Bienvenue au Tchad, Catherine!
Through a grant from the Department of State’s “US Speakers and Specialist Program,” I have been sent to N’Djamena, Chad to speak to women about empowerment through education. Jayne Abrate, Executive Director of the American Association of Teachers of French, recommended me to a representative of the Department of State. Michael Bandler contacted me three days before the beginning of school and asked if I was interested in participating in the program. After requesting and receiving leave from my district, I was able to accept the offer. My previous travel experience to the African continent was in Marrakech, Morocco. The fact that I had been chosen to represent my country in an area so far from Mount Vernon, Washington, USA greatly honored me.
Upon announcing the news to my colleagues and students, their amazement and accolades invigorated my anticipation for the voyage. After completing the Yellow Fever vaccination and renewing my passport, and finding guest teachers to replace me in a remarkably short time, I was on the plane! My first flight from Bellingham to Seattle took 25 minutes! The flight from Seattle to Paris on Air France took nine hours. I had an eight hour layover in Paris, so I spent the time at the Sheraton at Charles de Gaulle. It was worth the price! A hot bath and a great nap in a comfortable bed refreshed me for the last leg of the trip.
I boarded Air France flight 558 to N’Djamena with people speaking in many languages. For a linguist like me, it was heaven to hear the strains of conversations in languages that I had never heard. The flight went by fairly quickly and I had the chance to watch “Case Départ,” a French-Antillais film about two brothers living in Paris who visit their dying father in Martinique. Due to their lack of sympathy for their Antillaise heritage, an aunt sends them back to the year 1760 so that they may experience the hardships of the sugar cane plantations. My second film was a truly difficult story to watch. “Omar m’a tuer” (sic) is based on a true event of a Moroccan gardener accused of killing his employee. He is sent to prison on non-existent evidence. In the spirit of “True Blood,” by Truman Capote, a writer takes up the case of Omar in order to find the true killer. Please consider either of these films for your 3rd year and advanced classes. The demonstration of race relations and history in both reminded me that French teachers should use a variety of films from all Francophone backgrounds.
The food and service on both Air France flights was outstanding. True, I did fly business class! I was most impressed by the chairs in the AirBus A330. They folded out 180 degrees for a flat sleeping surface. The multiple meals were served in an appealing fashion and in courses. I took great care as not to consume too much alcohol for fear that I might not recover from the combined jetlag and after effects!
Arrival in N’Djamena! The airport was about as basic as it could possibly be. I stepped off the plane and was bombarded by thousands of grasshoppers that were swarming the bright lights of the airport building. The passport control room was an open room with bright lights as well. And thousands of bugs of all types flying into my hair, my face, everywhere. I did my best to keep my composure, but at one point, I tried to pull my sweater over my head. Luckily, I was met by an embassy employee who took me to the front of the line, completed my passport check, and fetched my one checked bag. Side note, the bag contains many gifts for the students at the schools I will be visiting. These gifts were donated by the teachers and students of Mount Vernon schools. Quelle gentillesse! So kind!
I was in my hotel room within 20 minutes. It is clean and comfortable at “Le Méridien Chari” (the river between Chad and Cameroun). The satellite television has great options for French and English speakers. France24 and Afrique24 are helpful linguistic resources. The breakfast buffet has been copious and delicious. After a hot shower and a few moments of relaxation, I was ready to sleep. However, I was met with a knock at the door. It was the Public Affaires Officer, Sharon Blaine. (Attachée aux Affaires Culturelles et de Presse). She has taken me under her knowledgeable wing and has offered me a thorough introduction to life in N’Djamena. Her prowess for driving in these uncontrolled circumstances is a marvel. I have now met her cats, seen her house, and had a linguistically appealing dinner at a great Lebanese restaurant with Sharon. She has offered me two incredible opportunities during my trip: The German embassy’s Oktoberfest and the Marine party on Friday night. More about the Marines later!
I will be blogging more each day as long as the WiFi holds out! Pictures may be rare until I get home, but I have posted a few on my Twitter stream: @catherineku1972. The other reason for rare photos: Photography is illegal in N'Djamena! Yes, the government has strict rules about photographing any public places. Security is an issue. I will be discreet and not take pictures in important areas.
Bon, je suis épuisée et je me coucherai bientôt! Merci d’avoir lu mes premières pensées. C’est un grand honneur d’être ici et je tâcherai de faire de mon mieux !