Saturday, 20 May 2017

Une semaine à Moursal

Your alarm goes off at 6:20 and you think already? It’s only just got cool enough to sleep. But after a few minutes you’re up, take down your mosquito net, walk down the stairs and unlock your front door. The week has started.
The terrace where I sleep with Ophelie, it's much cooler outside though quite noisy sometimes!

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about what I do during a week. It ended up being very long so I have split it into three parts; here is the first part of “a week in Moursal” (the area of town where I live).

The balls and lessons
My week starts at 8 o’clock when I go out to play with children in the neighbourhood.  These are children of the vulnerable women who we are trying to reach who haven’t taken part in the program. The children go to school every other day and otherwise they just play by themselves. They are always very excited when I come (shouting Naomi, I hope that in a few weeks it will be Rebecca!).  They love playing duck duck goose, singing He’s got the whole world in his hands and are very keen to teach me Head Shoulders Knees and Toes in Gumbaye, the most common language in the South of Chad. A new favourite which I have just taught them is the Hokey Kokey; they never know when to stop going ooohhhhh!

I play just outside of the house of Lisa*, one of the ladies who is in the new group at the Acacia centre. She is very lively and plays with us she often has more energy than the children! After we have played for about an hour, Lisa and I walk to my house and I have a lesson with Lisa. I have just started teaching her how to read and write. She speaks French well and knows the alphabet as well as a few simple sounds. I’m doing my best to help her be able to read. It’s not easy but she is very willing to learn.
After that I sometimes go on to visit Lisa and Sarah*, the two ladies in the new program but if not I head home to rest and read a bit! 

Around 11 O’clock Elizabeth* one of the ladies from the first group at the centre comes to sweep and get rid of all the dust that accumulates in one week.  We quite often chat for a bit first and drink cold water together. It takes her about an hour to come from her house, walking and then taking public transport which in the 40 degree heat is tiring in itself! Elizabeth has been working in our two flats for the past few months, she comes three days a week to clean and cook. As at the beginning of the year I was at home most mornings so we have become good friends.

Then at about 12.30 Ophelie, my house mate comes in from her morning activities with street children and we have lunch which could be fried sweet potatoes bought from the lady across the street or a sandwich with French bread.

I spend the afternoon at the centre with the first group, getting in at about 6.

Beignets, mmm....

The next day I am up at 6:20 again! We have breakfast- obligatory coffee and French bread with peanut butter and laughing cow cheese- a great combination or marmite. Sometimes we have beignets which are kind of like unsweet small doughnuts which we buy from a lady across the street.

All morning we are at the centre with the second group.
Once we have finished (how long we go on for changes every day), I go home and have lunch with my neighbours, Ophelie and Elizabeth. Elizabeth cleans our flat on Tuesdays and then cooks Chadian food, boule (a paste a bit like playdough made with rice/ maize flour and water) or rice and sauce for us. My favourite sauce is peanut butter sauce with beef. We eat sat on a mat outside as it is supposedly cooler.
Eating boule and sauce with Elizabeth, my flatmates and one of my flat mate's brothers

At 2:30 every two weeks, Laure (a Belgian missionary who works with street children) comes by and picks Lucile (one of my French neighbours) and me up to go to an orphanage where we organise a club for about 10 3-5 year olds. The orphanage is quite small and was set up by a Chadian Christian who basically started welcoming orphans and abandoned children. The children (like all children) need love and often the youngest ones don’t get much input. We tell them a bible story, do an activity and sing songs with them. For the past few months we have been talking about how we are all precious in God’s eyes based on Isaiah 49:15-16 : 
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands
It's good fun and it will be hard to leave these children.
Playing a game at the orphanage
On Tuesdays when we don’t go to the orphanage, Lucile and I are trying to visit different friends from our choir.

At 4:30 we take a bus either from home or the orphanage to our church for choir practice. On Tuesdays we only have one hour during which we are meant to practice songs for the album which we are preparing. Most of the songs are in Nanjere (the language of the church) which is proving interesting especially for Lucile who has been asked to sing a solo!
We walk home after choir as it is still light and get in at about half 6.


On Wednesday’s I get up at 6:20 and actually leave the house with Ophelie to go to work! I help out with the street children project on Wednesday mornings. We take a taxi to a church in a different area of town. We start by chatting and saying hello to all the children waiting outside. Then we pray together as a team before starting the activity. We have a team of 9 including missionaries and short termers working with the project as well as Chadian volunteers. We welcome about 30 children and give them water.

An activity
We each take it in turns to tell the bible stories (using the same books as the centre) in French translated into Arabic and then we have a short lesson. We are teaching them to read and write in Arabic but using roman script. After the lesson they have a small page of exercises to complete before they wash their hands and get tickets which they can exchange for a meal with a lady who has a road side restaurant. It is often fun with the children and a good opportunity to improve my Arabic but it is also quite sad as they lead very difficult and dangerous lives in the streets and are addicted to drugs, glue and alcohol.

After the activity Ophelie and I take the bus home. At 11 I have another lesson with Lisa then a lesson with Sarah who I am also helping to read and write. And I just about have enough to time to have lunch before I have to be at the centre again with the second group. We finish at about 6.

Once home I have time to rest. Ophelie and I cook tea, sometimes chat to our neighbours about the day and spend the evening either resting or preparing things for the rest of the week which I’ll tell you about in my next blog!

*Names have been changed to protect identity.

Sunday, 7 May 2017


For the past month I have been back in N’djamena, doing the work I am actually meant to be doing during my gap year! Work at the centre has changed quite a lot during my absence as a new group of women has started doing the rehabilitation course. To give you a better idea of what goes on, I have decided to take you through a week at the Acacia centre. Over the next few weeks I’ll also tell you about other things I do during the week.
In front of the centre
The week’s work at the Acacia centre starts at about 1:30 on Monday afternoon. All five women from the first rehabilitation course come to spend the afternoon making soap, bags and cards.
Soap in moulds and our buckets
The centre is actually in the same building as my flat (I really have to travel far to go to work- a 30 second walk!). On Mondays we generally start by cleaning the buckets and things which we used to make soap the Wednesday before. One lady is always there on time so I mostly help her as she sets things up and measures the oils and lye for the soap. We mix the lye with water and then have to leave it to cool all afternoon as it gets very hot. Naomi (a Northern Irish missionary who set up the vulnerable women’s ministry) and Annie (an American missionary who also works as a sports teacher at a local high school) and the other 4 ladies from the first group slowly arrive, some of them have work in the morning and finish late so they aren’t always on time.

Now that the first group have finished the initial course we mostly do practical things so they can support their families. Lately we have had quite a few orders for cards so we have been busy making sure we have enough of each type. Each order is slightly different, but thankfully Annie is there to sort everything out! We often sit and make cards all afternoon, each lady cutting out different animals from the scraps of African fabric and sticking them onto cards. I get to do mundane jobs like sticking stickers on the back of the cards or cutting out the “greetings from chad” messages.
It’s generally a nice “safe” place to be. We chat about everything and sometimes listen to music. At five we all get up and make the soap mixing the oils with the lye and pouring it into moulds. Then we tidy up, fold away the mat and everyone goes home.
Inside the centre
At 8 o’clock on Tuesday Naomi and I are back at the centre (Annie joins us later after school). We have a lesson with the second group. There were originally 3 ladies in the group; they started their three month rehabilitation course at the beginning of March. Since I have come back from Abech√© the already small group has been reduced to 2 ladies. They generally arrive on time and we start with a Bible Story which I tell using big story books made by WEC, a missionary society. We have just finished going through the story of Moses and the Israelites going to the Promised Land and have started on the gospels and Jesus’ ministry. I read through the story then we go through it together and discuss what it teaches us about God. Then we have time to share prayer requests and pray before we have a short tea break.
Annie generally turns up about then and we do some “sport”: stretches to wake ourselves up before Naomi teaches the lesson of the day. Naomi is teaching the three month rehabilitation and counselling program which goes through varied and essential subjects to help the women gain life skills. We have talked about our value in God, limits, truth, forgiveness and many other subjects. Anne (an Australian missionary) has been helping her but has just gone on a break for a few weeks. I help where I can and read Bible passages. We go on until one o’clock in the afternoon.
Soap drying
On Wednesdays we meet again in the afternoon with the second group.
We tend to do pretty much the same things as on Mondays, cleaning the soap buckets, measuring oil… We also have to cut out labels and cloth to label the soaps after they have dried for 6 weeks so that they are ready to be sold.
We also make bags. The ladies are mostly able to make the bags at home now so all we do at the centre is cut up the cloth.
Using the new sewing machine
Lately they have also been making bags at the centre using our 2 new sewing machines. Rebecca (a lady from our old church who used to cook for our family at Guinebor) is also a seamstress and has been teaching the ladies how to use the machines. Some like it more than others but they all seem to be doing pretty well.  On Wednesday’s Naomi or Anne also do a short Bible study with the ladies. At the moment we are studying Ephesians. We hope that these ladies will share their experiences with those around them and that they one day may be able to run the centre by themselves. After the study we make soap again and finish at about 6.
Bracelet made with you-yous
On Thursday mornings we are at the centre with the second group again. I tell the Bible story then we do some crafts so that the ladies have time to go over and think through the things Naomi talks about during the lessons. So far we have made jewellery using homemade paper beads and small decorative flowers made from fabric which we call you-yous. We have also started making cards as the idea is that in the end this group will join the first one. In a few weeks’ time we are planning on making candles. We have our tea break and chat and listen to music.

Woman making cossey
On Fridays we are at the centre with the second group again. We tell a Bible story, have our tea break for which I go with one of the ladies to get cossey from across the street. Ccossey are deep fried doughnuts made with crushed beans which we eat with a sauce made from chili peppers. Often when we go the lady has only just started making them so we wait a while sat under a tree chatting and watching everyone walk by. When we get back we eat, drink tea and chat together. After the break and some sports or dancing we have a lesson like on Tuesdays. Around midday we finish, wish each other a “bon weekend” and lock the doors.
The centre is quiet for a couple of days.