Fieldset
Smiles, Kings and Heavy Breathing

It’s again 5 o’clock in the morning. Slowly, most of the staff wake up and start moving towards our newly-built shower, hoping to be the first to enjoy the nice warm stream of water, which the guards put in the 100 litre container on top of the small shed.

It’s again 5 o’clock in the morning. Slowly, most of the staff wake up and start moving towards our newly-built shower, hoping to be the first to enjoy the nice warm stream of water, which the guards put in the 100 litre container on top of the small shed. I know that the assistant logistician is already busy putting boxes outside the stockroom, wrapped in trashcan bags to prevent rain entering.

I swing my legs over the edge of my bed and sit there in contemplation of what is to come. Did I think of everything? Is the way to the Base 2 safe today? Is the fridge not too heavy for 4 porters or should I add another 2? Don’t forget to take the jerry cans with kerosene, otherwise the fridge is useless! Come on, get moving! You need to leave at 6:00 at the latest........

I look for my 2 empty plastic bottles to fill up with fresh filtered drinking water, my small contribution to recycling waste. After a small glimpse through the window, I decided to dress extra warm. It is not going to be easy this time. To the left of the “Anguale”, the first mountain to the south, I see large dark cumulus clouds building up. This is going to be even more of a challenge than I expected.

I push my mind empty and try to concentrate on the preparations. Water? Check! Raisins? Check! New food supplies for over there? Check! Satellite phone and radio handset? Check!

The compound is buzzing with the sounds of busyness when I finally step outside with my personal luggage. Without anybody noticing I count the number of porters and check that each of them is wearing the appropriate MSF identification. We will be entering a hostile environment, where many armed factions roam, and I can’t leaveanything to chance. I check the latest security info and I know it’s a go.

I step slowly to the gate and shout: “Tugende mugenzi”, “Let’s go my friends”, in the local language. The porters are laughing and literally look up to me, being an average 30 cm taller than most of them. I smile back at them and step out the gate. Kihuha here we come!

A long line of porters follow me carrying medicines and medical supplies in white boxes marked with MSF. Halfway along the line I can see the 4 guys who are responsible for carrying the fridge, necessary to be able to preserve ampoules for vaccination in our other base, neatly “packed” with bamboo and rope. Arriving at the first mountain range I reduce speed almost automatically and start climbing at a slow and steady pace. Looking at my feet and concentrating on every step, listening to the ever increasing frequency of my heavy breathing.

“Can the others hear me breathing?”, I ask myself almost in shame, looking at the porters carrying the boxes of almost 20 KG , watching them moving up the mountain with the elegance of kings, seemingly with no effort at all. I take it easy climbing the “Anguale”. I know what lies ahead of me. I should reserve my strength. Even on the other side, where we follow a long valley alongside one of the countless streams of the Hauts Plateaux, slowly approaching “Kirumba”, the second high mountain, 3,200 meters high.

On the top of Kirumba we take our first rest. The porters sit down and start eating their favourite bugali. I can already see Masango, where we have a health centre. It looks so close, almost touchable. I squint my eyes in an attempt to distinguish the MSF flag. Another 3 hours to get there.

It starts raining and the cold sends goose bumps up my spine. We have to go down fast. Staying at this height in these conditions is very dangerous. We move on, trying to find grip on the muddy path that has become a small river. I have a deep respect for the guys transporting the fridge. I can barely prevent myself from sliding, let alone carry a fridge at the same time....

To reach Masango we have to go up again. The thought that this will be the last big climb, comforts me. My shoes are drenched and my hat barely prevents the rain from hitting my eyes.

As suddenly as the rain starts, it stops, and I can even see shades of blue popping up out of nowhere. The children of Masango greet us on our way to the health centre. Why are they smiling? They are contagious smiles and I can’t help smiling back, despite my fatigue.

At the health centre we take another break and take the opportunity to talk to the staff and inspect the quality of both health centre operations and the waste zone. I make notes of their remarks and promise to send our logistics team the next day to repair the roof of the waste zone, which was damaged by the latest storm.

Two hours later, after 10 hours of up and down, we arrive at our final destination for today, our second base Kihuha, where we will prepare a mobile clinic towards the Itombwe forest, a distant, isolated area in the middle of the rainforest to the west, where the people are forgotten and the medical system has long since collapsed. We, MSF, have to go there to ensure that people can get quality medical care.

It’s a two day walk, so now it’s time to rest.

To be continued......

This post was first published (in Spanish) at 20minutos.es