The Familiarity of the Capital
By Sara-Christine Dallain
Day 1 in N’Djamena started off true to a Chad experience. Jet lagged, I woke up an hour too early due to the wrong time zone setting on my phone. Oh how I would have loved one more hour of sleep. I think my roommate Felicia would have appreciated that as well (oops!). Following breakfast, we were promptly ready and waiting for our 8:00am pick-up. Two hours and 11 minutes later, and we were still ready and waiting. I’m proud to say I’ve become exceptionally good at waiting.
Our car did arrive, and as always, we began the hustle and process of acquiring permits to “circulate” to the refugee camps, a process that requires approval from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Chad National Commission of Reception and Reintegration of Refugees (CNARR). This is a process that we must complete every trip and one that is always subject to people, timing, and circumstance. Things went smoothly today, and we have high hopes for a departure to the east, sooner rather than later.
This trip, i-ACT 21, is my eighth to Chad since 2011. Every trip is unique and brings forth new experiences, insights, friends, obstacles and challenges, but our time in the capital is starting to feel all too familiar. While this familiarity gives me ease amongst the uncertainty of our travel schedule, permits, and security, I also find myself having to consciously appreciate simply being here. It’s difficult to stay present and patient in the capital, being driven to and from our hotel, when I know the critical work and needs that await us in the camps. We all feel a sense of urgency and responsibility to be there as soon as possible. We know the refugees are facing a food crisis. We know we need to reach more children with our Little Ripples preschool program. Every day in the capital is one less day we have in the camps to address these needs.
But today I did realize that bringing new team members along on our trips helps me gain a new sense of appreciation. They look out on the city with such wonder and fasciation. Noticing details. Asking questions. It’s a humbling reminder that out time in the capital is in fact special.
Day 1: In the Capital, Thinking About the Camps
There is so much sand and dust in the air! It’s the end of dry season here in Chad, and that brings clouds of sand to N’Djamena that remain floating around this already dusty capital city.
We went out on our first day here to do the normal runs: visited the police station to register our visit and dropped by the UNHCR offices to begin our permit process.
I always prepare anyone that comes with me to be ready for an unending series of hurry up and wait, and this morning did not disappoint. We waited for our driver, a good man named Max, for two hours after the scheduled pick up. There are protests in the streets, so some of the streets were blocked.
We accomplished what we could today, and we now wait to see how long our permits will take to be ready. Every day here in the capital is a day we are not doing our work in the camps, so we want out of here as soon as possible.
Our team here is thinking about food—but not yet about our own food, which we’ll also be thinking about a lot in the days to come. Right now we’re thinking about food insecurity in the camps. It’s now been a year since the refugees food rations were cut from 2,100 calories to approximately 800 per person, per day. Families have drastically less food and less variety, which is a less reported important issue. Children are growing up missing key nutrients needed for their development.
During my last days at home before starting this trip, my family let me decide what and where to eat, since they knew I would be “deprived” for the three weeks out here. It was so difficult to chose between all the different options of delicious and nurturing food I like and pretty much have at my fingertips.
Most refugee families have been eating the same few things for thirteen years. Now they have fewer and less of it.
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