TSISMIS (GOSSIP AND TIDBITS) FROM TCHAD VOL. I, # 1

Aug. 31, 2002

Hi, Everyone! First the business ( you may or may not get another email on this; I’m not too fluent in Microsoft Outlook). Our email is: aisn@intnet.td. Please don’t use the Hotmail address any more, since we get charged 200 CFA (Central African Francs) a minute to use it. The only usable cell phone since Gary dropped his is mine, at (235) the country code, 288 245. Gary’s office phones are: (235) 517009 or 519052. A fax number is: (235) 515654 or 329. For snail mail, you can use the following, but please use it sparingly and DON'T PUT OURNAMES ANYWHERE on the outside of packages or envelopes. American International School of N’Djamena, 2410 N’ Djamena Place, Arlington, VA., 20521-2410. this mail goes into the diplomatic pouch, which is the only sure mail (the Chadians having been on/off striking for the past several months) but the Embassy people are very touchy about sharing this ‘privilege’ of actually receiving mail with mere civilians. Hence the cautions.

We have been here almost a month, and we are sort of settling in, but it ’s not an easy place to live. After our school year 2001-2002, marked by our dismissal by the very fellow who had seen ‘no problem’ in our staying another couple of years, followed by the disheartening job search and unfruitful and expensive trip to DC in February to the job fair, and our final recruitment for AISN in May, we had planned a nice vacation in Europe, but On June 5, Gary had a heart attack while in Angeles City. I went up there that night with some AA friends and had a thrilling ride back in the ambulance transferring Gary to Makati Medical Center. He made a remarkable recovery, and was out in five days. He stayed in Manila to have follow-up medical care and I went on our vacation, which I needed. I had a WONDERFUL time in Krakow with Brian and Marion, who took me all over the city and the beautiful Tatras mountains. Also, I caught up with our Polish friend Marian Mitan, in the beautiful mountain town of Zakopane. Then I spent four fun days in Copenhagen with Bo and Nakako Rasmussen, also friends we’d met in Manila. Gary had less fun, visiting doctors and trying to get our shipment sent from Manila we had marked things for Chad, but upon receiving a quote for $14,000, plus not being sure whether or not we could actually go, we sent everything to California, but not without difficulty.

In California, the great news was that our granddaughter is still adorable and too smart by half, but a real kick to spend time with. Garrett and Nancy are doing a great job with her! Garrett gave us his old car, so we had wheels. We were able to spend time with Kori and Sulae and Richelle and our last weekend we had a bbq for old friends and welcomed cousin Jeanne and her buddy Anna for the weekend. MeanwhileGary was strapped down to the table for a procedure to regularize his heartbeat when the doctor realized that his blood count was off and that he, the doctor, had given the wrong Rx and Gary would have to come back later. We were still not sure about our Chad tickets, Gary missed a workshop in Washington DC, and the movers were holding our first shipment in LA and refusing to send it up. A few frantic phone calls to Manila released that shipment; Gary got the procedure, we got the tickets. Now the clock was ticking down on our second shipment, the stuff we’d THOUGHT we’d send to Chad much of which we had bought because of ‘advice’ in the "welcome to N’Djamena" packet we’d received from the man who hired us. The shipment arrived about 5 days before our departure; we sorted out the bare minimum and waited two days for an estimate: $13,000. So, in the end, we came to N’Djamena with the clothes we’d packed for our summer vacation, all the Rx drugs and vitamins we could carry, and my souvenirs from Poland and Denmark.

An odd assortment, indeed. And the last straw was that it cost $300 PER PERSON to fly SLO-SFX, so we had to get our brother-in-law, Jack, to drive us up there, adding about 5 hours to a 20+ hour trip. Which was long, but not too bad (or I’ve repressed it).

So, in Chad. We’re really in Africa. Our little bungalows (we have one and the two young teachers are just next door we share the yards and guards). N’Djamena has very little infrastructure, few paved streets. We are about 6 blocks from the center of town on very rutted dirt streets, on which goats wander and browse. Our houses are small a large living/dining area, two bedrooms with baths, and a kitchen. The furnishing are adequate, beds, dining table and chairs, sofa and chairs, end tables. We have had a hell of a time getting appliances that work and enough of things: after a month, we finally got a stove with a working oven, four working lamps for the bedroom and living room, and one which has already burned out, enough end tables, and a refrigerator that works, although we have to have it in the second bedroom, since it’s too wide to go through the kitchen door. We have a washing machine which is finally plumbed and wired, but which pretty much just percolates the water through the clothes without actually washing or rinsing them. We have two guards, Jonas and his son Mellkie, who are on duty day and night. Jonas has also put in a vegetable garden and cares for it. Our gardens are pleasant there are big trees for shade, and some flowers, and if we get time we will do some work in them. We have to pay for the guards, which is $120 a month that they didn’t tell us about. Since they rented the houses which need guards, we are putting it to the Board that they should pay for them. Of course, Gary points out that there may not be enough money until more people a)enroll and b)pay.

The "welcome to N’Djamena" packet turned out to be a crock. It is aimed at Embassy and military types, and we are definitely not them. THEY have homes on the compound by the school or large rented homes with pools, THEIR guards are provided and paid for by the Embassy, THEY can import their cars and 1800 2000 pounds of household goods at no expense to them, and THEY have mail pouch privileges, which, after a month, THEY are still quibbling with us about; we have said "If we can’t mail our money home, why work here? GET US THE DAMN POUCH!" It is some consolation that their things seem to break about as often as ours, but the GSO/FMO people (General Services and Maintenance) people seem to respond faster to THEM. Garrett asked if we were good would we get to move onto the compound. I don’t think so. It’s a little galling to see a sergeant in the Marines who’s thirty years old living like a king while you’re toting your laundry to his laundry room because you have none, but I guess humility is a good thing. In moderation. We have been lucky that several people have been kind. Jamie Armstrong, the marine sergeants’ wife, has been a godsend. We are using her swimming pool (all the compound houses have little pools) and laundry room. She schlepped us around the first two weeks and she shopped for double bed sheets for us in Germany when she went on vacation.

Lynn Whitehouse, a Canadian woman who has worked for the American Embassy for years but has now quit, and who had kids at AISN but has withdrawn them, was our official contact. She and her husband Nigel are interesting ; they’ve been here 25 years, having come through some connection with their Baha’I faith, to do good. Nigel got some kind of good deal contract with the American Embassy for 20 years or so; they have Embassy housing and car, diplomatic plates, etc. They also have a farm across the Chari river from N’Djamena, where they keep horses, give riding lessons and rent the horses out. They have also adopted 15 African kids over the years, about ten of whom are still around, including a baby about 4 months, Alexandra. Lynn also runs a school for several hundred Chadians, works for the Canadian government, etc. All this is admirable, but it has meant that her attention to us and AISN is very scattered and stuff doesn’t get done sometimes as expeditiously as it could. There’s a board meeting next week, and we’re hoping that Scott Womack, the DAO (it’s all initial here that’s Defense Attache Officer) will replace her as Board Chairman. He has a first grader and is quite bright has been nice to us also, having us over for dinner, and taking us out to the Marine House (where the Marines who guard the Embassy live they have a pool and clubhouse and sports facilities and host various functions) and to an outdoor café last week. That was fun: La Plantation is the happening place in N’djamena on Sunday, and all the locals came in their finest, which is colorful and, from my perspective, great! They danced some, rather desultorily because of the heat. I wanted to dance, but we were all chicken to be the only white people up there.

Wildlife so far is limited to birds and lizards, but they are great! There are lizards all over the place, about 6 to 12 inches long. The males have bright orange and yellow heads and tails, the females are drab. Each male has a ‘herd’ of many females. They are very spry and can run and jump straight up, climb trees, etc. Fun to watch! The birds are, to me, amazing: herons, egrets and cattle cranes are all over the place. They just fill the sky. Some of the Westerners want to cut down the trees because of the bird droppings, but I’m enjoying watching them. The other day one of my students jumped up and cried, "There’s a stork! It’s the first one." Sure enough, there was a stork in a tree about 200 yards away they migrate from Europe it’s early, but maybe it was too cold where the stork had been. No hippos yet them come in the dry season, along with the nomads.

We have had a few excursions Jamie and then a young man named Robert, ;who is the Embassy’s communications officer, took me and Patricia ( young teacher) over the river to Kousseri, a town in Cameroun. Because their economy is better, some things are cheaper there: household goods, fabric, etc. /We go to a local store there, then through the open market. Patricia and I got a set of 8-of-everything dishes for about $50, a real deal! Now each house has four of everything, so we can eat either place before we always ate at our house, because Lynn had lent us dishes. We sort of share cooking, collaborating on weekday meals, and eating out on the weekends. Janis, who just arrived this week, seems fine with this, also. Everyone thinks we are the girls’ parents, which is fine. Actually, they are both well-travelled and quite capable of adjusting it’s just nice to have someone else to talk to. We now have Lynn and Nigel’s old truck, so we can get around town to the various stores at which we shop: the "Egyptian store", the "7-11", the "gastronomie", and Wissams. Vegetables are reasonable and we are pretty much living on them and pasta during the week. Restaurant food isn’t cheap, but it’s good: French cooking. Not good for us, but We have to purify our water with a large device we bought; bleach all the vegetables for 15 minutes before storing. Where is Teresa, the maid who cooks, when I need her? There are supposedly helpers here, but none has applied at our humble bungalows, and I’m not sure we can afford them. We bought a mop and broom and so far we cope. Once you’ve been to the stores a few times, they are very cordial, greet you with a handshake and a "Bon Jour, Madame," or, "Bon jour, patron." So now we’re old-timers!

Favors: Marian, could you get me an elementary lesson plan book (at the store next to Melody), and a sewing kit I have no needles and thread! Also, could you either print out and mail this to Jane Elsdon at 3060 Colima, Atascadero, or call her 466 0356 and ask her to email me so I can retrieve her address? Many of my addresses are in my computer, which is in California. And doI it miss it! If anyone wants to send us VHS videos, they are our only form of entertainment, besides books. We brought the small TV/VCR combination we bought this summer, and thank god we did. We are borrowing from everyone in town and probably can get by, but if you have any you don’t want, send ‘em along. A good book to read on Africa is A VILLAGE IN WAITING by George Packard; although it’s about Togo in 1982, a whole lot of it applies to West Africa today. If you read it, N’Djamena is like Ougadougou, or Lome.

The school. It was a MESS. We needed shovels to get into Gary’s office and the text book room. He cleaned up his office and Jamie and I and then Patricia and I cleaned up the textbook and supply rooms. We then set up our classrooms and actually started school on Monday. I have five 5th and 6th graders, from Mali, Cameroun, Nigeria, and Holland. I’m just barely staying ahead of them; keep planning to do massive plans, but by the time the day is over, I just want to swim (or shop) and relax. Our day is 7 1 with the kids, and we usually stay until three or later. Gary has spent way too much time trying to retrieve the financial records, the check books, ;the procedures, etc. He has been dependent on Lynn for much of this and she is too busy. I think he finally has it sort of under control. We have 23 kids now and three more are supposed to come. The idea is to let it be known that there are actually credentialed teachers here and then more expats will send their kids here. But if they don’t find a way for us to send our money home.

Anyway, that’s our life, sort of. Today, Sat., I spent about 3 hours putting names into the Contacts section and writing this letter. The young teachers are planning. I should be, but may skip it till later. I think Gary is home watching videos. We miss our AA meetings: none found here. We are having one with the two of us on Monday, but would appreciate any messages from program friends I know there’s stuff on line, but we are still looking at that 200 CFA/minute! Plus everything downloads very slowly!

Kori is thinking of transferring to Nairobi! There is an Alliant Campus there I think it’s a neat idea, but haven’t heard from him lately. Sulae, who was great when we saw her, is still working. But I haven’t heard from either in a week or so.

Former students: I finally watched ‘The 13th Warrior" and thought it was a rather interesting reworking of Beowulf, although I’m not sure why they needed the Arab.

OK, I’m nattering. Sorry I can’t get Gary to add, but he went home.

Please write, as we love to get mail and hear how our friends are doing!

Much love,

Spiderman and spiderwoman (our radio names they gave us radios yesterday, so we can be notified of emergencies whether they would actually rescue us or not, who knows? G and I share a radio, so if we’re not together.)