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Day 5

Country : Chad

Tags : Literature, Refugees

The travel journal by German writer Uwe Timm, who visited the refugee camp of Breidjing in Chad for ARTE Reportage. Part five.

On the way back to N’Djamena, not by car, but – a real stroke of luck – in a small prop plane belonging to the World Food Program. From the low-flying plane you can see the ground below in the harsh light, barren, yellow-brown, sometimes a small spot of green-brown nudging into it on the edges of the dry river beds. Once in a while, small villages. There life still follows the old traditional rhythm that the refugees long for: the familiar, work, making do, no war.

The flight to Paris leaves at midnight. In the transit lounge of N’Djamena Airport there are many men who do not look like diplomats, employees of the UN or the NGOs: English and Americans, drinking beer out of the bottle and bellowing loudly at each other. A Dutchman tells me that they are workers. They have come from Doha, where oil has been discovered and is now being produced. The oil workers disappear into Business Class. Some 80 percent of the profits from oil production, in accordance with an agreement with the World Bank, were meant to be invested in social projects and infrastructures. About 10 percent was supposed to be set aside for future generations. A parliamentary resolution then directed that this money  be used to increase the salaries of civil servants. And, because of such corruption – one of the fundamental evils of Africa – the other, and not inconsiderable, revenues also did not reach the poor.

The remaining profits are creamed off by the oil companies and not reinvested in the country. They flow to the affluent First World. Everyone knows this. Even the politicians. But there is a no concerted policy vis-á-vis Africa to counter this inequality. The solutions do not come from those who are sitting in the plane with me, but from those who far below us are travelling northwards, on foot or by bus, or in leaky boats. The Mediterranean is not becoming a graveyard for these displaced populations, as Pope Francis declared to the European Parliament in Strasbourg: it already is a graveyard. It is estimated that ten thousand people have drowned there in recent years. And what about the Pope? He does not let asylum seekers into the Vatican, either. The refugees are generating a political issue. They are forcing a change in thinking that cannot possibly come from a political view of justice. This would imply the desire to share, the obligation to share. In Germany the solidarity surcharge tax in support of the former GDR  states will expire in 2019. Is it conceivable to take the notion of solidarity literally and divert this sum of money – which amounted to as much as 13.62 billion Euros in 2012 – to Africa? And have the fund democratically managed here and over there, so that the corrupt elites or overblown bureaucracies cannot profit from it?

Utopian?

And realistic?

On the last evening in Breidjing a woman came to our camp, obviously a European. Frau Prinz from Berlin. A woman who has lived here at the ends of the earth for five years, alone. A linguist who is producing a written form of Masalt. This is the language of the oppressed, dislocated ethnic group of the same name that now lives in the camp. Around 410,000 people, by no means a small group, speak it. In the last five years this woman has collected words and worked out its grammar. Now the first book has appeared, a language text, in Latin, not Arabic script. The Masalit made that decision. The pride that these persecuted people, now living in such difficult conditions, have in this first book in their language, one that they can literally hold in their hands, is enormous, says Frau Prinz. They rejoice in the astonishing fact that they can now communicate in their native language through the written word. Experiences to be written and read about. To preserve the poems, which up to now were only communicated orally.  It’s the equivalent of gazing into the mirror of their language. A treasure trove of memory.

And I have to mention of another woman from among the so many amazingly strong ones I met. She runs a small snack stall-bar in the little market of Breidjing. She has a little shack in the shade of a mighty acacia, with walls of tarpaulin, a straw roof and three or four tiny stools. A tin crate as a table. A huge pottery pitcher has been dug into the earthen floor. A fire glows in the pitcher. An old tin can stands on it. The water is from which she makes coffee and tea, both of them with lots of sugar, is heated in it. A washing-up bowl in which she washes the glasses which she then puts on an old wooden window frame covered with bug netting. There the glasses can drip dry. The coffee is strong and terribly sweet. And the tea, which she has developed herself from spices and herbs, has a totally unfamiliar taste, a unique aroma. She seems to be in her mid-thirties. Her nose looks as if it has been broken by a blow. She bustles energetically about the bar, giving orders to two girls. Her daughters? Yes. Through the interpreter I ask her how many children she has. Thirteen. Whether she had a little bar like this in the Sudan? She says yes. A snack-bar, but bigger. There is nothing self-pitying about this woman, nothing submissive. She radiates tremendous determination as she takes the water off the fire and fills up people’s glasses. There is a lot of hope in her gestures. Perhaps nobody will be believe me, but Anne is my witness: this is how I came to meet my Sudanese Frau Brücker. My readers will recognize her.

Even though Frau Brücker will never read this report and can’t even read, I would like to dedicate it to her.

Last modification the 8 December 2016