Ansley's dad is coming to Tchad for a visit. So, Ansley, Levi (the hospital chauffeur), and I set out on a journey from Bere to N'Djamena to pick him up from the airport and run a few errands.
We all walked to the market this morning to find some clandos to take to Kelo. Ansley and I shared a clando and strapped our two bags onto the back. We were pretty cozy (it always is with two people on the back of a clando), but not uncomfortable.
I felt so liberated riding on that clando. I love riding clandos (clando is another name for a moto… just in case I've never explained that before). It's seriously one of my favorite things to do, but I only get to do it when we go on trips, and it's a bit expensive. Well, expensive for Chad; it's about 2500 francs, which is the equivalent of $5, for an hour ride to Kelo. Anyway, I love riding clandos cool wind blowing in your face, sun shining brightly but not too hot, and miles of African expanse before your eyes. Amazing.
Toward the end of our trip to Kelo, the clando started making a funny noise that sounded an awful lot like the tire rubbing against the underside of the moto frame. Sure enough it was, and so we stopped and took the bags off the back to reduce the weight. It still made some noise, but we made it safely to Kelo without much problem. Once we got there, we had to wait for Levi and his driver to show up, which was a little nerve wracking because Levi had taken the bag with most of our money, passport copies, and phone. Thankfully he came within 5 or 10 minutes and then we had to figure out how we would get from Kelo to N'Djamena.
Usually we take a bus, but there were none and we would have to wait. Our other option was a little van packed full of people that would be hot, sweaty, and pretty smelly. We decided to wait, but while we were waiting, we met a friend. Abdoulaye, one of the shop owners from Bere's market walked over to us, and started talking with Levi. Next thing we know, we're walking up to a little four door Toyota and piling in.
Oh, I forgot to mention one thing. Before we piled in, I asked Levi, "Do you think there's a bathroom around here?" knowing that likely the answer was no. But God bless Levi. He went to someone's home and asked if I could use their bathroom, and they said sure. It was a little weird because it was different than the toilet area we have at my hut.
At my hut, we have a little closed off area with a hole in the middle. At this house, there was no hole. And they gave me a little plastic kettle thing full of water, which I thankfully didn't have to use because Ansley had thought to bring some toilet paper. Anyway, that was an interesting experience…
So we piled into the car Levi, Ansley, Abdoulaye, and me in the back, the driver and some other guy in the front. I started out on Ansley's lap, but soon realized that this would not last long. So, the driver pulled over and I got to sit up in the front seat with some guy. I pretty much sat on the console and just put my legs over on the passenger's side.
Amazingly enough, I was really tired and kept almost falling asleep. But when my head would start nodding, one of the Arabs would poke me and wake me up. They kept telling me that it wasn't good to sleep. I was confused, but whatever.
Then all the guys in the car started eating something small and reddish, and Levi broke off little pieces for me and Ansley. He warned us, saying that it was really bitter. Ansley and I, both highly confused as to why they would eat something that they knew was bitter, decided to try as well. You only live once, right? I chewed and chewed, trying to have the courage to swallow the dry, bitter nastiness in my mouth. I finally choked it down and wondered at how anyone could eat such a thing.
As I sat there, I started to have a little stomach-ache and nausea. Apparently it wasn't sitting well in my stomach. Then, something popped into my head. I remembered going to the market with a girl here named Pidi. Some woman was with us and was trying to get us to buy some of these little reddish things, and Pidi said, "No, don't buy it. You don't eat that if you're Christian." I had been confused at the time, but I trusted her knowledge over my own.
At this memory, I was slightly horrified. What had I just eaten that Christians are not supposed to eat?? I relayed my memory to Ansley, and she said, "I bet it's some kind of stimulant."
I asked Levi about it later, and sure enough, it is. He said it was called cola, and that if you eat it you won't sleep. He said that sometimes when he's driving and he's tired, he'll stop and buy one, but he doesn't eat it all the time because he said that it's habit-forming. No worries, I promise I won't ever eat it again.
Anyway, we got to Bongor after maybe two hours of driving, and so we stopped to eat. Levi kindly helped Ansley and I find a restaurant that would have vegetarian dishes. When I say vegetarian dishes, I mean a nice saucer full of chopped tomatoes, lettuce, onion, and hard boiled egg all soaked in peanut oil. This is the dip that you get with a long, fresh baguette.
After lunch, Ansley and I waited in the car while at a "service station" of sorts where we got air in the tires and filled up on gas. As we were sitting in the car, random people would stare in the window at us, either from a distance or up close. I lost count of how many people came up to the window and asked us for food or money. It was hard, but we had to say no because if we gave anything to one person, all of Bongor would be crowding around our window begging for food. One woman came up to the window and began asking us if we had anything for her children. This is one of the things I have come to hate about being in crowded places; there are so many people who ask you for things, and they may or may not actually have need of them. But whether or not they do have need, I almost always have to refuse them because I just can't give to everyone. If you give something to one person, others see it, and soon you have a crowd of people demanding that you give them something too.
After Bongor, we drove a little ways and stopped again. The driver informed us that we were stopping for prayer time. We stopped at a little mosque, and the three Arab men went out for their prayers. Ansley and I thought it was really cool that they were so dedicated to God that they would even stop in the middle of a journey to have their prayers. Perhaps I ought to learn some commitment from them.
We set off again, this time with Ansley in the front seat and me in the back between Levi and Abdoulaye. It was definitely not dull. Being squished between two men who are talking loud, fast Arabic in your ears is an experience not to be missed if you have the chance. Especially if you understand very little of Arabic and the only words you can catch are American, Nassara (white people), Dr. Bond, Dr. James, and hospital.
But what I enjoyed more than listening to their Arabic was the times when they would suddenly start talking French in order to ask me or Ansley a question. We had some pretty interesting conversations, and they usually started with, "A chez-vous, en Amerique…" which means at your place or home in America. The funniest question that he asked was, "How much is the dowry for a woman in America?"
I laughed, and then told him that there wasn't one. In complete shock, his eyes got wide and he said, "You mean they're free? You don't pay anything?" I confirmed this information for him, and then explained that usually the bride's father would pay for the whole wedding and that could be pretty expensive. I think that made even less sense to him because here, the men pay a dowry price to the father of the bride, so for the father to pay for the wedding seemed a little backwards to him.
We then talked about the dowry price for a wife here, which is apparently 500,000 francs (exchange rate in dollars is about $1 for every 500 francs, so you can do the math if you choose). Then we talked about how here men can have up to 4 wives (my goodness…). He asked us if men had more than one wife in America, and we told him it was against the law. He was slightly bewildered by this, but then I posed the question, "Isn't one wife enough trouble?" He kind of laughed, but I don't think I convinced him of the virtues of having one wife.
Then Ansley asked, "What if a woman wanted to marry three men?" The whole car full of people erupted in laughter. Of course, they didn't take her seriously, and Abdoulaye began explaining to me that that was ridiculous because women are only worth a half of a man (what he was saying is really difficult to translate…). Oh well, guess you can't change the world in one conversation.
Later, I asked Abdoulaye if women here were allowed to drive because I have never seen a woman driving. He laughed and told me that lots of women drive and that I would see them in N'Djamena. I told him that I knew how to drive a car, but not a moto, and he was a little surprised, but then he asked, "On te donne?" as he pointed to the steering wheel. I laughed and said that I didn't really want to drive here.
While we were driving, we actually had several little safari moments. No, we didn't see any lions or zebras. But we did see a ton of camels! It was actually really funny because we were talking to Abdoulaye about the fact that there aren't any camels in Bere, at which point he insisted that Ansley should buy one because camels are much better than horses. We all laughed, but almost every time we would see a herd of camels he would tell her again that she should buy a baby camel and that it would grow up for her to ride.
By the way, camels are quite possibly one of the most awkward animals I've ever seen run. It was pretty humorous to watch them run off the road when we were honking the horn. Some of them weren't too bright though and just stood there staring at us for a good while before awkwardly trotting off.
Once we got just outside the city limit, we were stopped by a group of gendarmes (local military). There has recently been a ban on charcoal (the main thing used to cook here) in the capital city, so they've set up check points to make sure that no one smuggles any in. A while back, they actually burned several vehicles that were carrying charcoal; we saw what was left of the frames of some of the vans.
So we all got out of the car while the police searched our vehicle for charcoal. I was actually surprised by their kindness. When I brought out one of Ansley's and my bags, they told me to put it back in the car because they didn't need to check it. I suppose they figured that two white girls wouldn't have any reason to smuggle charcoal into the capital.
As we were getting back into the car, one of the men told me and Ansley that we were pretty and that we should marry some Chadian men. I laughed a little nervously in response and quickly got in the backseat.
Anyway, that was our eventful voyage. We were dropped off at some intersection inside the city, and we walked to TEAM to settle in for the night. More adventures in N'Djamena to come…
P.S. I apologize for the length of this post… but I didn't want to leave anything out.