“We were building a camp. They were building a city.“
Being in the hotel doesn’t feel actually like being in Chad. It’s more like a Western standardized island that landed accidentally in the city. It doesn’t match with the things which it is surrounded by. I opened the window of my room just to feel a little connected to the city. In the distance, a call to prayer of a muezzin from a mosque can be heard.
The last two days I enjoyed the drives in the car across the city. I was fascinated by the street life. The areas beside the streets seem to be magnetic for people and all kinds of shops and market stalls. I like the creative potential of the people that seems to lay in the fact that many parts of the city don’t consist of ready made structures. Rather, the people had to take the initiative and came up with their own ideas how to set up own market stalls, turn small houses beside the street into shops, and create areas to meet up. I remember a merchant standing under a tree selling bags. To present his goods he hung his bags with strings in the tree like christmas balls on a christmas tree.
Since we are back – from our last drive – at our strange appearing but safe island we are staying inside the hotel and waiting for our permits. At least this is giving me the opportunity to write my first blog and introduce myself. Coming from Germany and being on my first mission with i-ACT I have met only three yet wonderful members of i-ACT in person so far. I first got to know Gabriel when I started my research on urbanization of refugee camps for my diploma thesis in architecture. He was interested in my research. I was inspired by the work of i-ACT. Long story short, I became a member of i-ACT. And now I am on board with i-ACT21 hopefully departing soon from our insular (isolated ?) hotel and heading for the refugee camps in the east of Chad. I will work with Gabriel on the launch of the first three Little Ripples Ponds in Goz Amer and on the set-up of the Darfur United Soccer Academy clubhouse in Djabal.
Besides working on these projects I will also do some research for my diploma thesis which deals with the permanent non-permanence of refugee camps. Refugee camps are commonly thought of as temporary emergency situations. But when the exception becomes the rule the well-arranged camp with its strict pattern of tents is turned into a complex maze of improvised houses, shops, and other facilities traversed by roads and small marketplaces. The refugees show high potential as city developers when adapting the camps within their means and according to their needs. The fact of camp urbanization becoming a permanent condition has not been adequately taken into account in the planning guidelines for refugee camps. This causes problems and increases the subsequent needs of organizations like i-ACT who are positively influencing the urbanization process by planting seeds.
For my diploma thesis I want to discover how to set up a frame within the planning of refugee camps which empowers the refugees as city developers and allows self determination of how a dignified livelihood should look like.
I am looking forward to visiting the camps hopefully in the next few days. Let’s see tomorrow what the day holds.
An old UNHCR worker told me once about his experience with camp urbanization “We were building a camp. They were building a city. We were building a storage facility for people. They were developing a living space.“
Thanks for reading. Tobi
It’s interesting how when I have a choice to laze around and relax, I love the act of lazing around, and I really do relax. Today, I was forced into these two pastimes, and for awhile I felt unproductive and unrelaxed. It wouldn’t have felt as if yet another day were being wasted if the team could have at least gotten out and accomplished just one task. Alas, we spent the day indoors because there was simply nothing to be done outside of the hotel, since we are still waiting for our permits.
So this is what I did today:
Read chapter 2 of the book of Daniel Ate breakfast with the team Worked on editing some i-ACT stuff Read + wrote some emails Chatted online with a friend Read a handful of chapters of Divergent Researched available grants Watched Captain Phillips Discussed, with my colleagues: activism, soccer, and families (as separate topics) Snacked. A lot. Wrote this blog entry Washed up somewhere along the way
My schedule sounds like it was a nice, restful day; which for the most part it was, after I accepted the fact that we were going nowhere anytime soon. However, there lingered in the back of my mind and in my conscience the feeling that there are people waiting in eastern Chad for us, people who don’t have the same luxuries (or any similar ones, for that matter) as we do, what with our books and movies in air-conditioned hotels.
There also lingered in my ears, annoyingly, one of the songs from Into the Woods.
Hopefully, come tomorrow afternoon, we will have received our permits and the song stuck in my head will have unstuck itself and gone to become someone else’s earworm.
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