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Standing Side by Side While Being Poles Apart

We are physically back in N’Djamena. But mentally I’m still somewhere in eastern Chad. We spent the last days in refugee camp Djabal. The camp felt much more open, because of a ‘public’ wide space which runs through the middle of the camp (along the middle axis). In refugee camp Goz Amer it is different. The open space with its main road and public facilities (like primary and secondary schools and medical centre) is located at the southern border of the camp. The result is that there are more remote areas in the north which are disconnected from the open space. Gabriel told me, for example, that children of the more remote areas don’t go to primary school because it is too far away. I assume the decision to locate the more public facilities at the border zone is caused by security issues.

Making an open space in the middle of the camp, giving it a centre, produces a better vibe. Loosens the structure of the camp. And helps to locate yourself which is also possible because of the hilly landscape surrounding the camp. This contributes to a positive atmosphere. In Goz Amer you get lost more quickly in the fabric of houses and paths. Just a few notes from an architect’s view.

The emotional moments took place on a personal level. Being in Djabal felt like visiting Gabriel’s second home. Everyone seems to know him like an old (in sense of known-for-a-long-time not concerning the age, ok, maybe a little concerning the age) friend and they shout out his name. It was an intense two days. Full of meeting a lot of wonderful people for the first time to whom you had to say goodbye to in the next moment. I met Achta and her beautiful family, the cool DUSA coaches, a lot of DUSA boys and girls, and a lot of other lovely people. Sometimes it was hard to follow. Different impressions kept pouring into my mind. Ups and downs. And although times are getting rougher in the camp and food ration cuts have hit them hard, I have never seen so many smiles in such a short period of time.

What keeps my mind also busy was meeting Murtada. I think Gabriel has known him for quite a while. Murtada fled with his family to Djabal when he was eight. He is learning English in a school in Djabal and works from time to time as translator. In the evening hours he continues to improve his English skills by reading books and English courses. He built himself a nice house out of mud bricks with his own hands and teaches English to younger boys and girls. A smart guy in his early 20s I would totally hang out with. We talk about all sorts of things, make jokes, and pass the soccer ball around. Talking and walking with him through Djabal feels so normal that certain moments hit you even harder in which you notice something is not the way it should be. For instance when Murtada talks about the lack of food or his prospects.

He sees no future in the camp except of getting stuck. He wants to go to University and study. Standing side by side without the noticeable distinction between refugee and non-refugee, it is hard for me to accept why I have the possibility of an education and for Murtada, who is working hard to educate himself, is denied access. How much potential is lost here; potential that we desperately need in an ageing society (this is the case in Germany)?

His plan is to go to Libya and find work to earn money to cross the Mediterranean on one of these deadly small ships to come to Europe. What a world where someone has to risk his life to come to a continent where he has to pass through a nerve wracking year-long process of seeking asylum to have a minimum chance to go to University and have a better life. And that’s only if he arrives and doesn’t drown as hundreds of others before him have who shared the same dream.

Back home – when Murtada and I are poles apart again – I will hop on my bike, drop off my two children at their kindergarten, and go to a lecture at the University. On my way back, I will buy some food in the grocery store and have dinner with my family in our apartment next to a nice park. But it will feel differently after being here; knowing that the exclusive access to this standard of living costs lives.

Next time I hear the news of hundreds drowned in the Mediterranean, I will see Murtada’s face in front of me and hope that he is not of them.

We have to change things. Now, I can empathize with Gabriel about continuing to come back to Eastern Chad. Thanks for having me.

Over and out, Tobi



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