Don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t actually dig latrines, fix fences or drive cars. Sometimes I like to help move a generator or something, both for the exercise and so people won’t think I’m a helpless city boy.
No, I have a staff of about 30 professional, experienced Congolese national staff who do all the actual logistics work. Yet despite that I somehow manage to keep busy about 12 hours a day, six days a week. On Sundays I only work half a day, unless there’s an emergency.
There are probably veteran MSF logisticians out there mocking me right now. "What? When I was in Sudan in '87 we worked 26 hours a day with only cold sand to eat, and we’d fight each other over who would get to lick the condensation off the tent flaps in the morning.
"In the afternoon I'd get shot and fall off a mountain, then walk 20 miles across the desert carrying a hundred pound bag of bricks on my head."
Actually I've never met anybody who talks like that.
So what exactly do I do all day? Mainly try to keep all the different pieces working together harmoniously.
On days that our vehicles are travelling to Brazzaville or going on mobile clinics, the workday starts at around 6:30am, as I run around making sure that the vehicles, drivers and cargo are all in order, and arguing with passengers who want to take more than their one-bag luggage allowance.
At around 7:30am I meet with my storekeeper, Marcus, who can tell me off the top of his head just how many 400mg tablets of Pyrazinamide we have in stock; this brilliant guy named Freddy who recently arrived from Brazzaville to sort out our bizarre electronic supply system; my head mechanic, Richard; Gotron, the head of the guards, and my logistics assistant Eric (my right hand man, the guy who actually knows what’s going on).
At the morning meeting we go over everything that everybody is going to do that day. This is where startling facts like "we will run out of diesel on Tuesday" are first revealed and initial panic reactions suppressed.
Then we disperse and I begin to tackle one of the 38 urgent priorities that must absolutely be finished before lunch. But before those urgent priorities can be addressed several critical tasks are brought to light, and then a couple of people will run in with pressing emergencies that take precedence over both the critical tasks and the urgent priorities.
Also Rose wants to reschedule her trip to Brazzaville, Leonie has lost her pen, and somebody needs the keys to the store.