I’m sat writing from the capital Bangui waiting for my internal flight back to Zemio. I’ve been a bit silent in the old blogosphere these last three months – a period bookended by two much needed holidays from CAR back to the UK to reconnect with family and friends.
It’s also been a period when much of the world's consciousness has been consumed by the looming threat of Ebola – and as isolated as the corner of CAR that I am working in may be, I can very much assure you that the fear is felt here too – incorporated into the lifelong web of fears that the people here already live with; fear of conflict, of malaria, of failed crops, of HIV…
Writing about the day to day mundanities of running a small hospital smack dab in the middle of Africa seemed to be so unimportant in comparison with reading the news coming out of West Africa, like I just wanted my silence to in some way point to all the voices coming from Ebola projects as if to say “ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION HERE? THIS IS THE REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF PEOPLE!” Happily it seems like the developed world has belatedly sat up and taken notice and there is the beginnings of an appropriate response happening.
That and having the time to write… there just isn’t a whole lot of that! Six day weeks are routine, in the office for 7:15am, hospital 15 minutes later and days often not finished til past 6pm. Saturday is allegedly a half day, but mostly it’s a chance to do some uninterrupted office work! Sundays are generally spent avoiding looking at a computer screen at all costs.
But I’ve missed writing – and apparently some people have missed reading – so I’ll make a more concerted effort for my last couple of months. And oh my God, it really is only a couple more months that I have in this bewildering, beautiful, fascinating and frustrating country that is the Central African Republic. The last seven months have shot past in a somewhat sleep deprived blur.
One thing that does stand out through is the amazing team that I live, work and socialise with literally 24/7. The people make the place for me and I consider myself ridiculously blessed to have a team that I adore and admire in equal measure, and whose familiar quirks and habits make up the tapestry of my days.
Me, Diana, Brigette and some of the fab national staff team out after a day of mobile clinics! ©Emma Pedley/MSF
It’s strange to think that I passed the last few weeks at home without them, and stranger still to think that a few scant months ago I knew none of them. Rob’s trumpeting Wookie-like nose blow reverberating through the wall first thing in the morning. Diana, whose hugs and shoulder massages are the best end to a long day. Brigette, whose perfect French is my go-to mobile thesaurus when I’m stuck, and also my go-to person when I’m having a stressfest at all hours as she can make me laugh at myself like no one else. The TechLog that I pass going sleepily into the shower room in the morning, pillow wrinkles still on face is the same person that I will squawk down the radio a few hours later to please come and troubleshoot the malfunctioning oxygen concentrators at the hospital. Olivier, our laconic LogAdmin with his extraordinarily expressive features, who can say more with a single raised eyebrow than most people can say in a week. Marissa our Kenyan midwife who has a calm, slow manner and mommas us all. Walking into the general aura of benevolent stillness that surrounds her is like stepping into the eye at the centre of a hurricane, which is frankly what the hospital can be like sometimes.
Every morning I pass Hayley, my PJ-clad Project Coordinator resignedly unfolding, examining and refolding an enormous pile of MSF Tshirts in a hopeful search for a small one that won’t drown her petite frame. Later one day after a start like that I sat by her drinking tea in the community with some of the Muslim community leaders and wondering afresh at her passion, confidence and eloquence in explaining MSFs mandate and helping to quell once more the their fears that Ebola will too, come to our corner of CAR.
I haltingly reinforced the real and present problems that malaria and diarrhoea pose to the community, but this was old news to them and their questions quickly led once more to the perceived threat that was on everyone’s minds. Her patience astounds and amazes me, not least with us, the ragtag bunch of expats that she steers through the sometime stormy waters of our project, unfailingly smiling. Between Marissa and Hayley’s example I am gradually learning to be more reflective than reactive, although I still have a long way to go.
I can imagine no other job in the world where you can, in the space of five minutes before your morning coffee, hold a conversation with your housemates/colleagues that encompasses anything up to and including: blaspheming freely about the local roosters that start making a racket circa 3am, reminiscing about how much you miss a good bacon sandwich/pancakes and syrup/brioche from back in “insert-home-country-here”, wondering about how many hospital admissions will have taken place during the night, speculating if today will bring drug supplies on our plane and how fast we can process their arrival and get them to the pharmacy, swopping hallucinogenic Larium-induced dream stories and rounding up with an earnest enquiry as to the state of someone’s diarrhoea this morning. And all this before 7am.
This close proximity living with the team, it’s intense. And it can be exhausting. But I’ve missed it and I can’t wait to get back.
*Larium is a malaria prevention and treatment medicine