Fieldset
Afghanistan: Settling into my first assignment

Brazilian nurse Erica arrives in Afghanistan, full of expectations about the experience ahead of her...

Photos of the MSF team on the wall in Lashkar Gah

After going through a lot of preparations, attending a training session in Bonn and briefings in Amsterdam Headquarters, I finally headed to my first assignment with MSF, in Afghanistan.

Here, I will be managing the operating theatre (OT) of Boost Hospital in Lashkar Gah, Helmand Province.

I had never worked outside my country and have never been so far away for such a long time. Everything would be new to me: new routines, new colleagues, new language, new food and for sure, new expectations.

When our little plane took off, I could see the huge mountains around the city that were covered with snow - a wonderful aerial view that, after some time, turned into beautiful dunes when we got closer to Kandahar

To get my Afghan visa, I had to go to the Afghan Embassy in Dubai. I spent three days there in the MSF guesthouse where I met with colleagues who helped me a lot with final preparations and the visa process. Obtaining the visa requires a lot of paperwork that has to be settled quickly, so we were relieved to eventually receive the stamp on our passports.

In Dubai, I also caught up with some Brazilian friends – spending time with them to get good vibrations before going to Kabul the following day.

Stopover in Kabul

When I landed in Kabul, the temperature was below freezing. I felt so relieved and happy to see, the MSF driver waiting for me at the airport exit, in one of the famous MSF Land Cruisers.

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The mountains surrounding Kabul, from the air
The mountains surrounding Kabul, from the air

On my way to the MSF office, I saw a bit of Kabul, its heavy traffic and the many people walking in the street through the confused movements of cars. It was really impressive.

We went directly to the office and I spent the rest of my day, until 10pm, in briefings, introducing myself and getting a better idea of the current environment and what will be expected from me.

Afghanistan from the air

The next morning, I left the compound quite early to go to the airport with a mental health manager from Canada and an HR manager from Nigeria.

Both were going to another project in Kandahar, but we were on the same flight. I was also happy to find colleagues who could help me with the entrance process at the airport.

When our little plane took off, I could see the huge mountains around the city that were covered with snow – a wonderful aerial view that, after some time, turned into beautiful dunes when we got closer to Kandahar.

After landing in Kandahar, I said goodbye to my kind colleagues and waited about 30 minutes to get the weather confirmation that we could continue on our flight path. Then, we took off for another 20-minute trip to Lashkar Gah.

Once again, the landscape changed: instead of plains, I began to see green in the middle of the desert, a river near a city and small plantations. I realised that we were finally coming to Lashkar Gah.

We landed in a small airport with only one room, where my colleagues warmly welcomed me.

Sweet and sunny

The driver was waiting for me to go to Boost Hospital. On the way, I discovered a very different city from Kabul – cold but sweet and sunny at the same time.

I saw many people outside of their homes, especially children in very large numbers that I had never seen before. Everyone was looking at our car with curiosity and waving with enthusiasm and so much joy.

I felt comfortable, and again relieved to see how much MSF was recognised and welcomed in the city where I was going to spend the next nine months of my life.

Getting to know Boost Hospital

Once at the hospital, I was introduced to my new colleagues, including an Italian doctor who would hand the department over to me.

I spent the first day in briefings with local and international staff from different departments. They were all very kind, curious and receptive – they said I looked like an Afghan woman. 

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Erica with her colleague Jeanne, a water and sanitation specialist
Erica with her colleague Jeanne, a water and sanitation specialist

The following days, I attended many meetings to learn more about this great project that has been run by MSF for almost 10 years.

It is one of the most important hospitals that MSF supports:  it has about 380 beds, 900 staff and its impact on people in the region is immense. Most patients come from far, far away to get free and quality health care.

Through these harmonious relationships, we support each other to ensure the wellbeing of all

For my team, the end of ongoing renovations and the opening of a new surgical department was a matter of anticipation.

So, I had a lot of work to do. I put much effort during my first days into moving the equipment and furniture to the department’s “new” location, as well as helping people understand the new workflow.

With the help of everyone, we successfully managed this change. 

Compound colleagues

For security reasons, our movements are quite limited. Outside of the hospital, we are, most of the time, confined to our compound where I spend time with my colleagues of 11 different nationalities.

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Chill compound: Where MSF staff in Lashkar Gah come to relax
Chill compound: Where MSF staff in Lashkar Gah come to relax

I discover their stories and their experiences with MSF. We play sports, cook dishes from our home countries and watch movies together. Through these harmonious relationships, we support each other to ensure the wellbeing of all.

After my first ten days in the field, I thought about my expectations before coming here and how everything would be in this new environment.

I can say that only by being here can one understand Afghanistan, its culture and its beauty. That working with MSF is incredible. And, that this project is important for Afghans who have survived years of war.

I feel really happy to be here. Thank you so much, MSF!

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