A sandstorm followed by thunder and rain knocked out communications on Sunday night, so we never got confirmation of our scheduled U.N. flight to the refugee town of Iriba on Monday. We went to the airport anyways, and in true African style, somehow wound up on the right plane despite having way more baggage than is technically allowed.
On the plane I slept. I awoke to a rough landing on a remote strip. Irish armored vehicles and soldiers in sunglasses protected a French C-160 transport plane and a gaggle of kids doing a Chadian version of the robot dance. In town at the Care International compound I was bitten by a monkey named Bou Bou (pictured).
Iriba was ten degrees cooler than Abeche and, for some reason, a hundred times cleaner. The sand looked like it had been swept first thing in the morning. Our liaison at Care explained that people from Abeche and those from Iriba couldn’t be more different. Iriba residents are mostly from the same extended family and an ethnic group that sprawls across the border into northern Darfur. Tens of thousands of these Darfuris live in three camps that Care manages. Many of them are fairly wealthy by refugee standards – the men roam with small herds while the women keep house – but shortages loom.
The biggest problems? Water and firewood. Indeed, these two scarce resources underpin all conflict in central Africa, including the rebellions that plague Chad and Sudan. Care is drilling new wells and helping distribute wood, but the long-term outlook is bleak. Shifting weather patterns mean less rain that comes later and later every year. Less rain means fewer trees and less firewood. And surging refugee populations strip bare some regions while others boast relative plenty, creating kinks and gluts in distribution networks.
A storm is brewing, but I feel fine. Lunch was good, the monkey bite didn’t break the skin and our access here is great. We’re on the fringe now, far from the urban madness of N’Djamena and Abeche, beyond the reach of those cities’ corrupt bureaucrats and trigger-happy soldiers. Tomorrow we head to the camps.