N’djamena, Chad

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I am in Chad right now, at the Kempinski Hotel, sitting outside and listening to the call to prayer.  Wow, I didn’t realize until looking at this map who all the neighbors are.  On the flight from Zambia to Ethiopia to Chad, I left the Christians and missionaries of sub-saharan Africa behind and am now in the North African world of mosques and harira soup.  Harira soup, Nate!  Your favorite!  I’ll have some and remember that famous night of yours at the Riad in Marrakesh :).

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Being a business traveler to N’djamena means I’m picked up in an armored car and taken to the hotel, which is like it’s own little island with guards and security gates.  The heat and dust and people are left outside and I enter an air-conditioned cocoon of Western sensibility.  Well, almost Western.  Western compared to Africa but my sense of “western” has been muddled since living on this continent.  Now I group Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Thailand into my category of “western.”  The actual West, i.e. London or the U.S., has become strange enough to give me culture shock.  Seeing the grocery stores, clothes, and the way women move so freely in the real West makes me feel like a guest in someone else’s world.  Here in Chad, on my little Western island, I also should feel like a guest amidst the business class mix of Chinese, Egyptians, and Africans.  The only female guest I’ve seen so far is me.  And yet this has begun to feel “normal.”  Man, I think I need to go home for a while!

What’s that, we’re going to France in a month?  Okay, I can make it!!!

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So what do I know about Chad?  Not much.  It is a desert country, full of sand and camels, where everyone wraps themselves in long layers of cloth.  Women in pretty cotton robes that go around and around their bodies and heads but still allow their faces to show.  The men wear long, billowing white robes with leather sandals, and ride around on motorcycles with matching white turbans wrapped loosely around their heads like bedouins.  Or what I imagine to be bedouins.  Some men have little fez hats.  Some wear suits.  The men always seem to have more choices in countries like these.

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The hotel is clearly decorated with influences from the Arabic world.  There was a Kempinski Hotel in Baku.  It’s funny that what we used to call “Soviet Chic” may actually be more accurately described as “Arabic Contemporary.”  High ceilings with archways, long gold drapes with heavy tasseled cords, shiny light fixtures, and everything paved in granite.  I can see 5 different types of granite on the floor and walls in the lobby from where I sit.  And the wallpaper is nuts!  On every surface (except the granite).  The more patterns and textures the better, and be sure to make sure that all the glue and the seams are obvious!  We saw this style in Crimean vacation homes and again in our Azerbaijani apartments, always assuming it was a form of Russian Bling.  But now this style has appeared in Liberia, UAE, Chad, sort of Turkey.  Maybe the habit of over-decorating is something the Russians picked up from the Arabic world?  They both sure like granite!

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I’m always horribly homesick the day I arrive on a business trip.  Usually the hotels are nice, this one here in N’djamena is okay, but I feel like nice hotels rooms are sort of wasted on me.  Mike always wants to know what I’m watching on TV and the answer is I’m not watching anything on TV!  I like the bathrobe.  I like the breakfast buffet.  Nice cheeses and tropical fruit, and in a place like this I usually luck out with hummus and olives and cucumbers.  Delicious, chewy bread that usually wins over the dry-ish pastries, although almond croissants sometimes appear.  Given the clientele there’s always congee and stir-fry noodles.  Usually a chafing dish of something curried.  Breakfast is a bright spot.

But I miss my family!  I’m sure you’re having a great weekend on your own, Daddy is pretty fun.  But I miss you!!!!!

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