The flight from Paris to N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, takes a good five hours. After landing the doors are opened and the damp evening air of another world pours into the plane. Arriving in a tropical country always evokes a physical sense of happiness in me, and even the smell of kerosene has its part in that. To the west there is still a hint of the sunset in the brown darkness. Outside the Arrivals Hall we have our temperature checked with a pistol-like measuring device. It’s a procedure which, as we all know, is pointless during the disease’s three-week incubation period. EBOLA is printed in large letters on a board. The virus hasn’t reached Chad yet. Just be careful, was one of the many recommendations I was given before I left. And from my six-year-old granddaughter Anna: Make sure you wash your hands properly.
In front of the baggage conveyor belt passengers are pushing and shoving one another, including the porters looking for customers. It is striking that the passengers are not the usual European businessmen and tourists that you generally run into in African airports. There is no real industry in Chad yet and European embassies have issued a warning about travelling outside the country’s main cities in the country. In the border region between Chad and Nigeria the radical Islamic group Boko Haram has launched a campaign of murder and arson, along with the archaic practice of kidnapping women. In the North and the East there are gangs of demobilized soldiers. We heard later that the army troops had not been paid for six months. Nevertheless, Chad, under President Idriss Déby, who has ruled the country for 23 years, is regarded as a politically stable country. As in other African countries, the constitution was changed especially to allow for his re-election. And, thanks to troops who are loyal to him, Déby, a former Air Force pilot, was able to repel numerous attacks by anti-government rebels who had advanced into parts of the capital itself. In 2010 the civil war came to an end – for the time being.
Along with the suitcases and bags the conveyor belt also delivers huge bales of something sealed in plastic sheeting. What is it that is being brought into the country from the affluent world? Not luxury goods, for sure. Mattresses? Fabrics? The smell of sweat and disinfectant. Pushing and shoving, a chaotic scene. The clumsy efforts of the custom officials to get the passengers into one line. Beyond the barrier people wave cards in the air. Not the names of companies, but acronyms. Lots of acronyms that I cannot work out. Divisions of the UN and other non-governmental organizations.
A short drive to our hotel on the banks of the river. A place of transition from the world of the rich to that of the poor. An island with every possible comfort: air-conditioned rooms, international cuisine, alcoholic drinks. Around the generously-sized pool lie flight attendants and airline pilots, as well as a few overseas representatives of various NGOs – an expression widely heard and generally muttered in English. Whoever feels up to it could play tennis in temperatures that hover around 30°C. The court even has floodlighting, but it’s empty at the moment and the net hangs limply from the posts. A few men are sitting at the bar and drinking beer. The film team has gotten together: the director Claire Denis, the graphics man, Damien Glez, the cameraman Alexandre Rossignol, Sebastien Gasset, the sound engineer, and the production director Anne Florence Garnier. The five people with whom I’ll be spending the next few days. And let me add right away that the team and I work together in a friendly and comradely way. Since I’ve forgotten most of my French, Anne in particular becomes my medium into this remote world. Later on two Arab translators from Chad will join the team. A linguistically complicated round-up that often forces me to rely on visual signals.