Sunday, August 16, 2009

Service with a Smile

Warning: Do not try to challenge a Zaghawa (the President’s clan) heading up any kind of public agency in Chad.

I have lived (just) to tell the tale of my mistake in thinking that I could get away with erroneously addressing a letter to the ‘Minister’ instead of ‘Director’.

Hemmed in by a set of unpropitious circumstances - due to the ministry’s lack of communication my paperwork was already out of date; I don’t have a printer and the only reliable (Chinese) internet cafĂ© in N’Djamena has been shut for weeks; never mind the constant power cuts, road closures and the fact that by the time I’ve re-printed the letter everyone will have gone home because it’s past 15.00 – I am insistent. The director won’t even look at me in the face. I am gruffly dismissed. ‘Please…’ I beseech, ‘Madam, I AM BUSY!’

Fine, I know. I know that anger gets you nowhere. I should by now have learnt how to deal with the institutionalised pedantry peddled by those who benefit from the most egregious nepotism, who lord it over others as long as their man is the big man.

But before I’ve calculated the hopelessness of my plea, my irritation leaks out like battery acid. ‘Please…’ I beg, unwisely one last time. The director shouts ‘no!’ and leaps up grabbing me by the arm to direct me to the door. I snap and throw his arm from mine. With lightning reactions he raises his hand close to my face in order to strike me for my insolence. He stops just in time, realising his mistake, but not before I’ve exploded. I spit the words out like a hunched cat, ‘how dare you raise your hand to me!’

The fight is diffused by an unfortunate Nigerian caught in the crossfire, who is the only one in the room to realise how ridiculous the whole situation has become. A shameful display by everyone involved, but I still cannot believe how frustrating this place can be. It’s time for a break.

(*PS I’m now in UK until early September :)

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