The call of the rooster and the quacking of ducks awaken me instead of an alarm clock. No, not an alarm clock, for an alarm clock would require reliable electricity. Yet living in Chad, the heart of Africa, at the foothills of the vast Sahara desert in the Sahel, one must become acquainted with much more than limited electricity. I begin the day like any other. I haul a heavy bucket of fresh water inside to use for showering. The cool water is a small escape from the desert heat, already surmounting. I wake my parents and sister and proceed to clothe myself in an elegant purple and orange Muslim Scarf, conscious of respecting the culture. Today, I will be stretched and pulled out of my comfort zone and thrown head first into a confusing a foreign culture to western eyes.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
The dust flies up into the opened windows of our pickup truck as we begin our adventure. We head east, following the Chari River as it leads us farther and farther away from the capital city Ndjamena. The idea of modern infrastructure quickly falls away as our group of five white foreigners accompanied by a wonderful Chadian friend finds itself swerving on sand roads alongside caravans of donkeys and camels. Scenic Sahel sights pass us by, and after two hours we approach our breathtaking destination. Thankfully we have come during the dry season, allowing us to traverse the dried up stream rather than being stumped at the other end of run down bridge.
“Bienvenue à Lyan,” exclaims Moustapha, as he kindly orients us as to where to park our vehicle. The chattering of women, the bright colorful clothing, and the laughing and playing of children welcome us to market day in the village of Lyan. The young and the old turn to see us, alarmed that white people have come to be immersed in the bustling action of market day in a remote village. “Salam alekum,” … “Alekum salam,” I practice my Arabic with the humble venders. Rustic wood polls support coverings of hay to shade the trinkets and fresh produce being sold. As we weave our way through the maze of commerce, a large group of curious children, perplexed by our skin color, begin to follow us. It does not take long before everyone knows that there are foreigners in the crowd. I crouch down and admire the artwork on a knife and its sheath. Moustapha helps me make a purchase, translating my French into local Arabic, and then stays nearby as I meet up again with my sister. Together we marvel at the intricate display of spices as each overflowing heap brings with it a new intoxicating smell. We search through a pile of carved wooden spoons, and hand over some money into calloused hands of an elderly woman. As our eyes meet, I am taken aback as this friendly face, aged well and full of wisdom smiles gently and earnestly at me. I reciprocate the smile and for a second it seems we fully understand each other and we are united, linked together as one people.
Moustapha guides us to a camel, and invites us to mount this gigantic, mangy looking animal. After some difficulty, the beast rises in three discreet motions and I look over the village of Lyan. Here I am, resting on the top of a camel as my Muslim scarf blows gently in the wind. I contemplate in awe the events of the day and I close my eyes to capture this memory forever.
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