Saturday, February 20, 2010

Effective legal aid

On the morning Habiba was preparing to go home from the hospital, two Chadian soldiers approached her room. They called out a greeting and then stood, slightly awkwardly, in the doorway. One removed his large aviator sunglasses. Then he asked her questions about her marital problems.

Since Bozize took power in 2003 with a “liberating” force that was largely Chadian, the Central African army, and especially the powerful Garde Presidentielle, has been full of Chadians, who are usually easily recognizable by their turbans. They have a well-deserved reputation for brutality.

However, that morning sitting on Habiba's hospital bed I saw another side to the soldiers. Habiba explained how her ex-husband had taken her baby daughter to live with his sister six days ago. She described the location of the house the child had been taken to, down to the guava trees in the yard. And she described the little girl. The soldier assented he understood the directions and then he and his companion turned and left.

By mid-morning, both Habiba and her daughter were back at her house. She didn't know the soldier, but explained that he helps out with a lot of problems in the Chadian community here: domestic problems, settling debts, etc. I asked how the soldier does his work, and Habiba joked that he threatens with his Kalashnikov. Or perhaps she wasn't joking. Hard to know.

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