Staying on in Chad, caught between fatalism and hope
Herve Asquin meets a hard core of 150 foreigners sheltering from the fighting in Chad at a French military base who have no intention of quitting
NDJAMENA, Feb 6, 2008 - They share a heavy dose of fatalism, years of
experience of Africa and a relentless optimism: a hard core of 150 foreigners
sheltering from the fighting in Chad at a French military base have no
intention of quitting.
"It's nothing compared to the wars in Lebanon," says Fayez Bey Fadl, a
tubby 53-year-old Lebanese.
His restaurant, which "does very well," is barely 100 metres (yards) from
the presidential palace in a zone which has seen bitter combat between
government troops and rebels. But so far, he says, it has not been damaged or looted.
After 30 years in Africa, living through seven coups, Faze Bey Fadl is
philosophical. "Material things don't matter, if tomorrow my restaurant is destroyed, the day after tomorrow I will rebuild it."
"We'll have a slap-up meal and you will all be my guests," he said,
breaking out into a big laugh. "As long as you are alive, you can open up your
restaurant where you like, in Chad, Djibouti or Central African Republic."
A few yards away is a khaki tent where foreigners arriving at the base have
to go through rapid formalities, identity and baggage checks, before being
issued with a pass.
Alain Veau, a greying man in his sixties, is watching the scene out of the
corner of his eye, as men women and tired children get out of French armoured
vehicles. A former bank employee, his only concern is for his Chadian wife,
who stayed behind in Moundou, one of the big cities in the south of the
"When you know Africa well, you try not to panic," he explained. "In life,
you have to keep a bit of optimism, whatever happens."
Like Fayez Bey Fadl, he doesn't set much store by his material possessions,
which he could be forced to leave behind."My goal is to find my wife. If we
can start again in Chad, so much the better, but if not, we'll do it somewhere
Nevertheless Alain Veau was rattled by his experiences on Saturday. "We
spent all day flat on our stomachs. There was shooting going on from all directions. You could hear the bullets whistling, the gunfire, as if it was in the room."
In the heavy heat of Ndjamena, other die-hards have taken refuge in the Oasis, the bar at the French base. Some are glued to news on the satellite news networks. Whenever Chad is mentioned, they turn up the volume.
"Houses got shelled, bullets went through walls, that can happen but that won't make me leave," says Pascal Pommarel, 48, who is leader of a development project.
But others are opting to go home. A Transall transport plane took off on
Monday night, with all its lights extinguished, from Ndjamena airport with 80
foreigners on board, bound first for the Gabonese capital Libreville and then
Paris for some.
For Chadian-born Natour, who has French nationality, "the hardest thing is
the people you leave people behind", she said at she climbed the steps onto
the waiting plane.