Chad, January 2014: When we travel off-road in Africa, we mostly focus on reaching the end of the road. The journey to get there is the price we pay to enjoy what awaits at the end of the road.
It was not always like this. From the stagecoach to the train, to the bus and the car, from the hot air balloon to the airplane. With each improvement, we arrived at our destination, but we forgot to enjoy the journey.
Especially in Africa, a journey can be fairly unpredictable while I’m traveling in Twila, our Speed The Light vehicle. Last week, as we returned to Abéché from N’Djaména, we had a major flat tire that destroyed one of our two spare tires.
We cannot easily replace it just yet. So, when a journey to help a refugee friend became necessary, I decided to depend on the public transportation system of Chad to get me there.
Because they can never assure connections at each step, a trip off-road in Africa is often as interesting as the destination.
Wake up as early as you can
The first step to facing an unpredictable travel situation is to get up as early as you can. I woke up at 5:15 am and headed to the N’Djaména bus station. The rickshaws and clando taxi travel more often from there than from our street.
At 6:00 am, I bought some tissues and caught a moto taxi to the bus station. My face became cold from the wind, and I was glad I had brought my winter coat.
At 7:00 am, I ate some beignets with tea and sat in the front seat of a pickup truck. I like my beignets with salt rather than sugar and found the salt at a meat restaurant.
Be Flexible as You Head Off-Road
I chose to ride in the front; it seemed like a good idea at the time because there were only two passengers. But I was soon crammed in with other passengers, so much so that I had to try to keep my leg away from the stick shift. I put my briefcase in the gap to hold up my left side.
The sun rose as we left town, and time passed quickly with the conversation and landmarks we passed.
By 8:00 am, I was already in the town where we head off-road to go to the refugee camp. I asked a few motorcycles for a ride to the camp, but they wanted me to pay as much as I just paid to get to this town. So I hesitated.
A helpful soul showed me where to wait, but I decided to try to walk toward the camp, in case there was no one to bring me there.
At 8:30 am, I saw a convoy of NGO vehicles pass by, and they almost didn’t stop; however, one of the passengers recognized me. I found a spot in one of the Land Cruisers, and I soon became good friends with them.
After I caught up with my refugee friend, he showed me around the camp during the rest of the day.
I met a lot of kind people who, after ten long years, still find themselves trapped between a struggling host nation and a birth nation who is still too unsafe to welcome them home.
The camp is full of children, for, as one of my refugee friends put it, there isn’t much for families to do, especially after dark. These children are the hope of a brighter future for Darfur, and each of them is welcome in this world and a source of healing to their parents.
I found the World Food Program’s food distribution impressive; I also enjoyed the RET Secondary school, full of students with dreams of a bright future.
Do you have any tips for traveling? Let us know in the comments below!