Armando is a doctor working with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctor Without Borders (MSF) in Chad. Here he blogs about the significance of Lake Chad: a crossroads of violence, hope and solidarity during recent armed conflict.
Last December, I spent the holidays near a lake, at the meeting point of three countries and three peoples: Switzerland, Germany and Austria. I had taken my passport, just in case, though nobody asked to see it.
Immigration control appeared deserted and people were simply walking across that abstract and irrational thing called a “border”, a notion created by humans that we have learned to integrate into our lives.
The lake in question was Lake Constance, a witness to the abstract nature and absurdity of national borders, which seems to smile as ducks, herons and swans constantly fly across those boundaries, coming to land on its calm waters.
Similarly, the lake does not discriminate against Germans, Swiss or Austrians – or even Mexicans like me – and welcomes whoever comes to it, contemplating and listening to whoever takes the time to contemplate and listen to it.
Thousands of miles away, another very beautiful lake lies at the crossroads of four peoples, four states and four cultures: Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon.
View of villages near Bol, Lake Chad region. Photo: Dominic Nahr/MSF.
Unfortunately, that lake is not a crossroads of peace and tranquility like its European cousin.
On the contrary, since the creation of the radical Boko Haram group and the military response of the neighbouring countries, it has witnessed extortion, violence and forced displacements.
It is the epicentre of a merciless conflict whose main victims are civilians.
After having worked in the Lake Chad region and seen the population displacements firsthand, working with the teams who care for displaced people on a daily basis, I wanted to get to know that lake better, to greet it and, why not?, ask that silent witness what it thinks about everything going on around it.
I had the opportunity to contemplate Lake Chad, which is so immense it was like gazing at the horizon.
When I saw my reflection in the water, I realized that we must first accept the violence within each of us in order for the external violence to end.
Then, I had to continue on my way, without any answers to my questions other than that offered by the lake, which responded through the music in my ears and these words from Michael Franti :
“If I told you what I’d see,
would you believe me or leave me alone?
If I told you what I feel, would you believe me or leave me alone?
Does anybody need a place to go?
To call your own?
Don’t leave me here alone.
Don’t leave me here alone!”
The lake doesn’t move, nor do the people stuck on its banks.
MSF is there and we will remain by the side of the victims of this crisis: it is our operational priority.