Today’s Flaneuring post is by JoAnna and she takes us on a walk to the post office in her town in Chad.
Mail comes to our town of Sarh, Chad, once a week. And once a week the kids and I will take a walk hoping for a magazine, a letter, or even a package! We start in a scramble for hats, headscarves, sunglasses, shoes. Our guard’s wife smiles and nods as we leave. We have no language in common, and although she understands an increasing amount of French, she doesn’t speak it. In addition to my basic French, I can meet and greet in Arabic and the local tribal language, but she is from another town, so that doesn’t help much.
Out the gate, turn left. Two little girls are perched on the step outside their gate. They smile shyly and whisper, “Nasara!” (foreigner) Somedays, I feign surprise, look around, and ask, “Really?!!! Where?!!” but today we greet them and smile. Once again I am struck by the fact that at three and four, they are better at keeping their headscarves adjusted than I am, even though I’ve been living here since before they were born.
The cloudless blue sky makes me think the choking smoke that floated into town last night from the burning sugar fields was a dream – except for the fact that I’m still coughing. The dirt road is dry and dusty but the crossroads is overtaken by a huge mud puddle. The neighbors have drilled a well, and are selling water. “Push-Push” carts filled with jeri-cans line up to be filled with water and off they go, making a trail down the street of little splashes and leaks. The hole in the wall (literally a hole in the wall, yes) shop at the corner sells foil sachets of tomato paste, canned peas, and fried cakes. Past the neighborhood mosque. The leafy mango trees outside the mosque offer a respite from the already hot sun, and there is always someone sitting, standing, talking there.
We come to a large field, and the local school is out in full force. Teenagers show up in school uniform on bikes, or in clusters of chatter and giggles, change into knee-length shorts and T-shirts (I don’t see it happening, but it does….!) and follow instructions. Warm-ups, jogging, playing football. An old jungle gym and swing set stand abandoned, the swings gone, surrounded by weeds. As we come onto a larger street, we meet bikes and motorcycles piled high with vegetables, headed to market. Several women in rainbow colored dresses walk gracefully with huge basins of tomatoes balanced on their heads, and I know they’ve crossed the river with that load, on a little dugout pirogue. When there are hippos in the river, the price of tomatoes goes up because no one wants to risk their life crossing. A woman passes us, veiled and clad head to toe in black, except for her yellow plastic flip-flops which kick up a cloud of dust with each step. A student sings a song I recognize from church, as he joins his group in the field.
Finally we come to a large roundabout, and paved road. The children balance on the curb while trying to keep up. A puppy wants to follow us, but we scare him off. We take a shortcut behind town hall, walk through a vacant lot back to the main road, and cross to the post office. As we enter its cool shady darkness, the only customers, we’re greeted politely. The door to the Post Office boxes has been locked for months, so I tell the man our box number and he goes to check if there is any mail. Relics from another age, the rotary phone on the desk and the 4 foot high metal floor fan are covered in dust and obviously haven’t been used lately. Power’s out, and it’s not “hot season” anyway, with the high “only” in the mid 90’s, (35 C.) It’s a lucky day, the kids have magazines, and each one has something to carry.
The children want to walk home by the river, but I promise that adventure for another day. Outside the front of the town hall, they laugh as always at the hippo and crocodile carved into logs… once painted neatly, I am sure, but now faded and disintegrating. Fitting mascots for a town between two rivers. Back onto the dirt road, past the field, now clear of students, the boys race for the monkey bars and dance on the top, while little sister tries her hardest just to climb up. We walk quickly back home, ready for cold water, and a peek at the magazines before schoolwork demands our attention. I’m bracing myself for the onslaught of knock-knock jokes, and demands for cute crafty recipes full of ingredients we can’t get here. Welcome home. Enjoy your mail!
JoAnna lives in southern Chad, where she homeschools her four children, sweats a lot, and is taken aback by her daughter’s love of goat intestine stew. When she finds spare time, she reads, sews, tries new recipes, and misses the beach. The best thing about living in Chad for her is seeing people blossom when they begin to see God’s awesome plans for them.