After I returned to Bukavu after a wonderful holiday, a good friend emailed to wish me peace and joy in Congo. It seemed a strange wish - to find joy and peace in a country in conflict, but on the long journey from Bukavu to Baraka, I had a lot of time to think and reflect, and concluded that if I didn’t find joy and peace, I would not be here.
I started thinking about where it is that I find joy in this difficult place.
It is in nature, the stunning scenery we passed through on that journey, all so very green – forests, mountains and lakes.
It is in seeing people go about their business, women washing clothes in the rivers, people working the fields, a silhouette of a man holding a hoe on his shoulder.
Joy is in the spectacular sunsets and in the clear night skies full of stars.
Lulimba Sunset - Barbara Pawulska
I find joy in other people – it is a privilege to meet the other international staff from all over the world with whom I both work and live, and have a chance to get to know about their lives and their countries.
It is also a joy to work with the Congolese staff, and get to know them and their lives – and through them get some understanding of the country.
And what a joy it is to go out occasionally to the local dance bar, to listen to music, watch the local people dancing and to join in. Where else would I be able to have these experiences?
I get joy from the walks from the bases to the hospitals, a different experience in each of the two projects.
In Baraka – down a narrow, twisting alley at the side of the busy market, where the children call out to the muzungu.
In Lulimba where the Kimbi project is based, I follow the path winding between the simple village houses, greeting the women outside or at the water pump, solemnly shaking hands with the little children brave enough to approach, then onto a country road with the mountains in the distance.
I get joy from doing my job the best I can, using my past experience, both of work and life, with little interference, and in a way that supports my colleagues.
Sure, there is suffering and conflict – but this is the context in which MSF works. We may not be able to change the world, but I get joy from knowing that my work contributes to some small alleviation of suffering.
Peace – that was a more difficult one.
I know I have an inner peace, and try to maintain a calm approach to life, work and its problems. This peace has been a long time coming.
I believe it is partly to do with age – you begin to appreciate the things that really matter in life and to realise that most of the things you have spent years worrying about do not matter as much as you thought they did.
But more than that, since working with MSF I feel I have found my place in the world.
I have always struggled with the concept of patriotism, at least the idea of belonging to a particular spot on the globe.
My belief is that we are citizens of the world, all human beings together, all with the same basic urge to live in peace.
I have come to realise that my place in the world is not a geographical location, it is who I am and how I interact with the world – this MSF life has given me the chance to interact in a way which does not place importance on nationality, race, religion but on humanity.
It suits my beliefs, ethics and interests, and brings me peace.