We can think of other countries more fucked up than Chad. Neighboring Sudan, for example. Eritrea. But we don't know any soldiers who are stationed in those countries and write us emails to tell us about how screwed they are from their POV. Alexei is a pilot with the Spanish Airforce who recently spent two months in the sandy hellmouth supporting a UN peacekeeping mission to Darfur, bartering with the host French army for use of the internet and writing songs to play in his hardcore band back home.
Here's a brief rundown of his experiences, each illustrated with a song that was on his iPod at the time. They’re not all great songs, but at least he’s not listening to James Blunt and Chris Brown like everybody else in a uniform.
1. Bad Religion - “Fuck Armaggedon... This Is Hell”
Arriving in Ndjamena in February to 35-degree heat Celsius, and being told that it wasn't that hot made me think that April would be hell. And it was. The highest that I remember it getting to was 47 degrees. It was weird though, because I don't remember that being the hottest day. It's something to do with the lack of humidity, which means you don't sweat all that much despite the heat. It also means that the rivers don't last long. Between the rains, it's all sand.
2. La Vergonya Del Món - “Moksha”
I don't have a problem with rich kids slagging each other off for how they dress while living happily off daddy's salary, but it's worth thinking about that the company that daddy's the CEO of is raping countries like Chad, while whichever dictator happens to be in power turns a blind eye as long as they throw him a bit of what’s left over. And as daddy's company is also making shitloads of cash for the government back home, that in turn affects their foreign policy, so the dictator stays in place while the country gets fucked. Though as long as the rainy and dry seasons follow their cycles, nobody in the area I was in goes starving. People still know that white people in helmets are being fed considerably better. Cue kids running towards you with sauce pans around their necks like outsized hip-hop medallions. It’s an unsettling situation, but it's nice to see them smile when you give them a bar of chocolate.
3. Pennywise – “Society”
Time for some Colonial History 101:
A while back, the French, the Belgians, and the English sat down and divided a map of Africa in the most illogical way possible, took what they could, and then pissed off back home, taking most of the wildlife with them as souvenirs. OK, so it’s not that clear-cut, but these colonizing countries still lurk in the background, sucking out what they can like creepy vampires.
4. Refused – “Summer holidays vs. Punk Routine”
Time on a mission like this one goes reaaaal slow. The best you can do to pass the days is go the gym, watch films, or, if you’re like me, write songs for the band back home and wonder how the fuck you ended up here. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed I’d end up in the army, let alone in this desert hellhole being charged 15 euros an hour to use the internet by the French.
A workmate of mine says that on a mission like this, your relationships with the other soldiers go through three stages. After about a month, you get pissed off with the slightest thing anyone in the barracks does. A guy farts and you want to stamp on his face. Then it’s onto this false zen “I don’t care” phase, which is like the eye of the storm. The final stage is the most stupid, and comes on a few weeks before the mission ends. That’s when everyone you know is your best buddy. It’s like being wasted the whole time.
5. Earth Crisis – “Firestorm”
“A firestorm to purify.” There are times when you see how intricately and unsolvably fucked up things are here, where you just want to press ctl alt delete on humanity, and start from scratch. At one point it felt like it was finally happening. A tornado passed directly over the campsite, inflating the tents we were sleeping in like balloons and then dropping everyhing back down again. I didn’t mention the electrical sandstorms. These are like something out of The Mummy–clouds of dust hundreds of feet high that sweep up all of the bacteria and shit off the floor, and slam it into your body, making everyone ill for weeks afterwards. With all of these biblical storms going on anyway, a firestorm would be fitting. I wonder when it’ll happen.
More from this corner of the world on Inside Sudan, airing on VBS.