Chad: Arrival
Liza is in Am Timam, Chad, where malnutrition and malaria have been hitting the local people hard...
Well, well. I’ve arrived. Security is intense. I understand quickly that MSF is one of the organisations that has the strictest rules about security. (My mother says thanks, people.) After three days of briefings in N’Djamena, the capital city, departure for Am Timan, in the Salamat region. At that point, this being my first mission, I’ve stopped trying to imagine, I’m just excited to see it with my own eyes.
On a map it’s not that far. But there are no roads really, so it’s a UNHAS (United Nation Humanitarian Air Service) plane. An experience in itself.
Image shows a dirt path with five goats and an assortment of buildings

Photo: Liza Courtois / MSF

I’m at the airport at 5.30am to pass security.
At 7 I go into the waiting room.
At 8, get in the plane.
At 9, get off the plane.
At 10 we still haven’t taken off because of some technical difficulty.
We finally leave at 12pm: three stops and then Am Timan. First time in a plane-bus, it’s… something else.
And then the city.
60,000 inhabitants and more or less as many goats. Roads, when they exist, are full of holes, it’s almost like Montréal, haha. With the rainy season, there are big puddles of water everywhere that we need to go around. When we go outside of the city borders (which I do quite often), we have to take two cars in case we get stuck in the mud. Like in the picture below. That’s me, happily stuck in the mud.

Lisa smiles from the window of a white land cruiser car as the wheels spin in the mud

Photo: MSF.
I’m supervising a team of Chadian staff: one nurse, two midwives, one nutrition assistant, one pharmacist and two supervising nurses. We’re helping the region’s health centres with the nutrition and malaria programs. In a country with that much poverty, malnutrition is one of the biggest cause of mortality, and malaria is huge during rainy season.
For now, we’re working in three health centres in Am Timan. We provide material support (things like medication and supplies) and help (programs were already in place when we started). This means stock maintenance, which is work by itself.
A little further from Am Timam, we’re working in two centres in the villages of Ablelaye and Mina. There, in addition to material support, we also provide quality control, care organisation, trainings.

Three buildings have grass roofs, and are built with mud bricks. There is a fence built with reeds.

A street. Photo: Liza Courtois / MSF
It’s a little bit difficult because our patients only speak the local Arabic (my team speaks French btw). I’m supervising, but I can’t understand what’s being said. I’m not consulting with patients, it’s impossible. But I’m assisting if needed, observing, and helping if I can.
People who were hired by MSF all speak French, with different levels depending on their position in the team (so drivers and security guards don’t need the medical vocabulary). But for the regular population, it’s very rare. I’ve decided to try and learn Chadian Arabic. I already know several words, but I’m slowly understanding that in Arabic there’s often a thousand ways to say the same thing. Just to say “how are you?” there’s five different ways. Ya know, to make it simple and easy.
For now, I’m learning stuff randomly as it comes but eventually I’d like to learn the vocabulary that I’ll need for my job. My Arabic is gonna be perfect, I’ll be able to have nice conversations about diarrhoea, hypothermia and vomit, no trouble.