Images: Tom Saater
Text: Emmanuel Iduma
1. Jumoke stands beside the man whose black market we patronized (Naira to CFA). Of course, he did this at an exorbitant rate. Sometimes, it is rational to think of a single African currency.
2. In currency conversion mode – Jumoke using her phone’s calculator as I separate my cash from Tom’s. Kemi looks on, and who knows what/where/who Nana is looking to.
3. Here are the two drivers (on the left) who ripped us of our money. Our agreement was that they would take us to N’djamena, and when we spent a longer time at the Cameroun border, they altered the agreement and said they would get us drivers to take us to N’djamena. As is clear from the photo, there is some looming friction between Emeka and the drivers – at some point, the driver whose hands are stretched began to pull our things from his car. This was at the Cameroun consulate, as pictured in ph. 16
4. The children of Gamboru Ngala, attracted by whatever was different about us.
5. Hands raised, lights converging: all parties to the looming disagreement try to make their point. The photo shows how blurred the border became between Gamboru and Invisible Borders. But this border soon became blurred again, unfortunately.
6. This is a tourist photo. Yet, I felt kin with these children. Very annoying that I did not ask their names
7. How long has this car stayed in this spot? How much longer will these Gamboru children find it a worthy play-site?
8. Overlooking the Nigerian-Cameroun border, while the lady on the right reads a letter describing our project. Now, I look like a real tourist!
9. Funny, right, that a Ghanaian passport could be the reason why we had to give a bribe to a Cameroonian policeman? I trust Nana has an interesting story to tell about being Ghanian.
10. Although Jumoke is smiling, I doubt that she is comfortable. Emeka is clearly thinking of the remaining distance, or whatever else he is. It is rare to find Emeka in this manner; given his constant and consistent ability to not-be-in-one-place.
11. This was the Nigerian Immigration office; if Cameroun/Tchad were ‘bigger’ countries, I doubt this office will be as dilapidated as it is.
12. The last Nigerian flag before Cameroun.
13. Notice that the sun is setting while we cross the border. It will even get darker, and we will not be close to N’djamena. In fact, we ended our day’s journey in Cameroun.
14. At this point, I thought, “So, I’m in another country?” It did not seem/feel so, at all.
15. Often amazing, right, when a signpost like this welcomes you to another country. Nothing, of course, is wrong with this signpost, only that I expected it to be bigger, and more illustrious.
16. I remember how funny it was watching a Cameroonian policeman march up these stairs to take down the country’s flag. He had a potbelly, was tucked in, and his boots were thick heavy, and worn. This was also the site of a long argument with the drivers, and the insistence of a senior Cameroonian policeman that Nana was to go back to Maiduguri to get a visa to Tchad before crossing into Cameroon en route Tchad. We were constrained to give him some money (I would feel bad to call it a ‘bribe’), and then travelling 90 minutes in the dark on a dusty, bumpy road, desert-extension. All the ladies said they had nightmares while we crossed. I slept all the way, confident of nothing I can remember.
17. Hotel Dassie. I kept telling myself, “This is not true.” This was the entrance to a nightmarish hotel/brothel in Kousseri, a transit town where we spent the night in Cameroun. The drivers, knowing that the amount they had charged us (120,000 CF) was too expensive, disagreed when we suggested that we pay them for their services up to Kousseri. They insisted on coming back the following morning to pick us.
18. Here, Paul Biya speaks of the Cameroun of grand realizations. I hope he means that.
19. Here is the shit-hole where we spent a night, Tom and I. Before arriving at this choice, we were taken to several rooms. In one of those, Nana saw them changing used sheets in a room that had a pool of whatever-liquid. And then there was a smell, so strong that approaching my room I always had to hold my breath.
20. The room for the ladies. None of us had our baths here. Notice how ‘detached’ Jumoke is from Ray’s hug.
21. Different country, different beer bottle. I drank from a 60 cl Coke bottle for the first time in my life.
22. Here is Mr. Passah Alain, a Cameroonian Catholic, also a guest at Hotel Dassie. He talked with Tom about his project for his Diocese – working with HIV patients and prisoners. We talked about the criminal justice system in Nigeria and Cameroon, the negative effect of China’s presence in Africa, and he said “If you go to the market here, you would see so many Igbos.”
23. Cameroun-Tchad border. Another ‘illegal’ photo.
24. Overlooking Lake Tchad.
27. Coca-cola boy waits, too.
28. This photo of Tchadian President appears all over the city. Few minutes after this photo was taken, Ray and Tom were frisked and questioned over taking photos. Being smarter, none of the pictures taken were seen! (I will preoccupy myself with this later: what is photographic freedom?) We might have been lucky – after we ended with stamping our passports, the officers at the entry did not check our passports. In this world of ours where the fear of security threats overrides certainty, who knows what they might have found?
29. Now in Tchad, we are moving in this taxi to Santana Hotel. The hotel had been reserved for us by the French Cultural Centre, but we arrived a day late and it was filled. It happens to be the best hotel in N’djamena. I say this because we visited up to four hotels, and could not find a place. As I write, after two nights in Tchad, we are yet to settle in a proper hotel. (And the Chinese are here too; they have signposts of two hotels of theirs beside each other. There was a Chinese guy who spoke only Chinese in a Franco-Arabic town.)
30. Dinner at Santana Hotel. There was a communication shift once we entered Tchad; our communication with indigenes is restricted to Emeka and Nana’s speaking of French. This was the get-together of the organizers and participants of Ndam Ndam Lei Dance festival. We were expected to record the festival in photos, but we arrived on the last day. Ray and Nana had the opportunity to view one of the final choreographies, and they had regrets of not having their cameras – Nana’s story of her stunt at the Tchadian border will explain their cameralessness.
31. Oung-Vang Singkobo Levy, President Directeur General of Hotel Santana Tchad. He is a talented painter (The manager of our present hotel is a gospel musician) Looking carefully at ph. 29, one sees Mr. Levy’s painting on the left flank. And he is a good host; he drove us back in his jeep to our hotel. And how could we have known that his influence will soon be our saving grace?
32. We owe more than gratitude to Hyacinth Tobio, Artistic Director of Ndam Ndam Lei dance festival, which we missed. His energy and artistic flavour has sustained our zest for creation in N’djamena. When we are with him, I wish I could speak French, enter into his head!
33. This image, possessing a surreal quality, seems to signify the interesting story our stay in N’djamena will tell. There has never been so much drama, I confess, in my creative life. There is still too much to tell about this city.