About fifteen minutes before it’s time to start our drive from Kou Kou to Goz Beida, by pure luck I happen to see a tweet in French:
— Ndjamena-matin (@Ndoune) January 17, 2013
Part of what it said, according to google-translate, was:
According to our respondents, thirty tanks and several pickup belonging to Deby’s troops arrived in the area of Goz Beida in eastern Chad. The situation remains unclear in this locality are rumors of renewed fighting between the army and the forces of national liberation Chad.
The resumption of fighting is almost imminent in Chad.
A little worrying. It’s been a while since there’s been major fighting in Chad. It used to be a regular occurrence. For the first three years since I started coming out in 2005, it was part of the Chad experience, knowing that Chadian rebels could cross the border at any time and start taking villages up and down the east of the country — and even go for N’Djamena. We were stuck in some tight situations!
It has calmed down drastically since 2009, so it was a surprise to read the little blog post about troop movements and “imminent” fighting in Chad. I talked with some from our group and then with UNHCR staff. There was no mention of fighting in Chad in any major or even minor news source, and UNHCR believed it was routine troop movement, so on we went to Goz Beida.
We were in a big convoy with an armed escort, a Toyota truck with four soldiers hanging on in the back, leading the way. After rainy season, the bumpy road made for a slow drive, but we had great conversations and saw beautiful people, blue birds, goofy camels, and large fields of sorghum. There are also many striking looking trees with red trunks. A driver told us that they are the ones from which gum arabica is taken. Gum arabica is a main ingredient in Coca-Cola, Coke!
We made it to Goz Beida in an hour and forty-five minutes. I’ve made that same drive in less than forty-five. We soon had to go present ourselves to the region’s governor. That was a good sign, to know that he was still there, since they are the first ones to usually flee, if fighting is coming. We met with him, and he welcomed us to the region and talked about the history of humanitarian operations in Chad and particularly in Goz Beida. It was all in French, so my mind drifted at times, but I got a sense for what he was saying.
It’s a short drive from Goz Beida to Camp Djabal. We arrived at one of the schools, where a couple dozen teachers were waiting for us. It was nice to see my friend Abdulaziz along with so many other familiar faces. It was a good meeting, where the teachers talked about the challenges related to education in the camp. They stressed how important preschools were to them, and they also talked repeatedly about the lack of opportunity to move on to a University, “Not one refugee has graduated from a university in the last nine year!”
From there we moved to the secondary school and got to listen to students. There is an almost palpable sense of frustration, of being stuck with no chance to continue growing. Students read from speeches they had written. They all said that their current education is lacking in so many areas and that they have nowhere to go after high school. In one of these classrooms I found Rahma and Murtada, and they talked, looking and sounding serious and formal. But, the Rahma smile would flash through now and then, when I would look at him.
Visiting Rahma’s home is alway fun. His siblings and extended family welcome us warmly and with big smiles. It was sad to see where Rahma’s hut used to be. It burnt down in December, and he lost all of his possessions. Also lost was the mobile library that he takes around the schools. On this trip, we brought some replacement Kindles and talking dictionaries, but so much more was lost. The Human Rights Watch Student Task Force is working on replacing all the material. Rahma was so happy that I’olani School in Hawaii sent him support, including t-shirts, maps, and more. He sends his thanks to HRW STF, ‘Iolani, and everyone that has helped. He said, “They are my best friends!”
We then went to visit Guisma’s home, and I won’t write too much about them because I’ll later do a separate post about this beautiful family. It was sad to see the children look thinner and all wearing the same clothes they had on during my last visit in December. Their mom Achta also looked thin and even sad. The loss of her mother hit her hard, and life has been difficult without her husband Adef being around. The seven-month-old baby, Abdulai, was the one that did look healthy and so, so happy. He makes eye contact and engages, smiles and laughs. He is still breastfeeding, and that makes all the difference.
There are so many needs, and it can all feel overwhelming, but there are also so many opportunities. We have to go at it and be creative and…do!