23-26 May 2011
Less than 24 hours after arriving in Chad we were heading north in a military escorted convoy heading to the Lake Chad region with an organization looking to build schools in the small neglected villages in the desert. My new friends organization had started to build some schools in 2007 before the civil war but everything had to be abandoned as rebels swept across the country from the East. During this trip we were checking on the school construction projects that had been started and assess the need for determine locations for the construction of a couple new schools.
About 100km outside of N’Djamena the newly paved smooth road comes to an end and the bouncing begins. The first day we drive to Elephant Rock and camped for the night in the shadow of massive stone hills, one of course, shaped like an elephant. While one truck of Soldiers drove to a nearby village to buy a sheep for dinner other Soldiers grabbed their AK-47s to go hunting Guinea Fowl seen on the nearby hillside. At least 20 shots later they killed one bird and started roasting it over a campfire. Meanwhile the other Soldiers returned with their sheep, butchered it, and threw it in a large pot over the cooking fire. Both tasted great and in the morning we had ribs and salt for breakfast.
The next day we tried to stay close to the lake as we drove north but kept running into thick acacia groves that scratched and tore at the Chadian Soldiers sitting in the back of their open trucks. We visited three villages on the second day and found that only one of the projects had been completed and now was a simple three-room concrete building with a metal roof. A simple blackboard had been painted on the wall and students sat on logs or bricks on the sand floors. Other villages, if they had a school, usually consisted of an open-sided straw roofed hut. Most of the teachers in Chad are community teachers that are hired by the local school village. Many of these community teachers have no formal training and often are just the smartest guy in the village.
The further north we traveled the worse the roads got and we and our escorts had to dig out of the deep sand at least a half dozen times. The Chadians would grab branches and small bushes and jam them under the wheels to try to get tractions, but in the end we had to use metal sand ladders. We were reduced to driving 30km per hour over a tore up dirt road before dusk and eventually we called it a night after driving in the dark for two hours. The Chadians pulled over on the side of the road started a fire, butchered another goat, and soon we were snoozing under the stars.
Day three we had more roasted goat ribs for breakfast then checked out another village for a potential school before driving into Bol on the north shore of Lake Chad. Bol is a district capital and has a small port, which is more of a sandy beach where pirogues from Nigeria dock with goods for sale. I saw reed mats, large sacks of corn, and mango come off the small paddle-powered boats which were met by the local customs inspectors. It was easy to see how high the lake used to be and many of the fingers of the lake are now dry. 12 hours of driving later we arrived back at the end of the paved road outside of N’Djamena where the Chadian Soldiers slaughtered another goat for dinner and we were mobbed by little kids looking for food. On the way back into town we ran out of gas but fortunately we had fuel cans in the back of the truck and were able to get on the road again, arriving after 10pm.