After numerous warnings about the problems that me and my luggage might face on our journey from London to Sokoto, via Abuja, I was pleasantly surprised by the efficiency and friendliness I encountered at all stages of my flights to Nigeria. An immigration officer even walked me through to the departure lounge to show me where to board my connecting flight.
A smiling driver was waiting for me at the airport, as were a number of new colleagues who were on their way back to Amsterdam or Abuja. The coordinator of the team I was joining was going to the capitol to get a Canadian visa for a training course and the rest of them had finished shorter missions that MSF had been running, some were dealing with measles and meningitis while others had been part of our response to lead poisoning.
I jumped into our vehicle along with a Dutch lady who had been on the same flight and was coming to be the new coordinator of the lead poisoning team. She had been to Nigeria before and chatted to the driver about other international staff who had passed through Nigeria in the past few years.
I listened and observed my new home. The main roads were sealed and in good condition and on either side of them was red dusty ground. Small, single story blockwork houses and makeshift shops constructed from timber and corrugated iron stood back from the road as people and goats wandered between. Men in their full-length elegant shirts with matching brightly coloured trousers whizzed about us on motorbikes.
Sokoto is hot, but not unbearably so. After Wikipedia taught me it was the hottest city in the world, I had prepared myself for worse. Apparently I’m here in the cooler period known as the “rainy season” although I’ve not seen any actual rain yet.
The office that the Nigerian Emergency Response Unit occupy was a bit of a mess upon arrival. The logistical staff were counting and packing the items left over from the recent emergency interventions. I’ll be in charge of the logistical element of the emergency responses to emergencies that occur in the North West part of Nigeria. My tasks in the short term are to plan ahead for the various emergencies that could occur and make sure we have suitable stock levels and are ready to respond as best we can.
For me the first few days have seemed a bit strange. My MSF experience to date has all been in hospital settings with all the drama of sick and injured patients. So far, I’ve only seen an office and a warehouse. Hearing the stories of the recent outbreaks in which we vaccinated over 80,000 people for meningitis and over 75,000 children for measles, I know we are going to be busy and I’m looking forward to seeing some action.
Driving through town today (I noticed the Landcruiser had done over 335,000 kilometers) I asked the driver what the people of Nigeria thought of MSF. He said that people were very happy with what we did, but at first they didn’t understand why we came to their country. At first people – unfamiliar with international aid - thought that our injected vaccines were designed to sterilize their children. I’m glad we clarified that misunderstanding!