Summer in Chad: Ismaël Maazaz reflects on fieldwork

chad-mazaaz

This is an excerpt – read Ismaël’s full account on the University of Edinburgh African Studies blog.

By Ismaël Maazaz, MSc student in African Studies

Thanks to a Global Development Academy (GDA) scholarship, I was lucky enough to conduct fieldwork in N’Djamena, Chad over the month of June 2015. A friend of mine, Mathilde, working for the CILONG, a centre of liaison connecting together NGOs, kindly hosted me and helped me gear myself up for my research. I was rapidly embedded in a crew of Chadian and French residents who made my stay amazingly human.

I was especially impressed by the diversity of N’Djamena’s settlement; the particular location of Chad at the crossroad of Africa explains the motley crowds one observes in the streets. N’Djamena is not only an internationalised city due to the presence of NGOs, multinationals or U.N agencies on the ground. It is also because of various waves of migrations gathering nationals from all Africa’s corners. Having lunch with a Guinean medic narrating his staggering experience of humanitarian work in Central African Republic, jabbering about politics with the Sudanese manager of a café in classical Arabic, which this man masterfully commanded, or discoursing on Chadian military history with a Cameroon-born officer who went through the murky troubles of rebellions: here are a few of the situations one could be brought into, by keeping one’s ears and mind open. The variety of religious faiths, and manners of living them, also strikes the foreigner used to more monolithic expressions of beliefs.

I was warmly welcomed by 17 interviewees who openly shared their views with me on a wide range of topics relating to my research. I rarely felt I should avoid any sensitive aspect, and their replies would often go beyond my questions, sometimes turning interviews into lively debates on the future of Chad. I agreeably found a great deal of my Chadian interlocutors passionate about politics and history.

Obviously, Chad has its stains of dark, especially now. Boko Haram carried out its first deadly attacks in the capital city when I was there and the security context is deteriorating. I could witness increased restrictions being imposed by the military and the police; foreign nationals limited their movement to “imperative professional duties” and various NGOs went a step further, barring their employees from leaving their residence.

Yet, as long as one follows the rules prescribed by common sense and N’Djamena’s residents, things are likely to be fine. Well, there is not much individuals can do anyway. “Be cautious” is not a really meaningful word of advice, my friend Mathilde remarked. One of the sentences I would hear on a frequent basis was: “We’re not gonna stop living because of this”. Indeed, what else can one do, than simply continue his or her life in spite of tragic events?

Chad leaves me with the bittersweet and contradictory taste of a place filled with individually fantastic people embroiled in a turbulent context, which oversteps all of us. If Chad’s future is riddled with uncertainties, I am convinced that more researchers should pay attention to it, since it may be geopolitically decisive for the larger Africa.

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