How to Travel Off-Road in Africa – Without a Vehicle of Your Own

Getting There Is Half The Fun!

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 twilaTwila, 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.

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More Precious Than Gold

Reflections on the 2013 Gold Rush in Chad and the Darfur

Our family was there in Chad, Africa for the 2013 gold rush.  A few prospectors had secretly found gold on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, and everyone got excited about it.

On the Sudanese side of the gold zone, it was easy to find a job in the mines.  It was dangerous work, but Chad is a country full of desperate people.  The mine owners were easily able to find fathers and sons willing to risk their lives in an attempt to rise out of poverty.

Meanwhile, on the Chadian side, the government gave everyone a few months to stake their claim.  If a fortune seeker found gold after the cutoff date, it would belong to the Chadian government.

A gold mine worker uses a detector at Al-Ibedia locality in the River Nile State, in this July 30, 2013 file picture. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/FilesAs a result, everyone who could rushed up north to join the prospectors!  Normally the road to the village in the Kapka region (where my camel lives) would only see a few vehicles each day. During that time, lots of Land Cruisers would always be passing me, leaving a cloud of dust behind them.

I am far from being a specialist in Mineralogy, but all my friends were coming to me with samples of the rocks they had discovered in their village.  I also ended up becoming the “Go-To” guy for teaching villagers how to use the metal detector their brothers had sent over from the US.

Some of the prospectors were successful in finding gold and of making a fortune.  Most of them were impoverished by the upfront investment.  Once a group of prospectors did strike gold, the struggle wasn’t over.  To succeed, they had to devote themselves to exploiting it before their money ran out, and staying alive long enough to profit from it.

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Chicken tonight, strata tomorrow!!!

This post was written while we were in Chad.

At the meat market today, they were selling camel meat! The camel meat and chickenwomen reiterated the story I have heard so often, about camel meat being very healthy for you. Since camels graze on medicinal plants all day, Chadians believe that the properties of the plants transfer into the meat. I have had some before; it’s one of my favorite foods in Chad.

On Thursday night, I went and picked up the chicken at the chicken restaurant. It wasn’t ready when I arrived, so I sat on the bench in the corner. I discovered what happens to the cow’s head I often see sitting on a plastic sheet at the meat market. The daughter of the restaurant owner had the head on top of a fire, eyes looking to the dusty sky. She scraped the head with a knife, while she let the flame slowly cook the whole thing.

At last, the owner came out of the tent which served as the kitchen with our food. The cook fries each quarter of chicken in hot oil. It took two Nigerian bags to get it home, there was so much food!

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Moving out, moving in: more room for our family

This post was written while we were in Chad.

I spent the weekend working at the house to take everything out of all the rooms. I took it apart if necessary, and prepared it for departure. If it was top priority for going to Abéché, it went into my old office; if it was second priority, it went into Sharon’s prayer room. If it was going to the house, it went into the living room. Old house, old roomI need to pack up bookshelves, and take apart a bunk bed and three of five metal cabinets. Then, when everything was moved out of the room, I swept it thoroughly, and closed the windows and doors to it.

So now we have taken care of my office, Sharon’s office, the girls’ room, the living room, the dining room, our bedroom and all the bathrooms. What remained was the kitchen, Sarah’s room and bathroom and the hallway between the rooms. Since this is where I was living, I saved these rooms for last.

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Photos I wish I could post

5Life in the Sahara is peaceful and full of memories.  I suppose it comes from all we do to survive this harsh climate together with our neighbors. Only a sliver of those memories can appear as photos in our photo album.  Most of them can only be found, stored within our hearts…

Around sunset, one of our landlord’s family saw the friends of our girls sitting on the wall… so he drove over to them quickly, and they ran to hide from him, behind our house! He yelled something at them, and they stayed where they were. And as quickly as he had come, he was gone. This bothered the girls, both ours and our friends. I hadn’t had a chance to intervene, since I was indoors and it was over before I heard about it.

He came over this morning, with a guard to help us watch over our house each evening. This gave us the chance to talk about what had happened the previous evening; he had no problem with the kids coming over and playing, if we did not. And we didn’t; the girls were beginning to have fun playing together, and they are courteous and generally well-behaved, though at times they get carried away in their excitement.

The friends of our girls did not come at all during the day… They probably had been a bit shaken up by what had happened last night. But, as the sun set and they were returning from the “meshik” (Qur’anic school), they came! I quickly encouraged them to come in through the gate, and our girls, who had been nervous that they had been frightened away for good, were very glad to see them.

I have been able to take photos of life here… but the best photos, I am not allowed to take. If I could, you would see girls in their school uniforms, sitting on the wall with our girls, talking and smiling. You would see them running around the front yard, throwing the ball to one another and running excitedly, trying to get it away. And there would be a picture of my wife and her new neighbor friend in her burqua, excited to have a new friend next door with whom she can talk to and practice her English.