Arriving on a new mission

I am now settling in in Juba, South Sudan. Two other expats and I arrived on 16th January. With four hours delay in Addis Ababa, we had the opportunity to drink really nice Ethiopian coffee.

I am now settling in in Juba, South Sudan. Two other expats and I arrived on 16th January. With four hours delay in Addis Ababa, we had the opportunity to drink really nice Ethiopian coffee. However, since my first two MSF missions were in Ethiopia, I did feel that Ethiopia was trying to hold on to me – and for my part, I was ready for new MSF experiences outside of Ethiopia!

This is my first mission in coordination. This means that my base is not in the field, but in the capital - Juba. In coordination we support the field and are the link to HQ in Europe as well. So, it is going to be interesting to see how I like life in the capital. So far, it is a bit more organized. We have a nice house here in Juba including private bathrooms. Even running water in the bathroom... what a luxury! In the expat house we are many nationalities: Sri Lankan, Kenyan, Ethiopian, French, American, Dutch, Swedish, and me from Denmark. A few of the expats have a little garden project, planting corn, coriander, watermelon, green beans, tomatoes… the plants are growing, but need a lot of water since it is 40 degrees during the day.

Since I haven’t visited the field yet I don’t know how their living conditions are. This will be interesting to see and I will go there at some point.

There are several restaurants here. Last week we had pizza and beer at a restaurant next to the Nile, however, the price was a bit high – at least on an MSF salary… I have not had any local food yet, and I am sure the prices are a bit lower than with westernized food. Even though the current seemed strong, people were still bathing in the Nile.

We have a cook in our house that prepares dinner and lunch for us. A driver picks up the lunch and brings it to the office. The guesthouse is approximately 10 minutes drive away, and with the number of expats here, we would need two cars going for lunch – and back. That is not very efficient, so we stay in the office. Again, compared to my last mission where we only had meat a few times a week, this is nice with a mix of chicken, beef, salad, vegetables and fruit as dessert. However, most is imported as there is not much production here. The local beer is fairly good, though…

All five MSF sections are here in South Sudan, and it seems that there are many intersectional things happening; HR meetings, parties, etc. This is a nice way of meeting other people. Despite the name MSF, there are actually differences in how the sections are organized so it is good to benchmark a little to get new ideas.  

The HR team here in Juba consists of a booking officer, HR Manager, the HR coordinator (expat), and me as HR Support. We are conducting a big review of all HR policies this year, so two people from the Paris office are coming in a few weeks to start it and to guide it. This will be interesting and I will be supporting them. They hope to finalize it in September so I guess it is very time consuming.

With South Sudan being a new country, there are continuously many changes in the labor law that we have to follow and this is a challenge. But luckily, our HR Manager is very good and knows a lot; for example, he has to go to the labor office to show all staff contracts for them to review. And the Booking Officer is in charge of not only booking flights (WFP flights, MSF flight etc), but also ensuring that all expats have entry permits before stepping on the plane in Paris (or wherever), applying for visas and registering all expats arriving.

Being in a new country, I have to learn all these different aspects to support the staff here in Juba and in the field. The first week I spent a lot of time reading manuals, asking about procedures and the like. Also, we are working on a scheme to introduce national staff to MSF when they start working with us. Everybody should have the spirit of MSF from the beginning!