Jan 07 Last bus to Bere
After Zach collected Charley, another Seventh Day Adventist volunteer, from the airport, we headed to the bus depot to catch the bus to Bere. Charley's a med student in his fourth year of residency. Next year he goes to Hawaii to work for the Army. He likes to ride motorcycles, gets Star Wars and Monty Python residences and seems to be a fairly decent guy. So it seems a little unfair that the guy's arrived to find out his luggage got misplaced somewhere between the U.S. and Chad.
But trooper that he was, he got through immigration, the police and banking without a word of French (he's spent more time in Latin America so his Spanish is decent, but he's been very willing to learn bits of French here and there to smooth the way in Chad), and he was much lighter in traveling on the bus than we were with our four pieces of luggage and two carry-on bags. The wait at the bus depot was longish, for in Chad the bus waits until it's full. There's an approximate time when it's "scheduled" to leave, but if the bus thinks more passengers will arrive, then it will wait until they come.
The bus depot was just as lively as any other part of N'Djamena, with merchants walking up to passengers to hawk their wares: toothpaste and toothbrushes, clothes, flashlights, and food. Jessica bought some bread to have with us for dinner or breakfast the next day, and I bought some crickets. At first I thought the woman was selling some kind of hot pepper out of her basket, and when I asked Zach, he laughed and told me they were fried crickets (and told me they were supposed to take like popcorn, not that he knew from personal experience), but Charley pointed out they were as large as grasshoppers, really. They were fried, spiced, sprinkled with lime juice and wrapped in a piece of newspaper. The first five were okay, though I learned not to eat the back legs--too tough and pointy--but the sixth one was just too much oil and I had to stop. Jessica didn't even try one. In Bere, I learned there was a spot where one could leave decent uneaten food where it would get taken by the boys who played nearby, so I donated the last of my crickets to a better cause.
For about twenty minutes we were spoken to by a man who was either very drunk or suffering from some sort of mental illness, or both. His French was so muddled that Zach couldn't make it out, tough it seemed to have something to do with religion as Zach thought he asked us if we were Muslim at one point. He just kept talking at us though there was nothing we could do to reasonably respond. He wasn't asking for money or any other favors it seemed, but what he had to say, whatever it was seemed very urgent. During his time with us, an older blind man walked up to our group, his hand on the shoulder of a young boy who led him. Our drunken orator stopped his speech, reached into his robes and placed a coin in the boy's metal bowl. We did nothing.
About this point, Zach noticed the man's temple was bleeding, which the man seemed to take in stride, but someone, perhaps a station agent of some kind, came up and removed the man from our group, and we decided to get onto the bus.
The bus was much more like a Greyhound bus than I expected, and we were assured that we were on the cushy bus, and coming back it was unlikely we'd be afforded such nice transportation. The seats were comfortable enough, but the speaker system was on the border of torturous. At the front and midway down the aisle, about where we were sitting, were television monitors that showed videos of bloody Hong Kong action flicks, music videos--some of them quite scandalous for the usually conservatively modest Chadians--what appeared to be selections from auditions for Nigeria's version of The Voice, and even a Western action movie about soldiers fighting Muslim terrorists who appeared to be led by Osama Bin Laden. The last definitely caused me to raise my eyebrow, but no one else on the bus seem surprised or offended, considering the number of Muslims on the bus. The audio for these videos was loud, full of distortion and hiss and never turned off. I mentioned it was torturous, and actually on the bus ride, I told Jessica that I had read that some places will put prisoners in an uncomfortable room with the lights always on and terrible music playing 24 hours on blaring speakers as a form of torture and/will breaking before interrogation. Because of those infernal speakers, this was the only form of longer public transportation that we took that I simply could not sleep on, even when I desperately wanted to.
I mentioned the high volume of Muslims on the bus and our first stop after leaving N'Djamena was actually a combination call to prayer and bathroom break. All the women, children and non Muslims stayed on one side of the road to stretch or squat, some without shame within sight of everybody else (conservatively modest in SOME ways that is) while most of the men crossed the street to the mosque while "Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar!" poured from speakers attached to the mini-minarets. We made two other stops, one to get dinner, which we passed on, and another bathroom break. It was at this last stop that Jessica went the to bathrooms, "Ou est la douche?" and was handed her own plastic kettle of water in case she needed it for left-handed business. Alas, she did not need it, and so missed a rare cultural opportunity. I did not experience this toilet, though I heard it was pretty bad, even worse than the toilet at the bus depot which was the most rancid hole-in-the-ground pit I have ever encountered. I have been spoiled for most of this trip in terms of indoor western-style plumbing, and I've been okay with being spoiled so.
At one point the bus attendant handed out sodas to every passenger, which seemed an interesting gratuity or cadeaux on our trip, and Jessica and I got a try a rather tasty local orange soda. For most of the trip we watched movies on our own and tried to bear through Satan's Sound system.
We arrived in Kelo, the next town over from Bere, where Dr. Olen of the Adventist Hospital picked us up in his Toyota king-cab pickup. All our luggage went into the bed, and we crammed into the front. Two men from the bus were also going to Bere and hitched a ride with us, riding on top of the luggage. I can't imagine how they did it, for if the dust was bad in N'Djamena it was worse here, and I can only imagine magnified to what degree swirling up from the road across the men in the back.
The ride back I glimpsed within the headlights many a mud brick house, goats and cattle unattended, unfettered and unfenced, small fires just outside or inside the mud homes, people walking on the road, and a lone moto. We could barely see the river where the hippos live, though we saw no hippos that night, and heard they were the only wild animal left in the area for all the others had been eaten.
Dr. Olen has quite a sarcastic sense of humor, so it was hard to tell how much of that last statement was true, but I have seen no wild animals beyond lizards and snakes, birds and bats here. People have(? unless it's tied to a tree outside someone home, which is quite rare, I can't tell how or if anyone really owns any of the livestock that wanders around) chickens and pigs, horses, donkeys and cattle, dogs and cats. Actually, our hosts had us bring along a cat door from the U.S. for their cats, which was one of the more amusing purchases to my mind.
Finally, after we'd been bumped and swerved around sand and hump-backed cattle, been passed a lot of what seemed to be barren land and too many broken mud hovels, and Dr. Olen said we'd made it halfway, we were suddenly at the compound, pulling into the gates in very solid brick walls surrounded rather nice houses with electricity and running water. We were greeted briefly by Kim, Jessica's professor's wife, shown to our quarters and we collapsed into bed, hopefully to rest enough to face whatever tomorrow, our first day in Bere, Chad, brought.