I spent a couple of extra days in Amsterdam after the FCC training for briefings. These briefings were specific to my assignment, and were very detailed. My predecessor came to help provide me with a handover. She had already returned home from the field about a month or two before, and I found that my time with her was very helpful.
After a few days in Amsterdam, I received word that my work visa was not expected to come through in the near future. It was decided that I should return to Canada to wait it out. MSF worked incredibly quickly and I was on a plane home less than 24 hours after finding out. I had some mixed emotions because I thought I was mentally prepared to leave, and had said my goodbyes back home, but it was also a relief to go back to regroup.
When I left Canada, the first time, there was a bit of mix up what city I would be placed in. The place I thought I was going was really hot, and the place I ended up was actually quite cold. Also, I had packed way too much, and so the time at home allowed me to re-pack and re-assess what I actually needed. (Which I didn’t realize was still too much!)
The extra time in Canada allowed me to mentally prepare. Because of all the training and people I had met, I felt that I had a much better idea of what to expect in the field. I took lessons from my stress in the training, and was able to better prepare my emotional and mental state for the mission. It also gave me a better chance to spend time with my boyfriend and have a real goodbye, because our first one was so rushed.
I wasn’t home very long, a little over a week, before leaving again. This was perfect timing for me to get all my vaccinations and other things that I missed the first time, done. Once my work visa for Yemen came through, once again the staff worked very fast. Within 48 hours of finding out that it was ready, I was on a plane to leave. The office staff has been incredibly helpful to get things going for me.
There was a bit of a mix up on how much luggage I could bring. It turns out that I was limited to a 15kg bag and 5kg carry on. TOTAL weight 20Kg! I had originally thought that I was allowed a 20kg checked luggage and a carry on luggage plus backpack. What a difference in weight! Honestly, I don’t know how my colleagues do it, but they seem to be able to reduce their luggage weight to next to nothing. This was almost impossible for me. I ended up purging my suitcases several times before I finally arrived in the mission and even had to leave some things in Djibouti. To put this into perspective, I typically have the smallest bag when I am travelling with work colleagues, and am a totally low maintenance person- No curling or straightening irons, little makeup, very few clothes.
The packing/luggage thing was a challenge. It is so hard to go for a year, and bring enough clothes and personal items. I also didn’t know what they had available in Yemen, so that I could purchase it here instead of packing it. I think half my luggage was tampons and another quarter was a yoga mat. It was also difficult because I am restricted to the compound, which means I can’t go to the store to buy things. Knowing what to bring was very, very, difficult.
Side note: Wireless headsets are great for some things, but I in hindsight the corded headsets would have been more usable. (On the plane, challenges with pairing, etc)
The luggage limit was especially confusing because each airline had a different allowance. Now that I know, and have experienced it, my luggage allowance was based on my final flight into the mission. This is because it was on an MSF supply plane and not a commercial flight. In order to ensure important cargo has room to fly, our luggage allowance is quite limited. This may be different for other missions.