Chad: Are there no limits to this liminal land?

From the forests of Central African Republic we head north towards the Sahara and our first Sahel country.

But what, is the Sahel?

I will answer by trying out some more words I have learnt on this trip… It is the liminal, ecoclimatic, biogeographic region where the Sahara meets the Sudanian Savanana. Or as this week’s book describes it — the desert’s edge.

Having spent the previous week reading mainly European accounts of how many of today’s African borders came to be, it was a blessed relief to spend a week reading local peoples’ accounts of their daily life. This is the armchair travels’ second book of oral histories (the first being Belarus) and once more it was a pleasure to read. There is something relaxing about reading first-hand accounts of peoples’ lives even when they are explaining how they are affected by the ravages of the climate crisis (Lake Chad gives water to 40 million people but has shrunk 90% since the 1960s); the importance of circumcision; or why the bride and groom must fight on their first night as a couple. The book was written for the charity SOS Sahel International, which has, wonderfully, closed its doors having built up local chapters’ resilience to work without them.

This week’s film was also a gem, the little known 1975 Jack Nicholson film The Passenger. Made by Michelangelo “Blow Up” Antonioni, it would probably be better known if Nicholson hadn’t obtained the rights and kept it out of circulation. It is a beautiful, slow film that reveals the beautiful dangers of the desert. As with many African countries whose borders were created with no thought for the people who lived there, one of the biggest dangers for the last 30 years has not been the inhospitable land, but the Government, led by Idriss Déby and his many, many children. He may even have more kids than Boris “the philanderer” Johnson, but neither of them publicly acknowledged the number of their spawn so we may never know.

But I digress, you are not here to hear a Top Trumps of despotic leaders, you want to hear about a vegan Chadian recipe you can make from the comfort of your home, and so I bring you Daraba! This delicious peanut vegetable stew was a real treat after last week’s fufu and clicking on the recipe will also introduce you to the Gourmet Vegetarians, a pair of New Zealanders trying to assuage their desire to travel by making food from round the world. I recommend their recipes highly.

Chad is a majority Muslim country and so I took a pause from booze and went to find the African soft drinks available in my local stores. These included Nigerian Coke, Fanta and a pineapple drink called Fayrouz. I have no idea if any of these are available in Chad, but having watched the Passenger I can imagine how amazing it would feel to drink an ice cold coke at the top of a sand dune.

So that just leaves the music. I am sure there is some incredible Chadian music out there, but it is frustratingly hard to find it as Chad is internet slang from a sexually active Alpha male. This means that searches for Chad Music return playlists of American music for the muscular and cocky. Luckily, there is always Clement Masdongar a French Chadian who seems to be as far from a Chad as it’s possible to be. There is also this album, which I can recommend as good music to cook to!

So that wraps up my first trip to the Sahel, next week I will be Chile, which is, I presume, the thinnest country in the world!

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Armchair traveller

Armchair traveller

Zero carbon lockdown travel through books, drinks, food, films, music and the magic of living in multicultural #Birmingham.