It is the 1st of July and I am back home in Canada having returned a while ago from my first mission with MSF.
I would like to thank so many of you for following my blog from South Sudan; for the many helpful and encouraging comments you made, and for helping me to understand that there is a big world of people out there wanting to know more about the rest of the world and MSF’s work in it. I did not have time to answer each of you individually but I read every comment and it was so lovely to be cheered on by you, especially when the going was tough.
Canada Day. This is a very special day for me; a day to celebrate the wonder that is this awesome country of Canada, and a day that was a very special day for my Dad, an immigrant from a country with far less opportunity for him than Canada has offered his children and grandchildren. It is what I think of when I ponder the way families everywhere, in every country and corner of this amazing world, always try to do the best they can do for their children. I am awed by the mothers and fathers who have walked for days, and sometimes weeks, carrying their children to safety, away from the conflict or the famine or the natural disaster that has overtaken them. It is what I think of now when I read the blog by Ruby, the MSF epidemiologist, who has been working in the refugee camps of northern South Sudan. We all just want to look after our families, and to do that people sometimes need help.
I have been home for a while now and am only able to begin to process the experiences, the good and the not so good, of working in South Sudan, and my return from this struggling, fragile country. Sometimes MSF works in confusing and inexplicable ways, frustrating and annoying ways and it can be difficult to reconcile your expectations, the reality of life in the field, and returning to life at home. Sometimes things don’t go at all as you had planned, or as you had hoped, or just at times, don’t go well at all. It can be a challenge to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and figure out what is next. This is what I have been doing with myself since I returned home. Dusting myself off. And thinking about things.
For now, every time that I go to the grocery store (and I always move first to the fresh fruit and vegetables) I am overwhelmed by the amount of food and the choices I must make about what to buy. Initially I would get a little ‘tachy’ (medical talk for having a very fast heart rate) and have to take a big breath and walk over to the canned food section to calm down. I knew I was not going to face any choices there because I was not buying anything out of a can for a while, if ever again. Then, I would head back to the fresh food, pick out what I would like to eat and always, always head home with far more than I could eat before it started to rot. Then I would have to figure out a way to eat it, because really it was not possible to waste food. That would simply be too wrong.
It certainly does take some time to catch your breath, to look around at your world here, to think about the world there that you visited for a while, and to appreciate – really appreciate – the choices that come along with the privileged spot I was lucky enough to have been born into.
I read about the recent kidnappings and rescues from Dadaab, a refugee camp in northeastern Kenya, and I am so sad for Blanca and Montserrat, MSF workers from Spain who were kidnapped at the start of my mission last October and are still being held captive. I wonder what to do about myself and my decisions about returning, or not. I know that about 50% of 1st mission MSF staff do not return for a 2nd mission. There are so many individual and institutional reasons for this, and I wonder what is being done, and what more could be done, in such an amazing organization to understand the reasons field workers choose not to return after their first mission. I still wonder what I will do.
For now, I have tried to come to terms with the things I did not like about my first mission, and think about the things that I really loved; to decide if they are enough to compensate and allow me to consider a return. I have joined the MSF Association, attended the amazing Annual General Assembly, met a whack of interesting, engaged and enthusiastic people, as well as heard a few more difficult stories of missions that did not go as well as hoped, inexplicable decisions made that are difficult to comprehend, behaviour that was inappropriate and unacceptable and sometimes dealt with appropriately and quickly, and sometimes not.
I have spent time with my wonderful and supportive family and have felt the worry they had for me when I was sick and hospitalized. I have returned to what feels like an alternative universe of medical work in North America. Today I am enjoying a day beside a beautiful northern Ontario lake, watching the fish jump, listening to the loons calling, and thinking, thinking…. and thinking some more.
Thank you for listening to my thinking. It helps.