30 July 2010

At first I felt that one of the risks in this job was that you can spend too much time talking.  At present I feel as if there’s not enough time to talk.

It’s currently time to reflect, to identify how far we have got in achieving our objectives for the year, to identify which objectives are still to be met, and then making modifications to our activities to achieve those objectives. To do this, it goes without saying that we need to attain a shared vision that each member of the field team ascribes to – which involves a lot of talking – and we then need to bring this vision before the coordination team, to establish a vision that they too share. Yet in parallel this vision needs to be compatible with that of our partners – the local health authorities, the NGOs and development organisations that are also involved. Unless we manage to elaborate a vision that everyone shares, implementation will be extremely difficult. The challenge is to make enough time to talk with everybody.

So yes, as it turns out my role is that of a full time talker! My medical activities are peripheral, and security research can be done in the evenings. Most of my time is spent chatting, reflecting and philosophising. As a student this would have sounded like the ideal life. But now that I am aware of the stakes, of the responsibility this entails, I have to acknowledge that talking is easy as long as you’re not worried about the content or outcomes. Being a professional talker is tricky, because it requires you to rethink and relearn an activity that is essentially automatic and unconscious.

So, I’m sure I made piles of mistakes at first, perhaps negotiated some things inelegantly such that I had to redo the whole process over a beer in order to reassure my collaborator. But this is happening less and less. Finally the partners are starting to have confidence in me. I think it takes about 6 months to reach this point….which is the average length of a mission with MSF!