Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Arrival in N'Djamena

The journey to Chad was as I anticipated in my previous blog. Long. I was surprised that there were almost no Africans on my first flight to Addis Ababa, so it wasn't until I got to the Addis airport that I started to feel like I was going somewhere different. I met James there the following morning (after a relatively painless night in the Addis airport, where they do have benches you can lay out on) just before boarding our flight to N'Djamena. The landscape coming in looks very desolate and dry and even as we were landing and looking out over the city center, you would never guess we were about to land in a capital city. There are no high-rise buildings and it's quite small looking.
Our adventures here started almost immediately. James wants to film as much as possible of our time here, starting from the moment we arrived. I was wearing an iphone of his that was set to recording as I went through the whole airport process. James was busted with his small camera before he even got off the tarmac and into the airport building. So I no longer knew him and he was dragged off to a corner to pay his first bribe and get escorted by security through the remainder of the immigration/customs process. His luggage didn't all arrive at first so we were stuck waiting around and he had to go make some trouble filling out a report for a missing bag, etc. We were the last people to leave from our flight and were generating a lot of attention standing around with a lot of luggage. It's literally a 3 room airport, one for immigration and vaccination check, one for baggage and customs xrays, and one for the main “hall”. We finally got outside, James went back in to change money with the one money changer but ended up finding his bag, grabbed it and ran out of the airport in such a hurry to run away that we jumped into a random taxi without either of us changing money...
The guy didn't know the place we wanted to go so we got dropped off at a bus station near where we needed. We had to cross the city to get there so I got a decent first look. My immediate impression was that it wasn't all that unfamiliar, having seen most of the rest of west africa already. There isn't a lot of traffic and I think the population of the city is just under a million people. I don't even need to describe anything for the rest of my family to get the picture but lets just say that I haven't seen a traffic light yet, there are military and police everywhere, it is about 30C and very dry and dusty and my lips were cracked within the first hour of landing, many of the guys are wearing the local variation of the shalwar while the women have very colourful clothing as full length skirts or wraps. Not that it feels like there are many women here. Seems like maybe 80% of people on the street are men. Bananas and other fruit float along on trays at head height through the crowds. For vehicles, you have a choice of Landcruisers, Patrols, Hiluxes and other 4WD's, very beat up taxis mostly in one piece and with very cracked windshields or minibuses and small buses for intercity transport. There are not a whole lot of private cars driving around that don't look like hand-me-down landcruisers from the ubiquitous UN agencies or NGO's running around. Only the main roads are paved. There is a lot of dust and dirt elsewhere...
I observed all this while I was sitting on a street corner with James' bags (He has a very heavy backpack, a camera bag, a laptop bag, a day pack and a box of solar panels. In contrast my total weight is 12kg including my day pack which easily fits inside my big bag with room to spare.) while he went to check out where the place was. As it turned out the reservation James' friend made for us doesn't go into effect until the 16th so we were without a place to stay for the first 3 days. Another taxi ride across town to Hotel Central, one of the cheapest hotels that James knows of from his previous time here. It is ridiculously expensive and while it does have A/C, a fridge and hot water, it is a very basic place nonetheless. The cheaper accommodation option in Chad is staying with various religious mission guesthouses which is what we have a reservation for later. Totally fried by the long journey over we walked out to buy some bread and bananas and a SIM card and I believe I was sleeping in bed at about 7pm.
The next morning, it took us a couple of hours to actually get the SIM card working so we could even start attempting to talk to James' contacts here. Of course they couldn't be reached right away. So instead we walked over to register with at the immigration office, which has to be done within the first 3 days of arrival. No hassle there but I'm pretty sure I caught someone trying to pickpocket my bag while walking over there. Of course walking anywhere means mostly in the street. The sidewalks, where they exist are cracked and uneven or simply the dirt on the side of the road. The hotel is centrally located in the city apparently but apart from a couple banks and the offices of the phone companies nearby it feels like we are a long way from anywhere, probably because there is nothing here. The presidential palace and a huge new (6 months old) people's square or something is not far either. It is known as a very boring place to visit. I still have my doubts but I really hope we can get something done here and start getting organized soon. It'd be a very boring place for nothing to be happening...
We did get in touch with James' primary contact, Jiddy and met him later in the afternoon with a couple of his friends. Jiddy is a friend of a friend of James' that he knows through his site back home. Sounds slightly sketchy, but that's the way it goes out here. I think we've come to grips with getting ripped off to some extent while setting this stuff up. We talked to them for a while explaining what was needed for the internet cafe then went out to look for the right kind of 12V batteries. We found some but didn't buy any yet. I don't understand most of what's going on. James speaks much more Arabic than French so is usually working in that language, though he's often frustrated because a lot of people seem to speak only French. I can follow a bit of the French when he has to switch over. Tomorrow we'll work on finding a location.


At 8:02 AM , Anonymous Savannah said...

I like it! It's strange being on this side reading your stories but I can imagine it perfectly!

At 4:07 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agreed! I can picture it perfectly.



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