Life interrupted

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Chad2redone Everyday after work I swing by the gas station: one day the pump is broken, the next, no electricity, the third, gas is sold out. I imagine myself pushing a bone dry motorcycle home through the not-so-safe streets at week's end.

Thursday at lunch the green beans taste bitter, the meat too strong, I am dizzy, and my head hurts. Damn - I know what this means. Friday I am hooked to an IV with anti-malarial quinine dripping into my blood (as pictured below). I miss the World Bank security update: rebel forces ambush government troops, guns distributed throughout Chad's capital of N'Djamena, a French plane hit with a missile. We were already evacuated once this year. We enter again into the days of worry and wait.

Needless to say, work doesn't flow easily here; how could it? There has been war and instability in Chad for the better part of thirty years. I know I have it relatively easy. People here do what you would expect; they bury money in the backyard, move from one business to another, often don't invest or plan too much. Every day my team meets with entrepreneurs, asking "what sector do you work in?" "Well," they ask in return, "what needs to be done?" People are not stupid.

I left Chad a few months back, and one evening, eating a slice of pizza in Brooklyn, it hit me.

I sat marveling at networks: from ingredients grown and shipped from around the world, to the restaurant itself, constructed by builders, plumbers, and electricians, each trained in their craft. I looked out into New York streets and contemplated what it takes to give a city water and electricity 24 hours a day, regular trash pickup, subways, phones and the internet. The answer: huge numbers of people, systems it took years to create and overlapping technologies all conspire to bring us a life that many of us take for granted in the developed world.

In Chad, it's exactly this web of systems that is missing, or that gets broken up by sickness, hardship, and war. People ask me what Chad looks like, and I tell them to picture an empty plane, throw up a few buildings, two paved roads, a few signs and you have N'Djamena. There are all kinds of networks here - family lines, friendships, and allegiances that run deep. The problem is that these networks are supple and shifting, and it's hard to build commerce on them. They lack the solidity of paved roads, water lines, and an electricity-generating plant that runs round the clock.

Life gets interrupted in Chad, and sometimes we begin to lose hope. Fighting and sickness mean that commerce stops, and not just for days, but for years, because systems take time to put in place. We help egg producers - which shouldn't be that hard - but it's the systems that are missing: where to buy chicks? Where to find chicken feed or even water? Then how to get the eggs to market? You can't interrupt a country and then pick up full speed a day later. Systems take time to build, to put in place. I admire greatly people's perseverance. The problem is we're fighting a battle I'm not always sure it's possible to win.



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