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WHERE THEY WENT

Bridging continents to savor warm welcome in central Africa

Email|Print| Text size + By Diane Daniel
Globe Correspondent / November 19, 2006

WHO: Ellen Driver Ignegongba, 25, and Vourdanne Ignegongba , 29, of Cambridge

WHERE: Chad

WHEN: Three weeks in July

WHY: So the newlyweds could introduce Ellen, an Arlington native, to some of her new relatives. Vourdanne was born in Chad, and though he was raised in West Africa, most of his family lives in central Africa.

WARM WELCOME: They arrived in the capital, N'Djamena, late at night. "It was a little overwhelming," said Ellen, who was on the continent for the first time. "There was a lot of activity. People on the street, people walking, animals walking. Even just the heat itself was overwhelming. But the people were very welcoming."

CITY SIGHTS: They stayed with Vourdanne's family in a residential section of the city called Moursal. "The first thing I wanted to do was to show Ellen around," said Vourdanne, who came to Canada in 1995 and then to the United States for college. "We went to the presidential palace, the UN offices, the national museums, the main marketplace, and outside of the city a little."

CONFLICTED: Chad's independence from France in 1960 was followed by decades of civil war and invasions, and there still are clashes between the government and rebel forces and new conflicts with neighboring Sudan. Ellen said she was initially hesitant to visit, but was reassured by Vourdanne's family that, if they stayed near the city, they would be safe. "Sometimes there are security concerns, especially outside of the city," Vourdanne said. "You see French soldiers, as well as Chadian soldiers. But it's exaggerated in the media."

LIFE'S A BLEND: Meeting family members was "very exciting, but a bit overwhelming," Ellen said. "When I introduced Ellen to some members of the family," Vourdanne said, "they joked about having some white kids in the family." The official languages in Chad are French and Arabic. Ellen impressed her in-laws by having learned enough French for basic communication. Chad also has about 200 ethnic groups. "My tribe is called Mundang, from the south, and we speak the dialect," Vourdanne said. Ellen tried to pick up a few words here and there. "Mostly I had it translated," she said.

LOWER BARRIERS: Neighborhoods are segregated; Vourdanne's family lives in a Christian section. But he said the younger generation is less segregated, which was especially evident at a popular nightclub in a Christian neighborhood. "Young people from the Muslim community come. They wouldn't necessarily have drinks, but they'll dance and hang out."

WRAPPED IN BEAUTY: Ellen and Vourdanne bought pagnes, traditional ankle-length wraparound cloths that women wear, to give as gifts. "They come in different colors and designs and are absolutely beautiful." Her mother-in-law gave Ellen one . They also brought back an embroidered tablecloth made at a women's cooperative, carved wooden masks, small boxes made of goatskin, and bottles of locally brewed beer.

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