairs Officer. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Briefly speaking…

  1. Ritu Gambhir says:

    Dear Room 215- Grade 2 (Ema, Emol, Amelia, Annalise and Lee-Anne)

    I am sorry it took me so long to reply to you. I was visiting a part of Chad where there is no internet and so I didn’t see your post until yesterday. Thank you very much for reading my blog and for your thoughtful comments and questions. Emol and Ema, I agree with you that you are lucky to live in a country where you can get clean water whenever you want. Amelia, to answer your question, Chad is in the middle of Africa. Emol, to answer your question, when I heard the story it made me feel scared and sad like Annalise. At the same time I also felt happy that there are kind people in the world who will take time to help other people. Ema, to answer your question, where the girls live, it is the government that makes the rules about when people can get water. Annalise, as for why boys don’t get the water if they are stronger, this is a good question and I don’t know that I can give you a good answer. It is not fair that girls have to do more chores than boys. I think girls and boys should share chores.

    Thank you again for your post. I wish you all the best.


  2. Ritu Gambhir says:

    Hi Sweety, Lee-Anne, Dave and Noemi,

    I am sorry for the delayed reply. I was in a remote part of Chad and did not have e-mail access. Thanks very much for your comments.



  3. Noemi Gal-Or says:

    Dear Ritu,

    A BIG chapeau to you! And thank you for sharing these your experiences and impressions.

    Yesterday, I listened on Anna-Maria Tremonti’s Cross-Currents to the stories of a very articulate female doctor from Yellowknife who just returned from Syria. I lack words to describe the respect i have for you, MSFs.

    Talk to you soon – on mundane things.

  4. Room 215 - Grade 2 says:

    Dear Ritu,
    We read your story about the two daughters who got lost. It was very sad and depressing. It made us think of times when we got lost and how scary that can be. We thought it was interesting that the girls needed to trust a stranger in order to survive the night and find their parents.
    Annalise says, “The story makes me feel scared and really, really sad because it is not always easy to trust a stranger.”
    Amelia says, “It reminds me of the time when my baby sister got lost in the grocery store and I had to run around like crazy to find her.”
    Emol says, “It makes me feel lucky because am in a rich country.”
    Ema says, “I think I am lucky becasue there you can’t get water when you need to.”
    Emol asks, “How did you feel when you heard that story?”
    Ema asks, “Who makes the rules of when you can get water?”
    Amelia asks, “Is this country in Africa?”
    Annalise asks, “Why don’t boys have to get the water if they are stronger than girls?”
    Ema, Emol, Amelia, Annalise and Lee-Anne

  5. David Gould says:

    Hi Ritu

    Marvelous to hear from you, from MSF. I will stay tuned.

  6. Lee-Anne says:

    Hi Ritu, my stomach was in knots reading about those two girls. So glad they were safe. Thank you for sharing and for making me realise this morning how priviledged we are to have access to water. You’re amazing! Keep safe!

  7. Archna says:

    Hi Ritu,
    I heard about your trip but wasn’t sure what was it all about until I read this. Truly admirable you are actually doing what everyone talks about doing but very few have the courage to go out and actually do it. And while I read more and more MSF blogs I am witnessing up a whole new world. Thanks for sharing this. Yes it saddens me somewhere deep within. But this is reality huh…All the best for am sure you are on an amazing adventure of your life. love, Sweety

  8. Ritu Gambhir says:

    Hi Bonnie,
    It is lovely to hear from you and thanks for your kind words. Your sister is with MSF in Afghanistan – it really is a small world – perhaps our paths will cross at some point! A big hello to C and hope to see you both soon!

  9. Bonnie says:

    Hi Ritu;

    I see that nothing has changed since we left Dalhousie almost 16 years ago! You are still trying to make the world a better place one bit at a time and I love you for it! My sister is in Afghanistan with MSF – a nurse practitioner. What a small world…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>