Thursday, 19 October 2017

Expect the Unexpected

This phrase would easily sum up life here in Chad, and probably in a lot of other countries too.  I think I’ve become so used to expecting the unexpected now that it doesn’t really faze me.  It’s now my norm.  I’m much less bothered by lack of regularity and order since living here.  As such, trying to think up examples to tell you is proving difficult, as they’re all just normal, everyday occurrences now!

In no particular order, here are some recent examples of me needing to expect the unexpected:

One

I recently went on a two week holiday to Kenya, which was much needed and which I enjoyed immensely – mainly because we were by the sea.  I got to the airport a good two hours before the flight was due to leave, only to be told check-in was already closed.  Knowing that if I didn’t get the plane I’d have to wait probably another couple of days for the next flights, I was slightly panicked.  But nowhere near as much as I would’ve been five years ago.  Turns out that the flight had been brought forward by an hour but I wasn’t aware (turns out an email had been sent, 30 minutes before the revised check-in closure time…...).  I wasn’t the only one who’d not ‘received the memo’ and they kindly opened check in again and checked us in.  It was still an hour before the plane was due to leave at its earlier departure slot.  I had my quickest ever passage through N’Djamena airport and got the plane.  I was very happy.  Though not so pleased to learn that the reason for the earlier departure was that we were off to Kaduna (Nigeria) first, before Addis Ababa (Ethiopia, where I was transiting before heading to Kenya).  Those who know their African geography will know why I wasn’t amused at this fact – yep, we were going 1.5 hours in the wrong direction, to then head back again across Chad and over to Ethiopia!  The journey from N’Djamena to Addis Ababa usually takes around 4 hours but it took us 7 hours with this little extra bit tagged onto the journey.  Fortunately I was staying overnight in Ethiopia so the delay didn’t affect my ongoing travel plans.

Two

Just before I left for my holiday, I was sitting on my front veranda reading, when I saw something moving outside out of the corner of my eye.  I looked up to see two ducks (and upon further looking in the grass – yes grass, rainy season – about five ducklings) just ambling along.  Where the heck did *they* come from?!  We live in a gated compound, it’s not freely open.  Who knows? C’est le Tchad (It’s Chad.  An explanation we use here for when there’s no explanation).

Ducks just wandering around

Three

A week before I left for holiday, I was visiting a friend in N’Djamena.  A journey I’ve done many times before, I know her house and the surrounding area well.  After parking up outside I got out and was locking the car door.  A man approached me.  Nothing usual there, people often come up to greet and/or try and sell something.  Then a handgun appeared.  Wasn’t expecting that.  Well, I kinda was actually, as there have been many muggings mainly on white women here in N’Djamena recently.  See this blog post from my friend who describes her attack a month ago.  I can remember thinking ‘it’s happening, it’s happening’ as the gun pointed at me and I stumbled backwards into the mud (still rainy season).  The guy wanted my bag, which was slung across my body in the way we’re all told to do so people can’t snatch it off your shoulder.  A couple of yanks on the strap later (whilst I was screaming at the top of my voice, thinking someone would come and see as it was only midday) and it was broken.  Off he went on the back of a waiting motorbike.  Off I went shaking violently into my friend’s house.  I’m pleased to say I’ve no major negative after effects from the attack although I am a bit jumpy at times. 

Four

I got back from holiday just under a week ago.  In the two weeks I was away the rains have really stopped and the ground has dried up considerably.  I went behind my house to check my garden, realising that I was going to have to start watering it again now for the next seven months until it rains again.  Two of my plants we missing!  Yep, just like that, two have disappeared.  Who knows where they’ve gone?

Where did the plant go?

Five

Yesterday we were clearing out one of the storage containers to make some space.  I’d enlisted the help of two Chadian colleagues to help me and to take the rubbish generated to the burn pit at the far side of the hospital compound.  Due to the nature of what we were throwing away, I said ‘make sure it’s well burned’.  A while later one of them proudly reports that he’s set light to it and it’s burning well.  Great, another task completed.  I was just off to check on the second guy who was helping me out when I looked in the distance and saw billowing smoke.  Normal to see that above the burn pit.  Not however for about 50 metres *outside* of the burn pit, complete with flames licking around the now dried-out grass that had grown during rainy season.  Cue frantic searching for people to put it out.  Frantic on my part.  Not on the part of the Chadians!  They have an uncanny way of remaining calm in almost all circumstances.  Not a lot fazes them.  I was shouting ‘rapidement! rapidement!’ (‘quickly! quickly!).  One of them kind-of broke into a slow jog.  Twenty minutes, many buckets of water and some tree-branch-thrashing later, it was out.  Phew.  I was grateful for the fact that the wind was in the direction it was, as even though the fire was a fair way from any buildings, if the wind had changed direction it probably wouldn’t have taken long to spread towards the hospital.  First to have been torched would’ve been our new surgery centre building that I mentioned in a previous blog.  

Surgery centre coming along nicely

Life is never dull here, that’s for sure.

My next blog will be question and answer blog, as I’ve not done one of those for a year.  Write any questions you have for me about my life and work here in Chad in the comments box on the blog, or send to me via email and I’ll do my best to answer them (no promises though!).

Friday, 25 August 2017

Meanwhile, back in Chad......

After almost 3 months in the UK on home assignment, I’ve now been back in Chad for 3 weeks. 

Thanks to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, my suitcases have only been in Chad for 2 weeks and 4 days, but I’m grateful that they eventually arrived and everything was ok inside, including my precious Cadbury’s and cheddar cargo!

It feels like I’ve been back far longer than 3 weeks. I was straight back into work at the hospital once I was back.  Plus I also welcomed a short-term doctor who has come to the hospital for 7 weeks via BMS.  It’s good to have another Brit around for a bit :)

The hospital is a lot quieter at the moment, mainly because it’s now rainy season and the ‘road’ is bad, so people can’t get here easily.  This inevitably means people stay at home for far longer than they should and only come to the hospital once they’re really sick and it’s been dry for a few days, allowing them to get to us.  It’s heart-breaking to see and you feel really helpless.

I’ve been busy helping out the short-term doctors, sorting out a few administrative tasks alongside our Chadian administrator and the other long-term mission worker here at the moment and generally overseeing the work of the hospital.

Those of you who keep up to date with my blogs may remember my post from early May (available here).  In this entry I posted a photo of the manually dug foundations of the new surgery centre that’s being built to increase surgery capacity.  Well work has continued apace during my time in the UK and the building now looks like this!

New Surgery Centre taking shape

Inside the main door of the Surgery Centre

All the bricks were made by hand.  The only mechanical appliance the builders use is a cement mixer.  Amazing!  The roof is now going on.

The other day I was chatting with two of our nurse consultants as they cleaned and swept their offices out at the start of the day.  There was a thin piece of string attached to a small black packet in among all the dust that one of them was sweeping out of his office.  I asked what it was and he told me that a patient from the previous day had taken it off of their body during the consultation, saying that it ‘wasn’t working’.  She had been to see a witch-doctor for a problem with her kidneys.  He had prepared a mixture (which is secret, no-one knows what is in their potions), had placed it inside the black wrapper and attached the thin cord.  The patient was to wear it so the back packet was over the area where her kidneys are in order for it to work. 

Packet of 'medicine' from the witch-doctor

Those of you who pray, please pray for us as we work in an environment where witch doctors are everywhere and this kind of health treatment is regularly practised.

Another ‘typical’ thing for Chad happened last week.  I went to the (now, after 6 months, almost finished) renovated post office to check our post box for mail (hint hint).  A lot of progress has been made on the post office renovations during my time away.  The area where our post box is located has been cleared of all the rubbish and nice paving has been put down.  The lean-to roof over the area has been removed (a shame if it rains but then, that’s rare here apart from June to September).  And the wall that houses the post boxes has been painted with a fresh coat of white paint.  Lovely!  Apart from the fact that the painter was a bit over-enthusiastic with his roller.  Our post box is on the end of one of the many rows of boxes.  Number 2776.  Take a look at this photographic evidence of the painter’s exuberance for making the wall gleaming white:


Yes, that’s right, it’s been painted shut!  I was silently a tad annoyed (never, I hear you cry).  The next time I was in town with two Chadian hospital colleagues I got them to swing by the post office and showed them the little issue with the painted-shut post box.  I knew they’d find a solution.  One of them disappeared saying he’d get it sorted.  We waited patiently by box 2776.  Ten minutes later I could hear my recently departed colleague calling my name……from inside the post box area!  He’d found someone he knew that works at the post office (everyone knows everyone here….well, almost) and got him to go into the sorting area where they fill the boxes with mail.  Cue me using the key on the outside and a shove from the inside of the box and the paint was loosened.  Easy.  So now I have unlimited access to our post box (hint hint).

Just a few of the many happenings since I’ve been back.  Never let it be said that there’s a dull, non-interesting moment here!

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Two homes......the sequel

Dear Chad

Three months ago, I was sat in your dusty, hot, dry climes, typing a letter to the Western world.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to find it being back in my ‘other home’.

Now, I’m just five days away from returning to you, and I’m wondering how that will feel.
I’m going to sit in that metal bird (aka aeroplane) and in the matter of about 10 hours, be transported to my ‘other home’, in a completely different world.

Yes, I’ve been in my ‘other home’ for almost three months.  I’ve enjoyed copious cups of Costa coffee (I only had to go to Starbucks once, cos there was no Costa at that particular service station!), I’ve eaten lots of bacon, I’ve eaten lots of cake, I’ve spoken English 100% of the time, I’ve felt cold almost the whole time (and mostly enjoyed it….either that or I made myself enjoy it because it will soon be an alien concept), I’ve seen lots of the UK on the 3,500 miles I’ve driven to visit Churches and tell them about the work at Guinebor, I’ve enjoyed fast internet, I’ve enjoyed knowing how things ‘tick’ and how processes work, I’ve caught up with a lot of family and friends and I’ve made fun memories to take back with me.  

I’m looking forward to seeing all my Chadian colleagues at the hospital.  I’m looking forward to seeing my friends who live in N’Djamena.  I’m looking forward to seeing more blue sky than I can shake a stick at (!).  I’m looking forward to getting back to ‘real life’, as it is for me now.

However, since I’ve left, you’ve started rainy season.  Oh joy!  The humidity!  The mud!  The lakes and ponds!  I’m grateful that I’ve a more powerful vehicle now to power through on the ‘road’ into town.  I really dread getting stuck, although I’d soon find people to help dig/push me out, I’m sure.  I can’t begrudge you the desperately needed water and irrigation.  It will be strange to see the desert landscape that I left in May, having been transformed into a green pasture that will last a few short months. 

So Chad, I’ll see you soon for our next epic adventure at the hospital in the desert (currently green, watery, muddy quagmire)

UK passport holder returning to Chad

Friday, 26 May 2017

'It's SO hot!'

....says everyone around me.  Everyone's in flip-flops, shorts and t-shirts, whereas I am wearing socks, full-length jeans and a couple of tops.  Can only mean one thing!  Yes, I am back in the UK for home assignment!

It's been great to enjoy the (relative) cool and not be sweating.  It's lovely to see green grass and the sea.

The beautiful North Devon coast at Woolacombe


I've a fair few Church visits coming up during my home assignment, as well as some rest.

I thought I'd list where I'm speaking and when, in case anyone is nearby and wants to pop along, it would be great to see you!  I'll mainly be talking about my life and work at Guinebor II Hospital

Sunday 28th May - 7pm - Upton Vale Baptist Church, Torquay
Wednesday 31st May - 7.30pm - Oldham Baptist Church
Thursday 15th June - 7.30pm - South Molton Baptist Church
Sunday 18th June - 11.15am - Kirkwall Baptist Church, Orkney
Friday 23rd June - 12pm - Lydbrook Baptist Church, Nr Gloucester
Sunday 25th June - 10.30am - Stroud Baptist Church
Sunday 25th June - 6pm - Moriah Baptist Church, Risca, South Wales
Sunday 2nd July - 10.45am - Robert Hall Memorial Baptist Church, Leicester
Sunday 2nd July - 6pm - West Hucknall Baptist Church, Nr Nottingham
Saturday 8th July - 6.30pm - Belle Vue Baptist Church, Southend-on-Sea
Sunday 9th July - 11am - Canvey Island Baptist Church
Sunday 9th July - 6.30pm - Westcliff Baptist Church, Westcliff-on-Sea
Tuesday 11th July - 2.30pm - Folkestone Baptist Church
Sunday 16th July - 10.30am - Penrallt Baptist Church, Bangor, North Wales

I'm looking forward to meeting people who have supported me whilst I've been in Chad and share some of what's happening there

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Two homes

Dear Western World

This is a something I’ve wanted to write for ages but I’m never sure if I’ll be able to express myself in a way that conveys how I feel.  I hope I don’t offend you, that’s not my intention.  I just want you to know what I’m thinking and feeling right now.

Twelve days from now I shall be leaving my adopted home in an aeroplane (and that means air con, hallelujah) and coming back to you, my other home, for a while.  I am looking forward to a cooler climate, seeing people who’ve known me for years and years and catching up, eating my favourite foods, seeing the sea, seeing greenery, drinking water straight from the tap, having a properly functioning fridge, eating copious amounts of cake, bacon, not being outnumbered by North Americans (BUT see below), not being continuously covered in dust, being in a country where I understand how everything ‘ticks’, being able to pay for shopping with a plastic card, not having to make sure paperwork has the correct stamp on it, fast internet, Costa coffee, a hot shower when the bathroom is standard temperature, explaining what I do here to interested people and having some time to reflect and relax.  I am *very much* looking forward to these things.

However, I do have mixed emotions right now because I’m actually going to miss living in my adopted country.  Apart from the heat.  That I’m definitely not going to miss.  I am going to miss my Chadian colleagues and friends.  Their ability to be perpetually optimistic in a situation where, to Western thinking, they’d have every ‘right’ to be pessimistic.  The way they’ve welcomed me into their country and joke and laugh about the most seemingly stupid stuff (it’s going to take ages to completely ‘get’ their humour).  The way they encourage me in my Chadian Arabic and say that I speak ‘lots of Arabic’ when in actual fact I’ve the Arabic language ability of a two year old.  The way that they can find a way to do stuff when to my mind it’s an impossibility.  I’m going to miss being part of the expat community and the way that other expats can quickly become family.  I’m even going to kinda miss be outnumbered by North Americans (!) and the way they tease me about the English words I use.  I’m definitely going to miss ribbing them about the fact that they ‘stole’ my language in the first place and that they have a bordering-on-unhealthy obsession with Ziploc bags. (As an aside, thanks to my Facebook friend, can’t remember who it was, who ‘liked’ a meme that contained a picture of the Queen with the words it’s English, not ‘American English’.  There is no such thing as ‘American English’.  There is English, and there are mistakes.  I gleefully WhatsApp’d that around my American friends here :) ).  I’m going to miss the nomad family that set up home a mile or so away from the hospital who we visit fairly regularly and who we wave to every time we drive into town – they’ll have moved on by the time I get back.  I’m going to miss seeing camels on the way into town.  I’m going to miss the kids shouting Nasara (white person) and waving as I drive past.  I’m going to miss the almost perpetual blue sky.  Yes, I’m going to miss this place.

I’m not totally sure how I’ll be when I’m back with you Western World.  I expect I’ll be excited but there will definitely be times when I’m missing aspects of here, or noticing the vast differences between here and there, and trying to process all of that.  When the latter two things are the case please don’t take it personally.  It’s just that I now have two homes that are polar opposites and transitioning between the two can be interesting, hard, weird and baffling.  I hope you understand.

Your friend,

UK passport holder living in Chad

Monday, 1 May 2017

Expansion

The hospital is going through some physical growth at the moment, thanks a legacy from the UK and some generous people in the USA.  I thought it would be good to explain (in lay terms, because, at the end of the day, I’m a pharmacist) some of the intricacies of how things are built here.

Being a mission worker overseas means you more often than not have to get involved in things that ordinarily, in your passport country, you wouldn’t.  That’s definitely the case for me at the moment, having general oversight of three building projects for a month or so.  We’ve been able to start a new area for outpatients to wait, a new surgery centre (with operating theatres and a new sterilisation room) and another house for expats to stay in.

Not being on ‘city power’ (read: mains electric) here at Guinebor means that the majority of things are prepared manually.  Even in the city most things are done manually as electricity costs and manual labour, apart from a salary, doesn’t.  The builders hire in generators when they really need to do something with electricity (i.e. soldering metal together to make a frame for the veranda on the new house).  Apart from that, right down to making the bricks, everything is done manually.  It’s crazy and amazing to watch at the same time.  Factor in the 45C daytime temperatures and you’ll have some understanding of the physical labour that goes into constructing a new building here.  There’s no Wickes’ (or wherever in the UK builders buy stuff….!) that we can just pop down to and buy bricks, mortar and so on.  Nope, we have piles of sand, gravel and sacks of cement delivered and dumped in massive piles near the construction site.  And then the hard work begins….

Step one of brick making:
fill metal mould with sand/cement mix
Step two:
level off the sand/cement mix in the mould,
whilst co-worker poses for photo

Step three:
carry filled mould over to drying area
Step four:
tip freshly made brick out of mould
Step five:
remove mould and start process again,
leaving bricks for two weeks to dry before using

I know very little about construction but I'm told that to ensure a wall is structurally sound, it has to have metal horizontal and vertical supports.  These are also made by hand from long lengths of metal:

Jean creating the metal supports

Marking out the building site for new surgery centre
A week after the picture above was taken,
the building site for the surgery centre looked like this!
These are the start of the foundations.  There are about 20 vertical pits like this,
which are about 3 feet square and at least 6 feet deep.  All dug by hand

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Visiting the locals

You may remember me saying in previous blog entries that I’ve been learning Chadian Arabic.  I started almost 12 months ago now, which seems impossible to believe!   However given that I was only doing a 1.5 hours lesson twice a week and wasn’t getting chance to do any more study because of my work at the hospital, progress has been somewhat slow.

A change in circumstances has meant that I am now having one lesson a week for 1.5 hours.  As I’m in the habit of setting aside time for Chadian Arabic learning twice a week, I don’t want to lose that momentum.  So I’m going to try and visit local ladies in Guinebor II (the village of the hospital and where I live) at the time when I previously had my second lesson of the week.  I’ve enlisted the help of a member of hospital staff, Mariam, who also lives in Guinebor II and who speaks Chadian Arabic and also French.  Most of the locals in Guinebor II only speak Chadian Arabic, which is one of the reasons I want to learn it.

Yesterday afternoon was Mariam and my first visit out into Guinebor II.  I’ve asked Mariam if we can visit the wives and families of our staff that live in Guinebor II.  So yesterday we visited the home of one of our guards.  Unfortunately he and his wife were out, but his mother was around.  She didn’t know we were coming, so it was probably a bit of a shock to see the Nasara (white person) turning up! 

It’s not appropriate to take photos here when you don’t know people, so I’m going to try and paint a picture with words of what it was like out in the village yesterday:

Under the perpetually-blue sky of Chad, Mariam and I walk up to the house which is made of mud bricks and overlaid with plaster.  It’s a rectangular building with three room in a row about 10 foot square, each with a metal door and in front of these rooms is an open veranda area, the front of which is covered with a once-red-but-sun-tarnished piece of fabric, which is blowing in the gentle warm breeze of the late afternoon.  The sandy-floored yard area in front of the house is fenced off with reed mats and is open on one side, which is where Mariam stands and calls out ‘al-salam alekum’ (hello).  There are several ladies and children in the yard.  One of the ladies, with a small child strapped to her back with an old towel, is sweeping the sand-dust floor with a locally made brush made up of many reeds tied together.  Some children are sat on a colourful mat chatting.  The matriarch of the house (the mother of one of our hospital guards) knows Mariam and comes over to greet us.  She shakes Mariam by the hand and the Chadian Arabic begins.  By piecing together the odd word I recognise, along with her gestures, I can tell that Mariam is explaining that I’m learning Chadian Arabic and that I want to hear it being spoken so that I can get better at it.  The mother shakes me by the hand and greets me, asking how I am.  I reply that I’m doing fine thanks and she smiles, finding it funny, but good, that the Nasara can speak a bit of Chadian Arabic.  She gestures to one of the other ladies to bring a mat.  We are furnished with a large (6x3 feet) green and black mat, typical of many Chadian houses in that it’s made of thin woven plastic strings.   We take off our shoes (read: flip flops) as is customary, no shoes go on mats, and sit on the ground in the yard area on our mat.  In order to make the mat even more ‘attractive’, a small woven carpet is brought out and put on top and I’m told via gestures from the mum that we’re to sit on the carpet, not the mat.  Mariam and the mum chat away and I pick up odd words and phrases.  Periodically Mariam translates what’s being said into French so that I can follow along.  Whilst the two ladies chat, I look at my surroundings through the gap in the yard ‘fence’.  There are a fair few trees around providing welcome shade to the houses from the scorching sun (afternoon temperatures are now over 40C). There are many other similar houses around.  People live in close proximity and there are shared toilets of the long-drop variety.  The ones in this area have brick walls but sometimes there’s only some corrugated iron surrounding you to preserve your dignity!  Three varying-sized goats wonder past.  They must belong to someone but goats are free-range here.  As were the five or so chicks that were picking around in a pile of dust.  I’m brought out of my gazing around when a strong gust of wind picks up one side of the large plastic mat and it envelopes me!  Cue some ladies strategically placing some nearby large stones on it to keep it in place on the ground.  There was a nice warm breeze blowing during our visit, but given that it’s not rained since the start of October, wind here always means dust.  A bit later on, two men walk past in the distance selling their wares.  One is selling football shirts, displaying them on coat hangers and carrying them at shoulder-level so as to make sure they’re visible to potential purchasers.  The other man is pushing a small two-wheeled cart, on top of which are some locally made sweets that look like seaside rock but are much softer.  They are ambling along chatting to each other when all of a sudden they stop, look behind them and then turn back to the house they’ve just passed.  Someone wants to buy some sweets and has called them over.

At this point, Mariam and the other lady decide they’re going to test me on my Chadian Arabic.  ‘Da cenu?’ (‘what’s that?’ they ask, pointing at a tree).  I reply that I know, but I can’t remember which the plural version is and which the singular is!  They help me out and then point to the dog that’s been lazily sleeping behind us the whole time.  I always mix up the word for dog (kalib) with the word for book (kitab) and of course, I said the wrong one!  The next thing they point to are the chicken.  Ah ha I think, I definitely know this one (at the start of lessons with our teacher, chicken was one of the first words we learned and so with our limited vocabulary, whenever the teacher asked us what we’d eaten that day, or what we’d bought at the market, the answer was often chicken, as we didn’t have a great repertoire of items to say!!).  I got that word right and the mum smiled broadly and shook my by the hand as a way of saying ‘well done!’

They both encouraged me a lot during our time together and said ‘you will get there’. 

After an hour on the mat, it was time for Mariam and I to leave, as it was going to start getting dark.  We thanked the mum very much and walked the 5 minutes back to the hospital together along the dusty tracks.

Hopefully this will be the first of many visits to some of the ladies of Guinebor II :)