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.
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.
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.
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.