It’s human nature to want to feel safe. Of course, it seems to also be human nature to tiptoe the tightrope of self-preservation and self-sabotage. But once you have children, you probably scootch a bit closer to the children-preservation edge of the spectrum. That doesn’t mean you never have self-destructive tendencies. Our self-destructive tendency happens to be mission work.
I joke. We are here for two reasons. First, we felt called by God to tell people about Jesus, and to do so specifically in Chad. Second, we saw what a powerful effect good medical care could have in a place that didn’t have good medical care otherwise. It happened to be a lovely side effect that we are able to raise four children in a place detached from often negative American distractions that tend to not be soul-fostering, like television and video games and YouTube and hyper-sexuality and glorified violence and all the rest. Even on vacation, we find ourselves becoming lazy and putting Paw Patrol on TV or some other programming we consider to be somewhat benign. It does seem fairly reliable that after letting them ‘veg out’, we have some behavior issues to deal with for hours afterward. And even in Chad, the path of least resistance one evening might be to put on a Cosby Show for them to enjoy. And boy do they ever enjoy it.
For the most part, our kids build things out of sticks and mud. They make forts. They turn on the hose and make muddy natural swimming pools. We built a treehouse, which provided months of fun until termites felled the tree the treehouse was built around. There are zip lines. There are pets from monkeys to camels to donkeys to tortoises to rabbits to semi-feral but exceeding fertile cats to dogs to hedgehogs by the dozens. There are trees to climb, but they know not to climb the mango trees, whose branches break without warning. There’s a slack line to balance on, although none of us are very good at it. There’s a chicken coop we built, which no chicken ever spent more than a minute in, but we were so good about cutting out holes for the eggs to drop into. There are chores of setting out the laundry and burning the trash and watering the garden. They sweep the floor and do the dishes and put away the laundry. There are moments to go out and kick a soccer ball, throw a baseball, catch a football.
They speak French and a smattering of Chadian Arabic and few words of local languages. They understand what poverty is and what hunger and disease and suffering are. They know what it’s like when nobody has your own skin color and they have grown up in a house that would be condemned in America, frequently without running water or electricity, with sketchy wiring ever since Jamie and Tammy left years ago, and a leaky tin roof, screens and bars over the windows, half of which can’t close, the entire house covered daily anew in a fresh layer of dust. They sleep all four in a tiny bedroom, because that’s how they like it and because that’s the only room with a weak air-conditioner capable of getting the temperature down into the high-80’s. Even when we are back in America, they prefer to all sleep in the same room, no matter how many empty beds are in the house.
My kids are odd. They have both nature and nurture stacked against them, being the offspring of yours truly and growing up in a culture not their own. They are of the ‘Third Culture Kid’ variety, not fitting in with American peers, nor being considered ‘normal’ by Chadian standards. This really hit home for us when they met a few other TCKs this year in America before the pandemic precluded social gatherings. They immediately bonded just as the missionary family help books would have led us to expect.
However, we don’t often think about our kids’ safety. Sure, we do more than if we were in America. We frequently worry about them getting sick. They were bitten by a rabid cat. They come down with malaria several times a year. We have been swimming in a river moments before seeing a hippopotamus plod by. (Hippos kill more people than any other mammal in Africa.) There are dangers. Of course, we see other dangers in America. Having grown up in a place with so few cars, my children are decidedly not street smart, oblivious to the notion of checking for cars before sprinting into a road.
But in general, we let our friends and family worry about our safety for us. They seem to do a fine job of it without our help.
Ironically, there have been some twists in the last year to what is normally an imminently-predictable storyline.
You see, I’m currently in the capital of the country, N’Djamena. Normally, I should be typing this, or something similar, back in our home in Béré.
We finished a long unpaid leave in November. We’ve been serving in Chad since 2010 and are nearing the end of our term. (Actually, our term ended in 2016.) There isn’t a whole lot left in the tank and there are many miles on these tires. We wanted to last another year or two, and we had a little money in the bank to survive, and we had a great team of physicians in Béré to carry on just fine without us, so we asked for an unpaid leave of absence and the church granted it to us. We hiked the Appalachian Trail in all our free time, but that’s another story.
Passports took forever to return due to the pandemic. With some help from the state department, they were finally expedited, something that hadn’t been an option when we initially sent them in. Chad required us to have a negative COVID test within six days of arrival, so we were tested on Christmas Eve, and then told it would be 7-10 days for results. But if it takes seven days, there’s no way for us to use the test to get back! A physician friend from church pulled some strings to get us our results just in the nick of time. The next business day after the passports arrived, I was in the Chadian embassy getting our visas processed in one day. And the day after that, we were on an airplane, eager to come home.
It’s always strange, to have this sense of home. Even after ten years of back and forth, it’s odd to contemplate what is home for me. It’s even stranger to contemplate home for my children. I think we all have different sentiments of home. My kids have grown up in a home in Chad, but we take increasingly long vacations in America each year. So maybe my oldest will have a different feeling than my youngest. Home is where nobody looks like me, nobody shares my culture, a world I had never known while developing my idea of self for my first 31 years. And America is where I go to visit when I am not at home. To be so familiar, and yet so foreign. To feel so comfortable, and yet unfitting. To understand, yet never be understood. To recognize the dangers, and yet feel safe.
We landed. We came home. We saw familiar police working in the airport. We heard people address us as ‘doctor,’ apparently still aware of who we are. We brought our 28 checked bags and seven carry-ons out to our good friend and taxi driver, who immediately whisked us to our quarantine.
Chad requires quarantine for seven days for all arriving passengers, followed by a negative COVID test. So we obliged.
And just to make things interesting, the day we arrived, Chad instituted a lockdown of the capital. Nobody in. Nobody out. You have four days to fly out if you want to, and then the airport is closed.
Well isn’t that special. The reasoning was there had been 200 cases in the capital over the month of December. Not 200 cases per day. In a month. So because of 200 cases in a city of millions over the course of a month, everything shut down. Only essential stores open. No public transit. Fines for being caught without a mask, which has been the norm for months now. No school, church, mosque. No gatherings of ten or more. Lockdown.
The Ministry of Health values our work and gave us a letter, authorizing us to leave the capital to travel to the hospital and resume our work. Without public transit available, Jonathan has graciously agreed to send up his Land Cruiser and driver to take us down in a private vehicle. But he also needs a paper authorizing him to travel, and the authorities in Béré don’t want to give him that letter until they see our letter. We get our authorization, only to discover the dates are written for us to travel down on the 13th. Well, that shouldn’t be a huge inconvenience. Most military at checkpoints won’t be able to read anyway. They will see official-looking paper and stamps and wave us through. But then we also notice it’s for December. And 2020. Well this simply won’t do. So delay another day to get the right dates. Then it’s today, Sabbath. So we are waiting until tomorrow to finally make it down to Béré after twelve incredibly unproductive days in the capital, unable even to hold a committee meeting long overdue. We are feeling the drastic inconveniences of a pandemic.
We had just come from America, world capital of coronavirus.
I know half our friends fall onto one side of the political spectrum and half fall onto the other. And that’s fine, we love them both. Both my best friend and my wife’s best friend both fall on the opposite side of the spectrum Danae and I might, but we’re all still best friends, always eager to help and support each other. And probably half the people reading this will fall one way and half the other, when it comes to politics. And America has taught us recently that politics must dictate the way we view absolutely EVERYTHING in the world. Never mind there’s no human being, including my wife, I agree with 100% on every topic. But yet I must follow my political subgroup 100% to the end of the earth. I just can’t understand this blind following of man’s creation.
We see folks on both sides of the pandemic fight being unrealistic. Wearing a mask is unchristian, a sign of a lack of faith in God’s protection. Anybody staying home is ‘living in fear,’ the way no Christian should. Allowing lockdowns is infringing on rights. ‘Masks don’t work.’ ‘Vaccines are literally the mark of the beast.’
And then others insisting you are an immoral person if you set foot outside of your house and being calloused to the economic and emotional hardships of others. Nobody can find a middle ground because nobody even wants to look anymore. Either you’re Team Doomsday or Team Overblown. Everybody thinks they’re in the middle, but none of us are. No matter what you do or say, half the population will hate you for it, both sides pointing fingers and screaming that the other side is intolerant.
Regardless your take on the matter, statistically, we seem safer from the pandemic here In Chad, although all statistics have outliers. Here in Chad, there have been 104 deaths attributed to coronavirus. Not in one day. Since its inception. And 200 cases in a month closed the capital. It’s incredibly inconvenient.
But now I can point out to my worriers back in America, I’m safer from the virus than you are! Required negative test less than a week before entry, testing required a week after entry, and the entire capital isolated and locked down for 200 cases in a month!
We had the same ironic and darkly-twisted joy during the Ebola pandemic when everybody worried for us… ‘You have more Ebola in America than we have in Chad!’ We are fortunate Ebola never came here, as it would have doubtlessly decimated the country as it has others to the west of us. And we are lucky there aren’t more coronavirus cases in Chad, as there isn’t the capacity to put people on ventilators or afford fancy treatments. If COVID will kill you without intervention, it will kill you in Chad. There is no intervention available.
This ironic reversal of fortunes of safety sadly continued this week, as we watched in horror as self-styled patriots illegally entered the seat of government with the purpose of terrorizing lawmakers and a country, and to interfere with a constitutionally-mandated democratic process, one that has served us for over 200 years in a building considered sacrosanct by the entire democracy-supporting world. The hypocrisy of stopping democracy in order to save democracy hurt our hearts. There was no anger, just sadness.
Politicians have peddled conspiracies vociferously to whoever will listen. And we devour what the stentorian voices rage on until we consider it gospel.
As Americans, we have enjoyed setting ourselves apart as the beacon of freedom and democracy the world over. A righteous and justified elite, we could parade our country as an example of what is possible.
And now my Chadian friends welcome me home, concerned for my well-being, and glad I am in a place safe, such as Chad. It wasn’t always this way. Corners of the country still reek of civil war from less than a generation ago. The constitution here is constantly in flux to allow a despot president to remain in power. But they have seen our hypocrisy.
Chad has elections in April, but this date could be moved. The president may win 120% of the vote. The pandemic and crumbling infrastructure and sinking economy and poor harvest and… it’s a tinder box in search of a match. I can’t say civil war isn’t possible here again. But I can say that nobody in Chad is storming their legislature at the moment.
We have always said we feel safest when we are where God wants us. It’s drastically cliché and many oppose the notion. It depends on your definition of safety, I suppose, but we choose to think of safety beyond this life. We do place value on this earthly life, and our safety therein, and the safety of our children above our own. We have no desire whatsoever to be martyrs. It’s not really our thing. But we see the relativity of our earthly definition of safety and we regard it as a moving target, and as such, something not to invest too much effort attaining.
Just last night, we had another small safety incident, one we have experienced many times in Chad, but never in America. We nearly died in an electrical fire.
Ok, that’s a massive exaggeration. I walked into the bedroom and smelled plastic burning. Danae said it was just dust and I almost believed her, but out of habit, I began walking around to sniff all the outlets. If wires aren’t snuggly connected, things get hot and melt, and outlets in Chad seem to be awfully cheaply made and rarely snug. I was about to give up, but decided to step up on a chair, then up onto a desk, in order to peak above the closet, where I saw wires headed. We’re still in the guesthouse of the capital, in a room unfamiliar to us. I removed a piece of cloth lying loosely there and discovered a half-melted plastic electrical connection. It was smoking and hot. Had it gone on, I’ve no doubt the fabric would have caught aflame and we would have had an electrical fire on our hands, along with a flaming fabric up near wooden ceiling tiles and trusses.
God provides. He has thus provided us safety and health. It’s possible the day will come when He judges otherwise. Until then, and especially then, we choose to follow.