Monday, January 19, 2009

Arrival in Chad, and Other Musings

I'm sitting in the living room of IMC's compound in N'Djamena, the capital of Chad, feeling blessed with a surprisingly strong internet connection, and a bottle of wine I brought from Nairobi.

I had been warned beforehand of the heat, sand and dust here - it's formidable. I arrived about 1am at the airport. An hour later, as I put my head down to finally sleep, I could feel and smell the dust surrounding me - like a car had just driven by on a deserted dirt road.

Our lovely cleaning staff here has left on the tv for me - I've got the Michael Douglas masterpiece, "The Game," to keep me company now that they've all left for the evening.

I am a jumble of emotions here. I have just come from the displacement camps in eastern DRC, which are swollen with a couple hundred thousand people, all desperately needing food, medical care, clean water. The poverty and suffering is immense.

I'm also feeling a deep sadness about a close friend battling cancer far away from here. The latest news is not good and so I treasure any updates I'm able to get on her condition. I fear the worst and fear it will come soon, and yet know there is absolutely nothing I can do.

Amid all this, it is hard not to notice the optimism in the air here about our new president. Traveling through Kenya, Rwanda, DRC, Chad, I continue to be struck by the impact Barack Obama is having on this continent. Everyone is atwitter with the pending inaugural. Nairobi radio promotes "Obama's iPod, all day, every day". The TV stations are promising non-stop coverage of the event. Cab drivers opine about Obama's style of leadership, how he will handle the economy, the war in Iraq, aid to Africa, Congress, and how America's position in the world might shift next.

An IMC finance officer here in Chad told me Obama becoming president has had a major impact on him. When I asked how, he replied: "He is a brother to me." This is a time of great possibility. I just hope Obama doesn't "screw the pooch," as Gus Grissom famously warns in "The Right Stuff."

Early tomorrow morning I fly to Guereda, on the other side of the country, where IMC is working in camps serving about 275,000 refugees from neighboring Darfur, Sudan and the Central African Republic, as well as about 180,000 displaced Chadians.

I am delivering a special package to someone in one of the camps, which I will write about next time.

Until then...

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