Arriving to the village in the sky

Brigitte​ is working for Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Today she blogs about heading to the Walikale, North Kivu region of the DRC...

My previous posting was in Zemio, Central African Republic (CAR), as outreach nurse. Most often when I tell people I was in CAR, they give me a slightly confused look and once I say “It’s a country. Don’t worry, most people don’t even know it exists” they relax and admit they had never heard of it.

However, this time when I told people I was headed to the Democratic Republic of Congo, I had reactions of shock, disbelief and worry. From what I have experienced, people do not know much about the DRC, but they have heard it is a dangerous place; indeed it is a country that has witnessed decades of conflict and corruption. And when people asked, “Why would you want to go to a place like that?!” it was an easy reply “because those are the people that need our help the most.”

Preparing for my second posting was much different than the first. Although I am not in the same country, or with the same expat team or national staff as the last, not everything was an unknown this time. The fears of what would be expected of me, how should I pack, what is it like to live with 7 other strangers or how will I survive a Christmas away from home have already been answered. The anticipation of arriving, seeing the base and meeting my new family for the next six months remained, but this time instead of pure anxiety it was excitement that guided me in my preparations.

My chariot from Goma to Walikale

Before leaving I was sent the usual briefing package containing security information about where I was going, the history of the mission and the main health pathologies I will be encountering.  I kept the same strategy I had from my previous mission, to read it over, but not to make any impressions as they may cloud my experience. I am glad I did so.

Our landing strip in the middle of a local village

The arrival to Walikale, North Kivu was an adventure in and of itself. On many occasions I have been on small planes and landed in remote places having worked for over three years in Nunavik, Northern Quebec, but this was a completely different ballgame. I can now check landing on the main road in the middle of a remote village, traffic blocked off by MSF cars and surrounded by ecstatic children giving the thumbs up and petrified goats running away from the noise of the plane, off my bucket list. I didn’t even know it was there to begin with!

The moment I arrived in the base my outreach team greeted me with song, smiles, flowers and many handshakes. I felt very welcomed, I mean that must be what the Backstreet Boys experience daily! The expat team also greeted me with open arms. During the past couple of months they have been working as a skeleton team as many positions remained vacant during the summer months, so my arrival was the last piece of the puzzle and we are now complete.

As outreach nurse I am responsible for supervising 3 fully supported health centers, 2 malaria sites and mobile malaria clinics, as well as general community health promotion activities across our health region. That first week I was back in the passenger seat of the MSF white land cruiser visiting our remote healthcare locations, I realized how much I missed it. The joy I get hearing the screams and hellos of the people as we drive by their homes waving back. Meeting the chiefs of the villages and the healthcare workers dedicated to their communities is always a pleasure. I personally believe you truly understand why MSF is where it is and does what it does while on an outreach trip. You meet mothers who bring children with fevers to get tested and treated for malaria and pregnant women receiving prenatal care who otherwise may not have been able to afford these services. You experience the road conditions, see the beauty of the land, witness how the communities live, understand what little access they have to other needs of daily living and receive their gratitude for our presence and services offered.

There are many new and exciting changes to the outreach program ahead that I know I will have my work cut out for me. I can hardly wait to get to know Walikale and its people better, work along side the national staff and forge friendships with my new expat clan. I had a wonderful first mission and am full of found memories of Zemio but am ready to discover what new adventures Walikale has in store for me.