I'm writing from Brussels Airport. A little tired after long flight, anxious to get home. And, I have to admit, a little nervous about how to react when I get home, how the acclimatisation process will be. Everyone I talked to says the same thing: the hardest thing about being on an assignment with MSF is going home.
I left Bolomba nine days ago. It already feels like an eternity. Two days on a motorcycle – driving on a forest path, on flooded lanes and on the narrow gravel road which is the main route between the two respective provincial capital cities of Mbandaka and Boende (it's depicted as a highway on the map...) - and then a flight to Kinshasa. I have spent the last few days in debriefings and evaluations. And resting. IN A BED, WITH A PILLOW! What happiness!
I witnessed many miracles during my months there
The rest of the team leaves Bolomba starting today. A total of 72 people will be returned to Kinshasa over the course of the week. (I left a few days earlier because my contract was about to expire). I feel proud seeing the preliminary figures from the intervention. 140 000 children vaccinated (representing 99% of all children between six months and 14 years in the area). This is in an area about the same as Belgium, but with one single road. The vaccination team transported all equipment, including large refrigerators full of vaccines, using motorbikes, boats and their feet. At our two hospitals we have treated something like 500 patients. Of these, more than 490 survived. Of course not everyone was mortally ill - but I have to say that I witnessed many miracles during my months there. Children who were in a coma for 4-5 days, had repeated seizures, in some cases were barely breathing - and suddenly they just sat up in bed and started playing with their brother or sister.
What will be left when the PUC team (the Pool d'urgence Congo - the emergency team I was part of) leaves Bolomba? What becomes permanent and sustainable? Yes, we have constructed buildings and facilities for healthcare in future. We have left a supply of medicines and equipment for a good while ahead. But above all, we have shared our skills with the healthcare professionals that were already working there. Many hours of lectures, bedside lessons and reviews of various kinds have resulted in a huge improvement in the team, which will be useful for many years to come. That is probably what I am most proud of when I try to summarise our efforts.
I'm boarding the plane towards Stockholm with the same feeling as when I pass the bell tower and ski my way up the last little hill and have the goal in sight. Kilometre after kilometre and suddenly it's over. Lovely! And sad.
But the future will be here soon enough.