Friday, June 26, 2009

Making the desert green

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I’ve sometimes heard Darfur described as the first climate change conflict. It broadly means that people started fighting each other because in these sparsely populated Sahara hinterlands, there is not enough water or pasture for animals. Although this explanation glosses over some of the fundamentals of the political situation in Darfur, the challenges of managing resources in eastern Chad and Darfur remain.

In Bahay camp for Darfur refugees in the north east of Chad, not only is the sun like a raging tyrant in the sky, belching scorching flames onto its earthly victims, sending them screaming for cover, uselessly flapping their arms about their heads for protection, but water (or lack of it) is on everyone’s mind.

All of the water for the refugees comes from the partly man-made Lake Kariari, which at the peak of the dry season in early June is down to a pathetic slimy-green trickle. Luminescent algae carpets the vast basin of the dried-out lake, and three lonely pumps dot the cracked land all the way back to the treatment station. Here the water is filtered and tested before being pumped to the camp.

Each pump is powered by diesel. The fuel is driven in by truck from N’Djamena, more than 1000 kilometres away. Despite Chad having entered the elite gang of oil-producing nations, all of its domestic fuel needs are sourced from outside the country. The pumping system uses one hundred litres of fuel a day.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

OK OK I'll give you a clue. The un-named celebrity is not Angelina Jolie. She has perfect nails apparently. It's a British male. The un-named journalist will forever remain a secret

Shopping List

There are two supermarkets in N’Djamena. One is reportedly owned by the president’s wife. Many of the goods are imported from France or Cameroon, so when it’s been a few weeks since the last delivery, the shelves begin to look bare. Goods which were temporarily cheap to import and / or fell through greasy palms off the back of a lorry are stacked high (ie. tinned brussel sprouts), as if by their sheer force of numbers they might become desirable. There was no butter in either shop for close to two months, dried pet food disappeared in November and has not been seen since. I’m pleased if UHT milk is on sale, otherwise it’s powdered. Likewise, tinned kidney beans or chick peas are a rare luxury and must be snapped up as it’s never certain they’ll be seen again.

Once a week I summon up the courage to drive to the shop – usually on a Saturday afternoon when it’s quiet. The children swarm around the car before I’ve turned off the engine – “Madam madam! Les arachides, sont bonne pour la santé!” I don’t like the peanuts – like everything in Chad they taste of sand. If I want to buy phone credit, I will ask. I am wearing sunglasses, why would I want another pair? The artful teenager who appears to be the leader of the street kids sidles up to me, ragged sleeves flapping. With sparkling eyes tells me he will guard the car for me while I’m inside.

The shop depresses me. This is what I buy:

4 fruit yoghurts - $5
Small packet powdered milk - $4
Cameroonian coffee (a bargain!) - $6
2 cans Orangina - $3
Pasta - $2
Tin of kidney beans - $2
Tinned fruit salad - $3
Toilet rolls - $4
Mint tea bags - $5

Total: $34

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The following is a description of true events over dinner in N'Djamena in a hotel that wasn't Kempinski or Novotel..

Un-named celebrity: “So what do the Chadian rebels want?”
Un-named foreign journalist: “Well, you know they think Deby is corrupt and has too much power”
Un-named celebrity: “Who’s Deby?”
Un-named foreign journalist: “Er,… the president of Chad”
Un-named celebrity: “Oh right, right… right. Thought you were talking about one of your girlfriends”
Un-named foreign journalist (surpressing the urge to shout out "For God's sake!) "ha ha”
Un-named celebrity: “So what do the Chadian rebels have to do with, the jan, janaj, what do you call them… janijweed?”
Un-named foreign journalist : “The janjaweed? Well they’re in Darfur”
Un-named celebrity: "Oh great I read a book about that!"
(Un-named foreign journalist briefly chokes on a tinned green bean)
Un-named UN figure: (enthusiastically) “Yes, basically the janjaweed are the Arabs, you know the ‘white’ Arab horsemen who carried out the killings against black African tribes in Darfur”
(EXIT stage left un-named foreign journalist, in search of chocolate cake, unable to take any more)