Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Chad life one week in!

Well I have arrived in Chad and have now been here a week!  The journey from the UK was uneventful thankfully, apart from my debit card taking a massive bashing whilst in transit at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.  What was I buying I hear you cry?!  Some expensive perfume or a haute couture piece of clothing?!  Nope......lunch!  Expensive was an understatement.  Suppose it contributes to the free 15 minutes of internet I got!  I’d never been to Charles de Gaulle airport before and I have to say it was a large, rambling, pretty soul-less place.  I spent the 4 hours of transit eating; reading a newspaper and watching the same piece of newsreel on the TV go round and round.  Time seemed to pass quite quickly though and I was soon on the slightly delayed plane to N’Djamena.  Have to say I was impressed with Air France on both legs of the journey.....even if the air hostess on the way to N’Djamena spoke to me in English, obviously knowing from my attempt to order jus de pomme that I wasn’t a French national.....hey ho.....still some way to go on the old Français I guess!  The flight was good, had loads of films and TV series to watch albeit mostly quite old, plus lots of different genres of music to listen to.  Those of you from Torbay will be slightly astounded to know that a Metronomy album was available to listen to and so, in tribute to my homeland, I listened to ‘The Bay’ as we touched down in N’Djamena!!  Slightly surreal!  I loitered on the plane for as long as I could to enjoy the air con and then wandered out of the door to be hit by the wall of heat I was expecting (mid 30s centigrade at 9pm).  However it wasn’t anywhere near as humid as Cameroon was so I was glad not to get the ‘wet blanket’ sensation we always got in Cameroon.  The airport was efficient (we were the only plane in sight so I guess that wasn’t too difficult to achieve).  A bus took us the whole 100 yard to the arrivals room where they had air con!!  I was so pleased!!  After what seemed like queue was definitely the slowest, although I didn’t care as I was stood by the air conditioner.....I was called up to present my passport and landing card.  I was expecting a barrage of questions in French that I couldn’t answer however I was not subjected to anything other than where I was staying (easily answered) and directed to put my fingers and the thumb on the electronic fingerprint-taker.  All very smart looking, even had a digital camera/webcam thingy taking a photo at the same time!  As soon as I was through immigration (two stamps later....only two stamps?!  Not a lot for Africa I’d say!) I was informed by another official to register at the police station within 3 days and then I was in the baggage reclaim area.  Cases were already going around and there were mine.  Yes both of them!  A porter helped me – they both had ‘heavy’ labels on them, there’s a first time for everything – we passed the girl checking the baggage labels against the stubs I’d received way back in Heathrow and then both were chucked (literally) through anther x-ray scanner and then that was it, I was outside!  All very quick and easy, I was very fortunate.  I walked out into the African night and felt strangely at home.  I wasn’t the least bothered by numerous blokes trying to flog me mobile SIM cards, tissues, sweets, the usual African street-sold stuff.  Have to say they are very polite here, one ‘non merci’ and they leave you alone.  Quite refreshing!  Found Mark and then we were on our way out to Guinebor II and the hospital compound that will be my home for the next year.

It only took about 20 minutes to drive to the hospital.  We drove on paved roads around the perimeter wall of the airport – not a pothole in sight on the paved roads, very impressive – and then we turned left onto a dirt road.  Good job they have 4x4 here that’s all I can say!  Another 10 minutes or so, after a few ‘hmmm I’m not exactly sure where I am’ comments from Mark (really difficult to get your bearings in the dark on a dirt road dotted with houses and the odd tree and obviously no signposts) we arrived at the hospital compound.  Cue a blow on the car horn from Mark and the guard duly opened the gates with a greeting of bonsoir. 
I’ll explain the layout of the compound and the surrounding area in another blog. However I am staying in the ‘guest house’ which is where those who are only here for a relatively short time stay. It is a comfortable place to stay, my room is fairly big actually and –get this – I have an ensuite bathroom!! Yup, I’ve arrived!

Guest house where I'm staying
The heat here is unimaginable.  I cannot even begin to explain how it feels.  Imagine yourself in your house on a hot summer’s day with the doors and windows closed and the radiators on max.  That’s kinda how it is, although there is usually a bit of a breeze especially in the mornings.
Ah mornings, my new favourite time of day (those of you who know me well can pick yourselves up off the floor now!).  It is the only time in the day that I feel semi-cool and comfortable.  I’m there wishing the temperature would stay as it is at 7.30am but alas, that doesn’t happen and it regularly hits 40 degrees plus around midday at the moment.  Consequently by the evening I’m shattered from just ‘being’ in the heat.  I’m in bed around 9.30-10pm and sleep for a good 8 or 9 hours (again, people who know me well should pick themselves up off the floor!).   
At the moment I’m spending most of my days adjusting to the heat, learning how the hospital functions on a day-to-day basis, getting to know the other missionaries here (Mark & Andrea and their two daughters Ruth & Rebecca, Malc & Sue, Rebecca and a Swiss medical student called Salome who's here until July) and continuing to learn French.  Not many Chadians speak English however there are a couple of interpreters here at the hospital who work alongside the medical staff as they consult patients who may not speak French but who speak Arabic or another local language.  One of these interpreters also speaks English and so he is my new French teacher, taking over from the lovely Justine who taught me in the UK!  I have lessons most mornings with him, mainly conversation so that I build up my confidence in speaking French.  We had a 3 hour lesson this morning which was really useful but quite draining!
I can’t believe I’ve been here a week already.  I’ve been into N’Djamena about three times so far and been introduced to all the sights.  There’s a really impressive public space opposite the president’s palace called ‘la place de la nation’ (see if there’s a picture on Google images!) which even boasts grass – very unusual here and it has its own sprinkler system.  That’s the main sight of N’Djamena really apart from some impressive sculptures on a few roundabouts about town.  I’ve been to the central market, really big compared to the one I was used to in Cameroon but similar layout.  Most of the fruit and vegetables here are imported from Cameroon as they don’t have a great climate for food growing unfortunately.  This importation means prices are higher than I was used to in Cameroon.  Also been to the craft market and also L’Amandines.  More about L'Amandines in another blog but something tells me I may spend quite a lot of time in there......!!

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