Military-industrial complex: The human version

Dropping off and picking up passengers at the Mao Airport (Kanem Region/Chad)

I find it neat to find common experiences in the most unexpected places. As I was doing some banking today, the investment advisor and I got into some casual conversation. After all, he has all kind of private information about me at his disposal on the computer screen. He inquired about my employment status and whether I am still working with MSF/Doctors WIthout Borders. He showed a genuine interest and so I told him a little bit about my mission to Chad last year.

Turns out that he is very familiar with Chad. However, his perspective of the country must be a completely different one since he was serving with the French airforce in N’Djamena. I was very familiar with the presence of the French fighter jets in N’Djamena. Every time I spent the weekend in the MSF guest house, which is located in the airport district of the capital, I heard those fighter jets take off with much noise in the early morning.

It is a daily war-like scenario: The spectacle starts with the shooting of flares. They are intended to scare any birds and live stock from the runway. Then the jets would warm up their engines and after considerable time of idling take off with full throttle. As far as I am aware, they are doing reconnaissance flights over various regions of Chad. For me, it always seemed like a show of force. Only once I saw a single fighter jet in the sky over the desert during my six months in the field.

The French-airforce-service-person-turned-Canadian-investment-advisor mentioned that he did not get to know Chad beyond the places served with airfields. The military planes also did not venture far into the Sahel and the Sahara desert, but stayed more over populated areas of the country. It makes sense, because that is where armed conflict happens and where the various rebel groups live and operate.

But the investment advisor remembered clearly Mao, the capital city of the Kanem region, and its airport. For me, the Mao airport was the place where I would leave the Western bubble and start immersing into the desert context at the beginning of my mission with MSF. That’s where I got out of the air conditioned UN Humanitarian Air Service plane, stepped on the solidified sand tarmac and into the 40 degree sun. It was there that I was greeted and welcomed by the Chadian driver from one of the white Toyota LandCruisers parked in the shade of an acaia tree.

“Marco” the (fast) driver in the desert.

The banking session was not very rewarding for the investment advisor. We had very divergent views on money and investing – thus he was not able to help me at all with his expertise. I was simply closing another account to simplify my life. He works for one of the big banks that I consider to represent and serve the every growing inequalities in this world. During his time in Chad, it was part of the mission to defend Western interest and values – during my time in Chad, it felt like I was putting a band aid on one of the tragic consequences of those Western interests and values.

Nonetheless, it was nice to encounter somebody here in Whitehorse and during the Yukon winter to warm up to some memories with.

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