The parents’ perspective on life in Chad

The first week in February my parents came to visit!  Along with two friends from my home church in Torquay.  It was great to have them here.  Visitors always have a fresh perspective on things that have become ‘normal’ to me, so I asked my Mum and Dad to document some thoughts on their time here in Chad at Guinebor II Hospital.  Below is their account.  Enjoy reading about life here from a different perspective!

We are Steve and Marilyn, Claire’s parents, and we have just returned from an amazing week at the hospital at Guinebor ll (G2).  We went as part of a team of four – Rachel and Ailsa, who are from Claire’s home Church in Torquay, went too.  What follows are our impressions of the country, the people and the hospital itself.

Upon landing we were met by Claire and Kalbassou (a Cameroonian mission worker surgeon at G2 – it is unsafe for Claire to travel alone at night) outside the airport building, as non-travellers aren’t allowed inside.  The heat at this point was not too bad as it was 10.30pm, but it was quite warm.  We travelled in the BMS 4×4 to G2 and were shown into the hospital guest house, a very nice two bed building on the site.  Getting under a mosquito net to get into bed was a new occurrence for us, but necessary, and having windows open and curtains open at night seemed the ‘wrong way around’ to us Westerners!  Sleep was a bit more of a difficult commodity than at home, what with the heat and a call to prayer from the local mosques at 4.30am.

We were up at 6 am each morning to join some of the hospital team who gather for prayer.  This was interesting as it was in French, which neither of us speak.  Claire and Rachel kindly interpreted for us. 

On our first morning – Monday, we were taken to the police station as apparently we needed to get our passports stamped and ourselves registered.  Claire seemed to know a lot of the people there!

Travelling around was a unique experience – lots of motorbikes, and folks just seemed to appear from nowhere!  The horn is used a lot in Chad!!  Drinking lots of water – at least 3 litres per day was impressed upon us by Claire, or we would soon become dehydrated.  With this heat it was easy to do, and carrying around a bottle of water soon became the new norm for us.  A tour of the hospital site followed.

After Tuesday morning prayers, Pastor Djibrine, the hospital Chaplain, invited Steve to go around the wards with him, praying with the patients – very few declined.  He also heard Pastor Djibrine’s story of becoming a Christian, which is so different to our Western one.  Marilyn was invited to go into the operating theatre and found this experience very different from in the UK.  Many of the operations were the same as at home, but the equipment and treatment seemed very out-dated.  However, the care, expertise, respect and dignity afforded to each individual patient was to be admired.  What this hospital does with its resources is absolutely AMAZING, they do a fantastic job with such limited resources. Rachel and Ailsa went to the dressing clinic.

In the afternoon we went to a ladies meeting. It was a social event and we met with ladies who had come from many different countries to either work as mission workers themselves, or to support their husbands in their jobs in Chad.  One of these ladies was the head teacher of a school for mission workers’ children, others worked for MAF and AIM among other organisations.  Steve stayed outside with other men and kept an eye on the children. 

Wednesday morning is different – no prayer meeting as such, but prayers on the wards with all the patients instead.  This was a very interesting experience, and no one refused prayer.  A litter pick outside the hospital then followed – there is minimal refuse collection in Chad, so there is a lot of litter around everywhere.

In the afternoon we were taken to the Acacia project, where Claire’s friend Naomi works with vulnerable women.  This project offers a Christian rehab programme for the women and once they’ve successful completed it (it takes around 3 months), they become part of a group that makes goods to sell – soap, bangles and bags mainly.  What they produce, to a very high standard, from a rented room is remarkable.

On Thursday morning Steve had been asked to speak at the morning prayer meeting.  Claire had to do the interpreting for her Dad.  There was a strike in Chad by the public sector workers on this day, as they had not been paid for 5 months.  The temperature hit 41 degrees today – seriously hot! In the evening we were invited to supper at the home of Elisabeth, who works in pharmacy and lives in Guinebor II.  We caused quite a local stir as there were five white people walking about in the evening!  This was an interesting evening, as we had not visited a Chadian home before.  It was a concrete construction, with a tin roof, so very, very hot.  After washing our hands Chadian style with soap and cold water poured from a kettle, we were given a typical meal of boule, okra sauce and goat meat, sat on a rug on the floor and eaten with the right hand.  When we had finished our meal the remaining food was given to her children, who were outside.  This appears to be part of the reason that children are sometimes malnourished, as sometimes they only get to eat what the adults leave.  The older female children also clear up and wash up afterwards – in preparation for being married in later life. 

Eating boule and sauce at Elisabeth’s house

Friday, after prayers, Steve went with Pastor Djibrine to the wards, and Marilyn went on the ward round with the Chadian Doctor.  We saw children with malaria (and it’s not the season for it yet), and fractures from falling from a tree.  Adults and children had many of the same problems as we have at home, but because of the local cooking facilities, burns from stoves as well.

Steve with Pastor Djibrine

We went to arguably the best coffee shop in town for lunch, followed by a visit to the artisan market, where all manner of things are sold – art work, jewellery, key rings, furniture, and various crafts.  All stall holders wanted you to see their wares, so we had to visit them all so as not to cause offence.

On Saturday Claire took us to the local golf course for a camel ride – yes, a golf course!   Complete with golfers and at one point, a flock of sheep!  This is very different to what we are used to, and a wonderful, if uncomfortable, experience.  After this we went to the mission school and met the head teacher again, and were shown around the premises.  It appeared that the children of mission workers were getting an excellent education at this facility.  After this we went to visit one of Claire’s Chadian friends in the town.  It was interesting to see another Chadian home – this one was a little more salubrious, with carpeting, a fridge and television.  They were eating when we arrived and we were invited to join them in having bread, okra sauce and fish.

Camel riding on the golf course!

Sunday was our last day in this hot, dusty country.  We attended the International Church in the morning, where Steve had been invited to speak.  Thankfully it was all in English!  What an experience that was, with so many nationalities represented, doing so many different things.

Our overall impression of this visit?  We were told before we left about the value put on family life, but to see it in practice is something else.  We often noticed a shift in attitudes when we were introduced as Papa Claire and Mama Claire.  We were held in high regard and a few times given gifts just for being Claire’s parents.  I wondered if the kind people doing this could afford to do it, but it would have been classed as rude to refuse.  What a friendly, family orientated people they are and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

Most of all it was a pleasure to see Claire in her now ‘home’ environment, to savour a piece of the culture of the country and its people, and to see Claire in her role at G2.