After nearly 36 hours of travel and transit I made it to Chad. This is my 8th trip to Africa and the 6th in the past 3 years. Chad has long been seen by travelers as a place to get through rather than to see, which explains why there are so few visitors. In fact, everyone I talked to couldn’t believe I was in Chad as a tourist. In general, the only white people in Chad are either UN contractors or work in oil like much of Central Africa and the Sahel region. But Chad is even lower than that as years of war and poverty have ostracized Chad from Western tourists. Additionally, traveling in Chad in somewhat of a nightmare as few roads are paved, it gets hot as hell and costs are as high as anywhere on the Continent. With all this, plus the most corrupt government in the world, it’s no wonder why nobody goes to Chad but I did manage to find some good things and had a good experience all around.
I arrived at night exhausted after a day and a half of travel and little sleep and went straight to my hotel, the Le Meridien Chari, which sits on the banks of the delightful Chari River and is of course a Starwood property. It surely isn’t the best Starwood hotel but it gets the job done nonetheless especially when the room is free!
Being jetlagged I woke up at 5am which was perfect timing to catch the lazy sunrise (above) over the Chari River as the local fishermen and farmers come out to do their things. I love waking up in the Sahel (The Sahel is the initial region of Sub-Saharan Africa which stretches much of the length of the Continent and is generally places made up of desert and sand). The air is always crisp as the dust from the day has settled and has yet to be disturbed. There is never a cloud in the sky and there is much peace because there isn’t much electricity in Chad.
After breakfast I hired a driver to take me on a tour of N’Djamena, the dusty capital city that is so much more like a town than a city. The city is like that of many Sahelien cities such as Nouakchott, Niamey or Laayoune in that foot traffic far outnumbers cars and motorbikes and the dust is soft and creates a haze throughout the whole city. The city seemed very safe in general to me and the central street is Avenue Charles De Gaulle. In Africa, especially in Francophone Africa, Charles De Gaulle is like Martin Luther King in the US-every single city has a street named after him and in N’Djamena, you can find anything on his namesake street. Keep in mind that anything is relative and anything for N’Djamena is effectively like a crappy tag sale you went to when you were a kid.
There really isn’t too much to see as far as sights or things to do within the city itself. As the city has grown to nearly 2 million people over the past few decades, you’d never know it because it feels so small. Although it sprawls out into the vast desert surrounding the city.
After the city tour so to speak I wanted to head about 15 kilometers outside the city to the pottery making village of Gaoui which was recommended as the best thing to do in N’Djamena. The village was pretty cool after my driver got lost 25 times trying to find the place as the streets have no names and in fact the streets have no streets. You simply drive on the dirt until you find some random guy to ask directions from and then he sends you to some other guy to ask and so on. If you’ve traveled around Africa you know what I mean!
So finally we made it and this was easily my best memory of Chad was hanging out in the village and playing soccer with the kids and helping them pump water and of course taking their pictures and showing it to them. That’s always a crowd favorite after the kids realize I’m not there to hurt them as few of them have seen white people before and get scared. It makes for very cute introductions until they all become comfortable quickly and just want to play. It really is fun being in a small village like Gaoui because you are the star of the village, everyone wants to come and see you, shake your hand and touch you.
For me, it is heartwarming to play with these kids who literally have nothing. They have no shoes, only some have clothes and they will most likely never leave the village. So it makes it so nice for me to be able to brighten up their day even just a little and play with them. They are so cute and sweet but it just reminds you of the bigger problems of poverty in Chad.
I have been to many African countries and other third world nations around the world and Chad is probably the worst I’ve ever seen. Some of the sights on my drive out to Gaoui were just deplorable and gut wrenching. Chad is generally considered to be among the worlds poorest and most impoverished nations and it shows. It is the grim reality of Africa and the result of years of corrupt leaders stealing money meant for infrastructure and to help the poor. Years of civil war have not helped either as Chad struggles to keep its soul as the western nations attempt to bleed it dry of its natural resources and potential energy wealth. They say if you ask a Chadian about who will win the next election he will say “who cares, he will just lie, cheat and steal like the rest of them”. That sucks to think about but again, that is fact and reality in Chad-not just opinion.
The people of Chad were so nice to me. They deserve better than they get from their own government and the rest of the world. Unfortunately there seems to be no end to the corruption that governs Chad and the exploitation from western nations. We can only hope that the well heeled Chadians-of which there are many, stop padding their own Swiss bank accounts and start helping their countrymen whom 90% or so live below the poverty line in some of the worst filth imaginable.
I am now sitting in my hotel room in Addis Ababa where I am connecting to fly to Douala, Cameroon in the morning to meet up with my friend Henry and his family.