This is the end

It’s done. The boxes full of satellite phones, action DVDs and long-expired medications have been packed and shipped, the confidential files burned, and the MSF logos painted over. Kindamba project is no more.

It’s done. The boxes full of satellite phones, action DVDs and long-expired medications have been packed and shipped, the confidential files burned, and the MSF logos painted over. Kindamba project is no more.

On Saturday we handed the keys over to Global Outreach Mission Congo (Mission GO), who will continue running the Kindamba hospital, albeit on a smaller scale than MSF.

At the end of an impossibly hectic final week, I gave Mission GO’s director, Dr. Joe, a midnight tour of the base by flashlight. Here’s the generator; that spliced electrical cable held together with surgical tape runs to the garage, this one goes to the house and offices. Here’s what to do when the system overloads, there’s the fire extinguisher, good luck.   

While MSF is secular, Mission GO is a Christian evangelical organization. But we think they’re a good match for Kindamba, where the majority of people are committed Christians. The people seem to agree, and have welcomed Mission GO with open arms.

We elected to hand over to Mission GO after visiting the impressive hospital they run up in the remote northern town of Impfondo. Another deciding factor was that nobody else was interested in taking over from us.

(Few would deny that the Republic of Congo is a bit of a global backwater. Even the UN accidentally routes shipments intended for this Congo to the larger and more infamous Democratic Republic of Congo next door.)

Mission GO director Dr. Joe is a friendly guy from upstate New York who speaks fluent Lingala. He has hired much of our beloved local staff to continue running the hospital, and has displayed stamina and grace under pressure in the battle to secure official assent for the handover.

Congolese are sticklers for protocol. Even a slight deviation from the unwritten social and political rules will get you an annoyed “Mais c’est pas comme ça que c’est fait!” (“That’s not how it’s done!”).

If you want to get anything done, you have to do it the right way. Which in our case meant clearing the Kindamba hospital handover with every government official and functionary from the minister of health all the way down to the guy who cuts the grass. Signed, stamped, and in triplicate.

Unfortunately, not only did we not get all our signed and sealed documents in order, we got lost in a murky political swamp of conflicting interests. And Kindambans started getting anxious that when the dust cleared they would be left without healthcare. We began wondering if our departure would trigger a resumption of the civil war, which is the kind of ironic farewell a good humanitarian aid organization should avoid.

A week after the handover, I wouldn’t say that Dr. Joe and Mission GO are completely out of the woods. But I think they’ve gotten off to the best possible start. The people are pulling for them.

And I have faith in Dr. Joe. When he was trying to set up the hospital in Impfondo, he also had bureaucratic obstacles to overcome. Then one day he ran into some American oilmen in Pointe Noire who asked him to accompany them to an important business meeting, because they couldn’t speak French. When he found himself interpreting for Congolese president Denis Sassou-Nguesso, he naturally brought up the Impfondo hospital. “What?” Sassou-Nguesso exclaimed. “That still hasn’t been taken care of?” He turned to his aide. “Get the paperwork for this hospital finished right now!”

So here’s hoping that this same serendipity or divine providence will continue working for our brothers and sisters in Kindamba.

Nurse Maartje is already back in Holland, and we put big boss Leonie on the plane last night. That leaves me and Dr. Ahmed to help close up the shop in Brazzaville. The gala dinners, long speeches over warm Primus beer, and tearful goodbyes have almost wrapped up, and Kindamba will go on getting on with its life.

New shops are opening, the market is busier than ever, and a few people seem cautiously optimistic. They’re talking about building a micro-dam on the river to generate electricity. And did I mention that the government recently repaired the bridges on the Loukouo-Mayama road? I wonder if there are any elephants out that way…