In just a few hours we will be cramming into the car and driving 2000km due north to the Yukon for 3 weeks of hiking in a tiny corner of Canada’s immense northern wilderness. 20kg of dehydrated food, 4 topographical maps for route finding and brand new neoprene socks for river crossings.
Needless to say, we are not in Kansas anymore. Or Chad, as the case may be.
Grant and I finished our mission and arrived home one month ago and it is amazing what a little time and distance can do. For Grant, he has been able to catch up on his sleep, finally calm his reeling mind, and gradually inch back up to his pre-MSF fighting weight.
For myself, this perspective has helped to put a more positive slant on all that I saw in Chad. There are a few major points that remain insoluble in my mind – the perceptions and practicing surrounding the role of women, the quality and accessibility of education, and the increasingly harsh and inhospitable natural environment, for example. However, I can now look back on my 9 month and see glimmers of hope. We worked with some incredibly competent senior national staff – both male and female. We also collaborated with very motivated and engaged Ministry of Health representatives. MSF is now partnering with a local organization to address female genital mutilation. Outside of our own projects, we witnessed a presidential election that, although effectively had only one party, was calm and uneventful. In fact, the overall security context was calm throughout the entire 9 months. That in itself is a fundamental precondition for any other development or progress and represents a major change from previous years.
Grant proudly describes his time in Chad as intense, challenging yet satisfying and is bolstered by the continued good work that MSF is doing in the country. On the other hand, when I was asked about my favourite moments in Chad, I replied tongue-in-cheek with “mango season, discovering the epilady and a cycling vacation in France”. Fortunately, time and distance has eased my cynicism and revealed to me threads of hope that I am slowly weaving together.
There is no Wizard of Oz to magically provide all the country needs to be successful, but there are some amazing individuals and organizations – insiders and outsiders – that have the heart, the brain and the courage to try.