Date: 15th October 2013
The day begins before the sun starts its voyage across the empty sky. One last coffee with the guards as they change shifts. One last look at my empty room. One last prayer before I leave. And the tears start to fall, suddenly overwhelming me after their conspicuous absence over the last few days. It sinks in that I am leaving these walls, these dirt tracks, and these people.
I bravely accept my Ceftriaxone needle prick in the forearm, and start the first leg of the journey by bike, accompanied by Frazert. “You can be my Clandoman one last time”, he tells me, and hops on the back. The road has dried up much since the last time we passed this way by car, but we still negotiate copious amounts of mud as we traverse expanses of unknown water. You cannot tell, unless you wait and watch, how deep the water goes, or what you might find in the middle of it. It takes 90 minutes to travel the 40 km. The last few kilometres are the worst, as water stretches out before us endlessly. I watch a lady carrying a platter of bananas through each section, her skirt pulled up to her thighs and the water reaching just as deep. I follow cautiously, praying not to stall out as water swallows the bike to above my own knees, knowing that if my revs drop for even a moment, my exhaust will flood, and I will be pushing my bike through the rest.
We find the bus, packed and ready to go, but always willing to squeeze one more in. I pay for my ticket and wriggle my way to the allocated, and somehow always the same, spot in the back row. The sun beats down relentlessly, even though it’s only half past nine. And the voyage begins.
The bus rocks wildly to the left, then to the right, repeating the motion over and over again as the road ahead swings just as drastically through the windscreen view, first to the right, then to the left, with each glimpse from the back seat as we negotiate the craters that consume much of the precious tarmac. Progress is slow as our somewhat undedicated driver stops and starts at his every whim, leaving a bus full of frustrated passengers eager to get to the other side. We should arrive by 3pm, but as the day wears on, it becomes more and more apparent that this is never going to happen. Instead we alternate between speeding and stopping, waiting, wondering, and watching.
A trickle of fear ripples through me as the minibus starts to bounce rhythmically as we speed over the corrugated road surface. I’ve heard about this, and I’ve seen the overturned busses on the other side of them. For the hundredth time I utter a whispered prayer of safety. I’m so close. So close. “Father, protect me.”
Gradually my “feeling fine” dissipates. My body aches. First my calves and my ankles, then my wrists, my hips, my eyes, my skin, my throat, my everywhere and everything. The waves of nausea pass, and my fever steadies, as I start to feel the heat press against me once again instead of the comfortable warmth from sitting in the back row above the hot and leaking exhaust in the sunshine in an overcrowded vehicle. I will be ok. I will be ok. Because there is nothing I can do anyway. I have three hours of this torture left.
We’re stopped at a roadblock. The doors open and everyone starts filing out. My heart starts to race. I am without my passport – it’s already in N’Djamena. Suddenly there’s a sound of grating metal, screeching brakes, and people everywhere. A biker collides, wedging himself between us and a passing sand truck. The officers divert their attention as everything erupts in confusion. People hover halfway between their seats and the door, unsure of where to go or what to do. I stay firmly rooted to my spot, wishing my pale skin to blend in with everyone else’s. More shouting, and the direction of movement changes, the doors close, and we move on. “Father, thank you” I breathe in relief.
The sun drops lower and lower towards the dusty horizon. The speed at which we travel increases proportionately. Another whispered prayer. We can’t be far. Please let us not be far. I feel progressively worse and my body screams for freedom from this moving prison. I don’t know enough about Typhoid Fever not to worry. I don’t know how I should be feeling. I don’t know how or when to know when I’m no longer ok. Another whispered prayer. And then we find people. Cement. Buildings. Bikes, cars and clando’s. The turn in the road, the bridge over water, and we cross into the city at last. My prayer is more than a whisper as relief floods over me.
The moon hangs over the water like a Christmas decoration waiting for darkness to fall to show its splendour. Tonight I won’t be sleeping beneath its rays to the sound of silence. Instead I forever trade it for cars and planes and people and persistent pollution.
Or do I?