First day update — hotel internet was broken on our first day — we arrived at the brand new China-built airport around 10 at night, welcomed in by a serious man in a white doctor’s coat. He stood by the partially open door taking each passenger’s temperature to make sure we don’t have Ebola. Our 8 huge duffle bags filled with soccer balls, educational pre-school materials for the Little Ripples program, our clothes, and all the food we brought to eat while we’re in the camp arrived safely! All passengers go through “customs,” a jolly man sitting behind the scanner laughing and talking with his friends sitting in a row beside him as he glances at the screen from time to time. Emerging a bit dazed into the warm African night, we were met by a tall soft-spoken man, our UNHCR escort Amos. Amos and Gabriel (co-director of iACT with his wife, KTJ) have been good friends for the 12 years that iACT has been coming to work in the refugee camps.
It was midnight by the time we arrived at (super clean and comfy) hotel. I’d like to describe our hotel for you, but we’ve been warned not to identify where we’re staying. Amos is our UN protector; in the morning, he picked us up to go to the main police station near the presidential palace to register. We drove along wide paved streets in N’Djamena, though most roads are sunlit, ochre-colored packed sand, the light wheat color of mud walls. At the station area, we picked our way across broken pavement stones and soft sand. Sullen guards stood in their beige uniforms; a young woman looked in the women’s bags, a man for the men’s. We went in to a dark hallway opening into a few small fluorescent-lit concrete rooms with dilapidated desks, no phones or computers, nothing but one uniformed man examining papers. I’m struck by how every official of any kind seems to have lots of male and female friends keeping them company — a result of wide-spread unemployment. A beautiful woman wearing a fancy maroon dress with matching hat took our forms. On the ride back to the hotel, Amos played syncopated, danceable Arab-Afro-pop on the radio.
And that was the outing for our time in the capital. Amos told us that there’s going to be a big demonstration today against the government shutdown that has closed all schools, university, offices — it’s not safe for us to go out, even with Amos, until it’s over. We have to wait a day before our flight east across Chad towards Darfur, Sudan. Resting in the hotel is great, but we’re eager to get to the camps.