We are woken up by the muezzins, many of them. Chad is predominantly Muslim, and Ndjamena obviously has lots of mosques, all of which call the faithful to prayer. All at the same time. Five AM. Half an hour later the church bell rings: we are staying in the Catholic Mission, in the centre of town. Breakfast is at six. Hmm, we will have to adjust our rhythm. But in fairness, early morning is the best part of the day, it is nice and cool. Later, it turns to 40o C.
Yesterday evening we arrived at the humble local airport of Ndjamena, nothing fancy, no megalomaniac prestige project – like in so many other poor countries. Getting through passport control was easy and quick; we all had to fill in a form, on paper, not easy standing in line, with very old fashioned questions like name and address and passport details. I am not that good anymore at hand writing, and mine was quite illegible, but nobody even tried to read it. Instead, my fingerprints were scanned by a flashy machine, all ten of them, and my picture was taken. Why anybody still bothers with paper forms, beats me.
Let’s start with the bad news, first. One is strongly discouraged to take photographs, especially it the cities. Any place where the president could be, may have been, or may go to in the future is a state secret, and photographing that calls for immediate arrest, probably confiscation of the camera, and quite possibly a little torture. In Ndjamena it is forbidden, full stop. I will have to control myself. And you will have to do with lengthy descriptions, instead.
A short walk
To get a feeling of the city we leave the Mission for a short walk in the neighbourhood. No photos! It is a crime! This is by no means a beautiful city, the streets are dusty, the buildings have seen better times. Most are one or two stories maximum. But just observing daily live is fun, and so photogenic. Whilst Sofia is arranging a local SIM card, I sit myself in one of the airline chairs that have been randomly placed in the narrow middle of the four-lane road outside our compound. I am not kidding. There are four airline chairs here, and another six – different airline! – a little further on. They are loose, it is a miracle that nobody has taken them home yet. In the meantime the local traffic passes by. Mostly motorbikes – nobody wearing helmets, of course, but quite a few riders are sporting turbans. Many bikes are being used to transport things; one is towing a small cart, with over 50 baguettes inside. Another is carrying a stack of multi-coloured ropes, a third has a guy riding pillion holding an air conditioner. Opposite, the local car wash has a huge water tank, and a small generator to create pressure on the hose; next to the car are all the seats, taken out lock, stock and barrel for a thorough cleaning. Colourfully dressed women are walking along the street, carrying baskets or large plates on their heads, filled with market products. One plate has 15 or 20 small soft drink bottles, in bright Coca Cola and Sprite and Fanta colours, filled with peanuts. Why can I not use my camera!
A little further on we approach the market, recognised by the large amount of scruffy umbrellas that barely protect against the sun. A shabbily dressed man with a bright blue mouth mask is bent over several metal containers filled with dates, small and pretty light coloured. More colourful women, and men in mono-coloured jalabiyas – the traditional Muslim dress, but not necessarily only white, some are light blue, or pink, or other pastel colours -, they are selling fruit, a wide variety of vegetables, spices. It is a good market, lots of different things. One stretch is dedicated to the butchers, who sell large chunks of meat, covered in flies, which you extra, for free. Further inside are the cloths stalls, and the blankets – who needs blankets, with these temperatures? Lots of people are good humoured, in for a little chat. Trying to sell me food, and understanding that I actually don’t have a kitchen, so, except for some fruit, no point buying. Trying to sell me a fridge, or a TV, and understanding when I explain than I cannot possibly take that on my trip. They don’t really want to sell, they are just curious. And so are we. When I point out a whole stack of cotton bags with Chinese text on them, to the stall holder, he looks at me and says “Of course, look around, everything here in the market comes from China!” This is how I like markets, relaxed, fun. And why can I not use my camera!
Quite a few of the women are quite beautiful – Sofia tells me that the same counts for the men -, and most look relatively well dressed. Noticeably, nobody is obese here. Perhaps a function of lack of junk food, but not necessarily of lack of food, I think. There is the occasional beggar, often a crippled, and more often opportunistic children associated with the local madrassa, the Koran school, for which they collect alms. If they linger too long around us, the older men chase them away. And they listen, and leave!
Early on we pass a fuel station, which is completely blocked by motorbikes, literally hundreds of them. Cars have no chance. But when we walk back, an hour later, or so, they have ran out of fuel; many of the bikes are still waiting. One of the small shops has enterprisingly installed an enormous solar panel on the pavement. It is connected, but it doesn’t work.
Last night the military had blocked off a major round-about in town; they were checking everybody wanted to pass. Out of the car, being searched, not particularly pleasant. Luckily, foreigners were excluded from the drill. Today, too, there is quite a lot of police on the street, as well as heavily armed soldiers. It feels like a discord, among all those friendly and smiling, laughing people.