The most common element in all our program fields is the difficulty in just getting there.
This past week we ventured into a new area, just north of our current program area in eastern Chad.
Although it is only about 150 miles, it took us about 12 hours and a couple of days to prepare.
In the whole country of Chad, there are only 2 paved roads outside the capital, N’Djamena, neither of them terribly long. Around here, we mostly follow tracks in the sand.
The short 3-month rainy season is intense, creating many wide sandy river beds called wadis. These fill quickly with water during the rainy season.
In the dry season, you can easily get bogged in the deep soft sand of the wadi. In the dry season, the main problem isn’t the wadis, though, it is the militia. They find NGO vehicles soft targets.
Not long ago in an area not far from our destination the director of another NGO was killed in an ambush while attempting to provide disaster relief.
We take security very seriously, traveling in as large convoys as possible, carrying radios and satellite phones, checking with locals along the way about the road ahead.
We were supposed to meet up with a convoy of 4 vehicles at a town part-way there, but the government had declared that day a national holiday the night before. So we arrived at the meeting point only to find that the other group wasn’t traveling due to the holiday. We had 2 vehicles of our own, the minimum required for that road to avoid an ambush and plowed on anyway.
The drivers are used to sand, so were able to slip into and out of 4-wheel drive as we would fourth gear on a highway. They were great and never let us bog down in any of the wadis, though it was touch and go a couple of times.
Our lead drier was from that region and hadn’t been there for a year or more, so every now and again we’d suddenly stop while Isaaka ran out into some seemingly random field, falling into an embrace with someone out harvesting their millet. Then we’d be on our way again.
Although we arrived at our destination at around 2pm, we were sent onwards to meet the Chef de Canton (like the Mayor) and Sous-Prefet (like the Governor) in Hadjer Hadid, another 30km (18 miles) up the road.
It took about an hour to get there, then another 3 hours to find the Sous-Prefet, wait for him to decide to meet with us, then meet with him, then repeat the process with the Chef de Canton, all the while drinking sticky-sweet, scalding hot tea in 90+ degree weather.
All the formalities done, we were able to trundle back to Arkoum, our final destination, arriving much later than we really should have been on the road. Within 15 minutes of arriving, we were setting up camp in the dark under a thankfully bright moon, eating a meal of rice and canned sardines.
It took us about 12 hours to get 150 miles, and that was without any problems at all with the vehicles or the road.