Today marks one-month since I set foot in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR). It seems appropriate that I show a sign of life (yes, yes, I’m alive!) on my blog, as I had promised to many of my friends and family.
First things first: Mama, Baba, I am well! I still have all my limbs, I am eating well, working hard, sleeping sufficiently and even find some time to exercise a bit! And I am SAFE. And you might be happy to hear that I am hitting the bars a lot less now (not that I thought going there 4-5 times a week was a problem :P).
Red earth. Bangui, Central African Republic.
Okay, we got the important stuff out of the way, now let’s get to the nitty gritty.
So much and so little has happened. Days went by so fast and so slow. My time here has been a bit of a haze. My first two weeks in Bangui were terrible. I was an emotional wreck. I cried every day for two weeks straight, I kid you not. I’m not on my first foreign adventure but this was uncharted territory. And boy-oh-boy did I struggle. Then, at the two weeks mark, suddenly, the smoke cleared and I was up and running like the mad woman I used to be (minus the wine).
I arrived in Bangui on a rainy Wednesday morning after what seemed to be an interminable set of flights. Messy hair, greasy forehead, running shoes, I’m going to make a killer first impression, I thought as I got off the plane and walked on the tarmac. No time to fix any of these first-world issues as we are quickly whisked into the chaotic world of arrival paperwork. Picture a small room packed with people; half of them filling out forms and the other half trying to figure out where to get those darn forms. There were two of them: one is a regular entry document, the other to see if you are arriving from an Ebola-affected country. Once the info penciled in, you get in line (read: cluster) and wait (read: push through) for a man donning some sort of medical suit to point a scanner-gun to your cheek, confirm you are Ebola-free and let you proceed to customs.
So with my messy hair, greasy forehead and running shoes, I head straight to the office. I get a quick introduction to my new colleagues and spend my day in briefings. Admin briefing, logistics briefing, medical briefing, briefing galore! I barely had time to say hello to my team that I had to attend another one. By mid-afternoon I was so exhausted I had a throbbing headache and felt like hurling all those in-flight snacks I regrettably consumed. My colleagues called me a vehicle and I got dropped off to my new home; it is affectionately named “ancient bureau” because, well, it was our former office. The accommodation is basic but has all that I needed: a shower and a bed.
Our ride! Bangui, Central African Republic.
My first weekend in Bangui was spent in bed. I was feverish, had an upset stomach and vomited everything I consumed. Great. Just great. Exactly what I needed. But thankfully, one of the perks of working for a medical organization is that you are surrounded by medical professionals. I happened to live with a surgeon and an anesthesiologist. A consultation in the kitchen and then we fetch some meds in the living room cabinet. The. Most. Efficient. Doctor’s appointment. EVER.
Several paracetamol and 12h of sleep later, I was good as new, ready to attack my first week of work! I was full of energy, ready to learn and get the ball rollin’. The only problem was that everyone was busy with month end, budget follow-ups and quarterly forecasts. So I learnt things on my own, went through my predecessors’ handover reports and asked questions here and there, hoping I wasn’t bothering anyone too much. I slowly learnt the ropes and got adjusted to the new environment. My work schedule runs as such: Mon-Fri 7:30am to 5:30pm, Saturday 9am to 1pm. You read right. Seven thirty. And yes, Saturday.
Finance rocking our spreadsheets! Bangui, Central African Republic.
The two first weeks in CAR were of the longest and toughest weeks I have yet experienced. Fatigue, illness, long days at work, lack of social connections, limited movements, combined with the stress associated to the country’s context, I became extremely homesick. Hence my daily breakdowns.
Despite them being difficult, I also experienced many of my “firsts” during those weeks. Like, the first time I heard gunfire and grenades. The first time I felt the jitters of going to withdraw heaps of dough at the bank. The first time I ran out of water mid-shampoo. The first time I went out after sundown and realized streetlights are facultative. The first time I saw women wearing dresses made from beautiful African fabric called “pagne”. The first time I rode the cratered roads and wished I packed more sports-bras.
In the third week, everything fell into place. I felt more at ease in my role as the Deputy Finance Coordinator (the equivalent of an Associate Finance Manager in the corporate world), I have a better understanding of our mission and projects and I have some sort of a routine in place. I’m getting used to the security rules and I’m generally not as fearful – though still very vigilant. Thankfully, my homesickness has eased but I’m anxiously looking forward to my vacation in November to see a familiar face <3
There you have it. A quick recap of my first 30 days in Bangui! Now that I’ve got a hang of my new African life, I promise I will give more updates J
It is with sleepiness (and happiness!) that I wrap up my first blog. It’s Saturday 9:30pm and I’m going to bed. Yes, that’s how I roll.