New Favorites, from Chad

I’ll arrange these from most serious to least serious so that those of you more interested in the serious side of the project don’t have to read the rest.

New favorite interview technique: Using photos of places in the camps as discussion devices for interviewing children. This is a modification of a technique that I associate with Mike Wessels (Christian Children’s Fund and Columbia University’s Forced Migration Institute) because he described it in a meeting with Jeannie Annan and myself in his office about a year ago. In Mike’s version, he has kids draw places in their environment and then talk about them. Are they safe places? Are they dangerous? What happens there? Even with the limitations on time and schedule changes we went through this project, we pretty quickly formed some general ideas about what pictures in the camp might get at risk and protective factors. I think it was Eric Green (post-doc with me and general all-around mensch) who came up with the idea of taking photos of these places and then using them as anchors for discussion. Eric has done a similar thing with kids before, where he got groups of kids in Uganda IDP camps to take pictures of their environment (he gave them digital cameras and taught them how to use them) and then discuss them (see them and buy a few—they are phenomenal—to support their schooling at ).  So, Eric took my camera and walked around the camps in the morning, coming back to load photos onto my laptop, and then we showed them to the kids. Pictured below is my favorite photo: a “bedroom” in Gaga (eastern Chad, Darfur refugees). The girls (8-12) I showed this to said this was a refugee family who was pretty well-off, as they had mattresses and a big bag of flour, and a few other things sitting around (kind of puts things in perspective). We then had a discussion about what someone living here might do to have all that, and why others wouldn’t have those things, etc.


New favorite NGO: AirServe, the pilots of the Otter that took us from Hadjer Hadid to Abeche. To be honest, they had me when Luke from Texas walked out and said, “How’re you guys doing today?” But Ben from 24 Hours for Darfur tells me that AriServe is actually an NGO that works in humanitarian aid, flying aid workers and associated staff around conflict zones… for free. Just call them up, tell them what you need, they are great. And downright friendly, too.

New favorite interpreting quirk: Part of my line of questioning concerned marriage and relations between young men and women. It is traditional in many parts of Africa to provide a dowry, and so we thought that one way to get at differences within the population would be to ask about who can afford dowries and who couldn’t, how big they were, etc. This inevitably turns to sex. My interpreter in the south, whose English skills were less than perfect (to say the least), had a particular way of interpreting the desires of young men and women: “When a boy and girl want to get down, …” Having grown up in New York in the 1980’s, I had no problem understanding him.

New favorite version of a classic white man-in-Africa joke: This was told to us by a Congolese doctor working in UNHCR Danamadji (which incidentally has the fastest internet connection in Chad), who also had a geographic thesis on dance styles in Africa (which involved extensive demonstrations) in which North African dance with their shoulders and chests puffed up; East and West Africans dance with their arms outstretched; Southern Africans with their feet (think toi-toi, or Zulu stomping); and the Central Africans—and particularly the Congolese—with their hips, and, of course, associated regions. The man is a genius in many other ways that I won’t go into. In any case, here are “The five phases of the fly-in-your-beer problem,” or, “How you can tell how long the white guy has been working in Africa”:

  1. When the white man gets here, he spends a lot of time trying shooing the flies away from his beer.
  2. After a few weeks, he stops spending so much time shooing, but when one gets in, he gets a new beer.
  3. After a few more weeks, when a fly gets in his beer he fishes it out of the beer and drinks the rest.
  4. A few more weeks, and he fishes out the fly, sucks the beer out of the fly, and drinks the beer.
  5. Finally, he catches the fly before it gets to the beer, eats it, and then drinks the beer.

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May 2009
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