Sunday, May 19, 2013


Many things come to mind when I think the word “chad.” There are hanging chads, which were the bane of the 2000 presidential election here in the States. There’s the male name Chad – especially the baker Chad Robertson whose name kept popping up when I tried to search for “bread recipes from Chad.”  But what I’m thinking of is the country of Chad in central Africa and Lake Chad, for which the country is named after.

Chad lies landlocked in the center of Africa, surrounded by Libya, Sudan, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Niger. The country is part of the Sahel region, just south of the Sahara Desert, and the top third is covered by the Sahara Desert. The country is generally flat, a thin layer of sand covers everything with random clumps of trees scattered here and there, like a giant threw handfuls of seeds out. Desertification is a problem in this country, with the Sahara extending itself like an unwanted houseguest and taking over what little fertile land there was. Even the capital city of N’Djamena (pronounced n-ja-MAY-nah) has sand spilling out into the streets, giving it the feeling of being a rural town, rather than the largest city in the country and a base city for non-governmental agencies in Chad and other nearby countries in central Africa – just across the river from N’Djamena lies Cameroon.  Lake Chad is also important to the country (and not just because of its namesake), but because it provides water for the four neighboring countries to it (Chad, Cameroon, Niger, and Nigeria). It’s a fairly shallow lake, so it’s sensitive to changes in the wet/rainy seasons.   

Chad is in one of the oldest areas of Africa; it’s been inhabited for over 2000 years, partly by the great Sao civilization. Not much is known about them since nothing’s been written down. The only things we know are the stories that have been passed down from generation to generation and the artifacts that they’ve left behind, mostly highly-skilled pieces of bronze, copper, and iron works. Later, the Muslim traders that came in and stole slaves from Central African Republic and Cameroon also hit Chadian villages as well. The beginning of the 20th century brought French imperialism (most sources I read called it “French holdings,” as if taking over someone’s country and raping it for their resources were merely a business deal. Probably was.), which lasted for nearly sixty years. They officially won their independence in August of 1960.  Since then, they have been plagued with opposition wars, civil wars, insurgencies, battles, and coups.  Some of the fighting in Darfur spilled over the border into Chad as well. Like what’s happening in Central African Republic and other countries, getting food and medical supplies to those who need it is a difficult task in these areas that are controlled by the warlords and rebel fighters. Refugee camps are hidden away throughout the jungle with little access to getting inside or leaving.

As far as religion goes, it’s fairly a diverse country. A little more than half of the people are Muslim, and a little more than a third are Christian. There are other groups represented as well: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bahá’í, animism, atheists and others.

Because of its location and history, Chad has two official languages: Arabic and French. While there are over 120 local languages that are spoken in villages throughout the country, one of the larger local ones is Sara, a language that is widely spoken in the southern regions of Chad.

The capital city of N’Djamena only has roughly a little more than a million people and about 1.6 million if you include the metro area – which makes it about the size of Philadelphia, PA. It was originally called Fort Lamy by the French, named after a French commander who had been killed in battle a few days before this. After gaining independence, the new government changed it to a more Afrocentric name, N’Djamena. It was based on an Arabic-named village nearby, meaning “place of rest.” It lies on the Chari and Logone Rivers. It’s become the center for government, center of business and trade, center for the arts, and the home to the country’s only university: the University of N’Djamena (classes taught in French) and the King Faisal University of Chad (classes taught in Arabic).

Statistically, this country falls toward the bottom of the list when it comes to human development and stability, making it one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world. They’ve got the 4th highest death rate in the world: number one in maternal mortality, sixth in infant mortality. Almost half of the people don’t have access to clean water, only 13% of Chadians have access to adequate sanitation. These things contribute to a higher risk for diseases such as hepatitis A, typhoid fever, but also malaria, meningococcal meningitis and rabies. A third of kids under five are underweight. 35% of those 15 and old are literature in either Arabic or French (and that figure was closer to 25% ten years ago!). This makes it hard for people to move outside of manual labor, which is where most of the jobs that are even available lie. Because it’s such a poor country and most people don’t hold outside jobs, they don’t even calculate an unemployment rate. Although close to 80% of the people base their living off of some kind of agricultural work, there is some exportation of oil from the country as well. Despite this, it still relies heavily on foreign aid and assistance, but the corruption and instability in infrastructure hinders this aid from getting where it’s needed. The median age is 16 – which at that rate, I should be close to dying if not already gone – and I’m only 33.

Even though it’s had some rough history here and there, I’m convinced that it’s not all bad. There has to be something that’s pretty cool. (Unlike it’s weather which stays pretty hot. I checked on my Weather Channel app, and this weekend, the city of N’Djamena has a heat index of 125˚F. I’m pretty sure my freckled Scottish-German mixed skin would simply burst into flames.) The cuisine seems to be a mix of traditional African and incorporated French, which means we should be eating pretty well next weekend (if I don’t screw it up).  One of the best things that has been recommended to see in Chad is the Zakouma National Park. It’s become a refuge and protected area for much of the local wildlife. The best time to see them would be in March and April when the animals make their way to the watering holes. The rainy season comes in June through October which makes travel really hard, causing many creeks and rivers swell to twice its normal size.

Up next: holidays and celebrations

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