It’s not strictly correct, as some claim, that you cannot find good ice-cream in N’Djamena. You can, thanks to a small Lebanese/French owned café called Amandine. They even have a Mr Whippy machine, so you can order a sugar cone (I was never allowed these when I was a child), and pile it high with delicious vanilla or chocolate flavoured ripples. Outside, where the heat can only be described as if someone was blowing a hairdryer in your face, the cacophony of phone credit sellers, children with trays of peanuts precariously balanced on their heads, trinket sellers, and pugnacious horn-honking dies away, as the luxurious slurping brings back memories of ’99 flakes, on late-April Sunday afternoon strolls through the park, with teenage girls stripping down to vest tops and miniskirts at the first hint of sunshine.
But I’ve discovered something even more refreshing than sticky ice-cream. The best tonic for this 50C, blood-boiling climate, is to find a young, impassioned Chadian who lets you into their world for a few minutes.
Today I met Dembeye. She studied journalism in Dakar (where all budding journalists from across West and Central Africa aspire to go), and now she’s back in N’Djamena trying to find a job. “I just love talking to people and writing she says”, but she’s aware of the difficulties. On a three month internship at a local newspaper, she knows her chances of finding permanent work outside the strictly-controlled government newspapers are slim.
We went to visit women in the Walia neighbourhood, who’ve taken to buying buckets of blood fresh from the abattoir and frying it up with onions into a liver-like dish (jokingly called ‘vampire’ by aficionados). “People don’t like to talk here” she says, staring at the floor. “When I tried to do this story a woman insulted me and asked me why I was doing a job like journalism”.
I’m a real novelty. We met some men who’d been sipping on local brew since 9am and were belatedly lining their stomachs with this new delicacy of fried blood. They spoke to me with a mixture of awe and ridicule. “Bili bili (the brew) and vampire is an excellent mixture” one man told me, “it’s cheaper than meat now that we Chadians face such an increase in living costs”. A fat pig snorted outside as it wallowed in the mud. “How can you live in Chad as a vegetarian?” another asked, and the room erupted – the laughter smelt so high I could have lit it with a match.
Back in Dembeye’s house, handing me a hand-made fan, she told me even she is ashamed sometimes when she sees how rude Chadians can be. She hasn’t had electricity for the last week, yet she still managed to find me some ice for my coke. I asked her what she was going to do. She looked across at her husband – “If he can find a job abroad then I will do some more study. I want to learn everything I can about journalism”.