Published: May 2nd 2005April 30th 2005
The Cultural Centre Mao, Chad
Happy home to millions of Cockroaches
Chad is hard work.
The roads are non existent. The police are uniformed criminals. The transport is slow and uncomfortable. Outside the capital the country lacks basic infrastructure.
Chad was a French colony, but they didn't know what to do with it. They spent nothing on it. After independence the country descended into decades of civil war.
The situation was made worse by the meddling of the French and Libyans. In 1980 Libyan forces briefly occupied the capital N'Djamena. The French forces drove the Libyans north leaving the country divided in two. The Libyans were eventually driven out by a Chadian warlord, whose forces were armed with little more than swords. That warlord didn't last long as he was overthrown by another warlord - the current President.
The years of war only came to an end in 1990, when President Idris Deby, the current President invaded. He invaded the country with a private army from self imposed exile in Sudan.
Despite the relative peace since 1990, parts of the country are still not very safe, especially the far North. Also, there have been occasional armed clashes
with Nigeria. Chad and Nigeria disagree over where exactly the border around Lake Chad should be.
Despite all that, I found the people very friendly.
Economically, the country has seen steady growth in recent years. 9.4% in 2001; 9.7% in 2002; 11.9% in 2003 and an amazing 38.7% in 2004.
Yes, that's right 38.7% last year! There's a reason for that spectacular figure. CHAD HAS OIL
2004 is the first year that the oil came on-line, and showed in the economic statistics. The oil development has been financed by the World Bank and the IMF.
So, it's in the interests of the World Bank (new boss Paul Wolfovits - one of the ideological architects of the Iraq war), and America to ensure stability in Chad.
Returning to my personal diary, on the morning of Sunday 24th of April I was at the Niger/Chad border post, having spent the night sleeping in the sand by the light of the full moon.
SUNDAY 24 APRIL
I woke before dawn, when everyone else started moving. All the other passengers got
Roundabout at the top of Avenue Charles de Gaul
up before dawn for the first prayers of the day. Everyone else was very devout.
At 6am I walked through the border post with the driver. The formalities seemed to take forever.
After the border formalities we stopped in the village next to the border post to let off a passenger. They appeared to have carried a months supply of food with them, which had to be unloaded.
So...we didn't hit the road till 8am. We got stuck in the sand a few times, but this time I didn't get out of the cabin. By 8am it is already getting too hot. The only pleasant time of day is from just before dawn till 8am. We were making very slow progress on a very rough route.
At 11.30am we stopped for a break which lasted till 3pm. It was very hot - maybe somewhere near 50°C. We hid under the shade of bushes. I had used up the 2 litres of water I had packed before leaving. The others, when they saw this offered me some water. I put the water in my water bottle and treated it
with Iodine. The little town of Nguimi in Niger didn't have bottled mineral water - I had treated the water I had got in Nguimi because I didn't trust it.
Although I was lying in the shade, I couldn't sleep, it was far too hot. I was deeply uncomfortable.
We started up again at 3pm, making slow progress through the desert. We stopped at 6.30pm on the outskirts of the town of Rig Rig. We got more water from the towns well. So, I filled my water bottle again and treated it.
The driver had been fiddling with the electrics and decided to stop for the night.
We drove into the town proper and parked outside a house - that was our bed for the night. We also had the use of the household's bucket shower and squat toilet of the usual courtyard arrangement.
I was now feeling increasingly uncomfortable. I had been too hot all day and was finding it impossible to cool off, even after the sun had set. I had requested yet more water at the house, but no matter how much I drank it didn't help.
As the evening wore on my distress was obvious. The driver tried to help. He got water for me for a shower - that didn't work for any longer than it took to throw the water over my head!
I explained that the problem was I couldn't cool off because there was no wind. The previous night had been OK because there had been a breeze.
I suggested we tried soaking my hand towel with water. The driver soaked my towel with cold water from the well. I wrapped the towel around my head, which made me more comfortable.
As I was settling down, some sweet desert tea was produced - it was very welcome and I was very grateful. Then soon afterwards some roast chicken arrived, I was even happier!
With the help of my wet towel on my face I eventually fell asleep at about midnight.
MONDAY 25 APRIL
I again woke up before dawn when everyone started moving around for prayers. We finally left the small town of Rig Rig at 8am. The driver said it was a couple of hours journey to Mao. So...we arrived in Mao six hours later at 2pm.
In Mao we first had to register our presence with 3 different groups of policemen.
The pick up was only going as far as Mao. In order to get to N'Djamena I would need to catch another pick up. This would be yet another days journey.
Mao is a small white washed mud brick trading town. It's the capital of the once powerful Kanem region. The place draws people from miles around to its busy market. It's streets are drowned in sand. It has a wild west atmosphere. It also totally lacks any tourist infrastructure.
In Mao, I found that there were no cars to N'Djamena that day. The pick up had already left. So, I would have to stay for the night. Before I let anyone find me a bed, I insisted on getting some water. At the stall I instantly drank 3 bottles of soft drinks and bought 3 litres of water. The water was in chilled sachets, not mineral water. They were factory sealed sachets of filtered water, unlike the home made sachets I had not trusted in Nguimi. I saw the home made sachets being made up in Nguimi. it didn't inspire confidence.
Once I had some liquid in me to re-hydrate myself we walked to my room for the night. It was in the local cultural centre, conference centre and museum. The museum didn't look like it had been open in years.
The room itself was covered in dust. It had a bathroom with an erratic water supply and no electricity. There were light fittings, but they hadn't worked in years. The only light came from an oil lamp in the room. It was basic, but only cost 3000CFA's (about £3).
My new guide got me some food, after which I lay down for the afternoon with my wet towel over my head.
In the evening I went out to look around the town and bought another 2 litres of water.
When I got back to my room it was dark. I found I couldn't light the oil lamp. Fortunately the caretaker of the centre came by to check on me and solved my problem. He left. I started making myself ready for an early night but...
When I went to the bathroom I discovered by the light of the oil lamp that the place was covered by a sea of huge 2 inch long cockroaches. They were everywhere. And they were skutterling their way into the main bedroom.
I had a deeply uncomfortable night, in bed with the roaches. I was stuck with them - there were far too many of them to try to kill. Not only was the place full of roaches, but I was also eaten alive by mosi's despite covering all my body in mosquito repellent. I was glad of my short wave radio to keep me company with the roaches during a sleepless night; until the sun rose and the roaches went to bed!
TUESDAY 26 APRIL
I gave the key back to the caretaker at 6.50am. Then I waited on the steps of the centre. Someone selling tickets on a pick up to N'Djamena had arranged to meet me at 7am at the centre. N'Djamena is the capital of Chad. There is a small upmarket area near the airport which harbours ex-pats and wealthy locals, but the rest of the city is composed of mud brick houses with very few modern facilities.
At 7am we walked to the sandy wasteland where the pick ups lived. I was promised we would be leaving soon... so we left 4 hours later. Whilst waiting, once it was obvious it was going to be a long wait; I walked around the market area, which has an outback atmosphere. Someone tried to sell me some very impressive daggers - I didn't buy, the daggers were a bit of an overkill for peeling fruit, which would have been my only use for them!
The journey itself was long and hot. We stopped frequently for prayers. I felt out of place, being the only person who didn't face Mecca and pray. It's something that makes me feel uncomfortable - it rubs in how alien I am to the culture. I'm not going to convert to Islam just to conform. There's a limit to cultural immersion!
Despite that, people were very friendly. Unfortunately being British they had all heard of Tony Blair - not a popular man. Whenever Tony (B)liar was mentioned I got in straight away that I thought he was a BAD MAN, along with his mate Bush. Some people tried to have sophisticated political discussions. It's not easy for me to discuss British politics in French!
There were also little kindnesses on the journey. We had stopped for another prayer stop. It was a tiny village used as a stop by several pick ups going in different directions. After prayers someone asked if I was tired. When I said yes, he told me to share his sweet tea - in fact he gave me 2 glasses of desert tea.
We arrived in N'Djamena at 8pm. It was dark and in the middle of nowhere. I couldn't see a thing, especially the names of any cheap hotels in the Lonely Planet. It was late, I was tired, so I asked a taxi to take me to any hotel in the city centre with air conditioning in the rooms. After being turned away from one place because it was full, I booked into a very overpriced place - the Novotel, which is part of a French hotel chain. It was dreadful. Souless, expensive with tatty worn fittings and dirty carpets. If it had been 30000 CFA's (£30 sterling) a night it might have been acceptable, but for 89000 CFA's they were taking the piss. I had no intention of staying there for more than one night. Especially after noticing an item being put on the bill for a meal in the restaurant which I hadn't had, or ordered.
I used their overpriced bathroom to have a good wash and clean all my clothes in the cracked bathroom sink. I always ignore the "Do not wash your clothes in the room" notices.
WEDS 27 APRIL
First thing, I walked into town - it wasn't easy to work out which turnings to take as they didn't bother putting the streets names on many of the roads.
After about 20 minutes I arrived at the street that has most of the facilities - supermarkets, cafe's, patisserie's, and banks. I took breakfast in a patisserie, then went to a bank to get a cash advance. It took them a long time to deal with it, generating what looked like mountains of paper work.
My next task was to find another hotel. On the main street was a hotel, but it was full.
I wanted something fairly central, close to the facilities and the embassies. Where I wanted to stay was the old colonial district of town and the most expensive.
The Lonely Planet mentioned a place towards the airport. The airport itself was less than 1 km from the top of Charles de Gaul Avenue, the street with the facilities.
The place I chose was the Centre National d'Appui à la Recherche, not really a hotel, but it does have rooms it rents out. It was overpriced but well located, being just beyond the roundabout at the top of the Avenue Charles de Gaul. It cost me 14000 CFA's for a very basic room with dirty shared bathroom. But the plus side was that it had an air conditioning unit in the room which I left on all day and night. I didn't feel guilty about leaving the air conditioning on because the place had its own Solar Panels.
Once I'd booked into my new place, I returned to the Novotel to pick up my rucksack and book out. On my return to the new place I took a long siesta in my air conditioned room. It was midday and far too hot to do anything till evening.
THURSDAY 28 APRIL
After breakfast in a patisserie I wasted most of the morning dealing with the Immigration Police. When I found the office for the Immigration Police, which was hidden away at the back of a compound; I had to return to the Centre National d'Appui à la Recherche . It wasn't good enough to tell them where I was staying, I also had to get all the forms (note forms plural), officially stamped.
So at the centre where I was lodging I had to find the director and ask him to stamp the forms.
The registration was essential, so that I didn't have to bribe policemen if they stopped me in the street. The Immigration Police in Chad were a pest, they demanded that I registered with them in every town that I visited. As a result I wasted 2 pages of my passport on their stupid stamps.
I returned to the Immigration Office with the forms stamped and filled in. There were many totally irrelevant questions on the forms, such as asking for my religion. Personally I find that question offensive. I don't see it's any business of any policeman or government what I believe.
It was nearly noon, when I finally finished with the Immigration Police. I went straight to the Embassy of Cameroun. The woman at the Embassy told me to return the next day and charged me a horrendous 50000 CFA's (£50 sterling) for a Visa.
I returned to my room. At the centre someone told me that the temperature had been 48°C at noon! Il fait chaud! I took a long siesta, only emerging in the evening to eat.
FRIDAY 29th APRIL
I got up early for breakfast and spent most of the morning and afternoon putting the blog for Niger on the net, except for a trip to the Embassy of Cameroun.
At the Embassy they demanded to know who my employer was. What Employer? I'm a work shy bum traveling the world! So, I was forced to make something up - it could have been Donald Duck for all it mattered. What's the point of knowing the employer of someone who is only applying for a 30 day tourist visa?
Anyway, I got my Visa, had lunch and returned to the internet cafe. I went back to my room at 3pm for a siesta. Then I went out again at 5pm. I continued the blog till the cybercafe closed at 7pm, when I got myself something to eat and went to bed.
SAT 30 APRIL
After an early breakfast I finished putting the last of the photos on the blog for Niger. It had been a very long blog and had taken forever to get live.
I then returned to the centre where I had been staying , collected my bag and handed the key in.
It was now 10am. I caught a taxi straight to the border post. The border post for Cameroun was only a short ride from the city. At the border post I transfered onto a motorcycle taxi which drove me through the border and onto the town of Kousseri in Cameroun.
From there I caught a minibus to Maroua, arriving at my destination at 5pm. In Maroua I hopped onto the back of a motorcycle, only to find the hotel he took me to was just around the corner! I booked into the Relais Ferrigo. It only cost 6000 CFA's, for a room that was a thatched hut with attatched bathroom. For that, I didn't get air conditioning.
I took a rest for 2 hours then walked into town. I had been slightly annoyed with the motorbike driver and the hotel for pestering me so much to book various tours with them. A sure sign I was in proper tourist land again. So, I had a reason to reward them for their harassment by moving hotel first thing the next day.
In town I found the bank had an ATM that worked! After Niger and Chad that was amazing! I was sweating from my walk, for although it was cooler than Chad, it was humid. I had a meal in the centre of town.
Walking back to the hotel in the dark I also found another reason to move. The hotel was not only a long way from any shops but was also on a dark unlit street...