South Sudan: "What will I actually pack?!"

02 February 2017

Johanna Lönn is a nurse from Sweden on her first assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). For seven months she'll be managing a tuberculosis department at the hospital in a refugee camp in Bentiu, South Sudan. The hospital is the only health centre in the camp. Here she blogs about preparing her suitcase and mind for her first-ever assignment.

When I told family and friends that I would go away with MSF for half a year to South Sudan, most reacted like this:

"Aha, so exciting. That's pretty hot there? And what will you actually pack?!"
 
It summarises quite well what I think most people in Sweden know about the world's youngest nation, South Sudan.
 
Yes, it's hot here. And yes, it is of course exciting to be here. But the question of what I should pack I couldn't answer - even when it was time to check in at the airport.
 

The 'perfect' MSF suitcase

 
Packing the perfect suitcase is a way to manage all of the unknown.
 
Despite all the courses I attended and all the briefings I read, I was still not entirely clear about what to expect.
 
Mentally I was already off on my assignment, but physically I was left in a Stockholm that slowly became colder.
 
Focusing on the packing became a management strategy, what I really needed was the challenge. 
 
After a few weeks of listening to tips from my friends, a few too many rounds in town buying things I didn't have room for, and many evenings of aimlessly putting stuff in and out of the bag, it one day became full.
 
So, problem solved: the packing had to be considered complete.
 

From Stockholm to Bentiu

 
At the start I thought I had about a month until my departure. However, only a week after I received my assignment I learned this had been extended to six weeks. 
 
On one side I was happy: it meant that I would have more time to spend with my friends. 
 
At the same time, I was in limbo. Mentally I was already off on my assignment, but physically I was left in a Stockholm that slowly became colder. 
 
I sat on my couch at night and looked at my overfull bag, and could not believe I would take this bag with me to South Sudan. It was still so very surreal.
 
I tried to do as many activities as I could during that time, meet friends and eat food that I knew I would miss. Although I really just wanted to go away. I had waited for this moment for so many years and now I was so close! 
 
I sat on my couch at night and looked at my over-full bag, and could not believe I would take this bag with me to South Sudan. It was still so very surreal.
 
But I finally went away! Now the bag is in my tent here in Bentiu instead of on my living room floor in Stockholm.
 
So far I have not missed anything. However, I could easily have left behind half of what I packed.
 

But now I know for next time!

 

Finally in Bentiu! The view from the container where we sit in the evenings and watch the sunset. Photo: Johanna Maple/MSF

 
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