Settling in

"Amid the chaotic emergencies that MSF swiftly deploys to, I am surprised by the ability to follow up on talent development."

After last week’s debates over our presence in the area, this week we have been catching up with paperwork and miscellaneous. For me, that means putting job descriptions up-to-date, renewing contracts, filing invoices, answering emails, and the traditional Saturday review of the human resources database.

For the medical team, catch up involves going over our staff medical bills, and for the logistics team working around the house, office, water pump and camp clinic sites with delayed improvements. Our project coordinator has been on us to comply with our deadlines and updating the chronogram of activity I put together to keep track of all our projects. Catch up, however, lasted until we received this week’s visitor from Ndjamena – our human resource coordinator.

Amid the chaotic emergencies that MSF swiftly deploys to, I am surprised by the ability to follow up on talent development. Our human resources coordinator arrived with the end-of-mission reports of previous administrators and project coordinators to ensure talented employees were followed and audit many other activities. A good amount of time and paperwork goes into identifying, evaluating, and following up talented personnel.

Many of my fellow expatriates stories often include tales about such-and-such MSF staff member who started from the bottom as a night guard, hygienist, or day laborer and worked up to earn higher positions in their home country, expatriate missions abroad, and trainings in Europe. In fact, our Malagasy doctor started as national staff in the Central Africa Republic (CAR) and earned an expatriate position in Mali before coming to Chad.

Throughout my first four weeks I have collaborated with very talented Chadians that by the end of our mission will be well experienced to apply to other jobs within MSF. However, professional development paths vary and, similar to large organizations, opportunities depend on vacancies that arise at an uncertain pace given the nature of our work. In the meantime, I’ve been taking advantage of my Fragnol (mix of French and Spanish) to chat and joke informally with our staff to understand their ambitions, ensure they are engaged, motivated, and evaluated properly to better prepare them for the future. As a result, many interesting and entertaining conversations have unfolded including tales about previous jobs bureaucracies, job prospects in Nigerian oil fields, Angolan mines, and keeping families together during long expatriate contracts abroad. Clearly makes long drives with any of them an exciting journey.

As everyday life picks up, so do everyday errands. For a much needed haircut I asked my Ivorian coordinator to help out with the machine but halfway through the voltage converter burst. As we headed into the local barbershop our doctor reminded us to bring along disinfectant for the barber’s machine.

I’m not a barbershop connoisseur obviously so I knew it would be an interesting trip: an Ivorian and a Mexican walk into a barbershop and … Sure enough it’s a scene since neither of us speaks Gambay (local language).  We try to negotiate the price, disinfect the machine, and explain where/how to cut. At the end we get into an argument with the owner (a small stature fellow with a perfectly coiffed hair on the sides and bald spot straight down the middle, who constantly kept track of his side-fro’s form with his palms) about a last-minute price increase because of my skin color.

My Ivorian project coordinator (PC) refused to accept in my behalf but in the end I acquiesce and paid up to keep moving. While my PC felt cheated for me, I had no option but to chuckle and remind him that it’s the same thing in any destination with foreigners and Gore has plenty of Non Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) that have contributed to increases in market prices. (In fact, our logistician tells me Ndjamena is the second city worldwide after Tokyo in terms of cost of living vis-à-vis purchase power parity, hopefully a reader can clarify).

Speaking of everyday errands, our house staff has pleasantly surprised me this week. First, our cook, housekeeper, and guards warned us that the fish we’ve been eating causes ‘digestive ailments’. They thought it was coincidence that we’d had bought the same fish for a couple days but are now convinced that Mama Poisson is in foul play. They’re ready to come to the rescue and confront Mama P next Tuesday.

Second, our housekeeper managed to wash the chimichurri aroma off my clothes. Chimichurri?  Yes, the Argentinian marinade used on meats made mainly of oil and parsley (among other things?) that my friend in LA gave me for the trip and burst inside my duffle bag during the trip. I spent my first hours upon arrival washing and still the smell lingered these past four weeks. But it could have been way worse. Before leaving LA, I browsed through a book (Dangerous Places by Robert Young) another friend gave me and used the tip of packing all duffle contents in trash bags; this limited the chimichurri soak to my underwear and running gear – the only items not in bags for some odd reason. Needless to say, I am ecstatic and odor free.

Aside from haircut hustling and Mama P conning, Gore is quiet and tranquil. We walked back home after work one day and the neighborhood kids shouted ‘Medecins Sans Frontiers’.  At first I thought they recognized us from our daily movements aboard our trucks or early morning jog. But then again, I wear the only Mexico jersey around town with mate-and-thermos on hand while walking along a 6ft tall Ivorian with a MSF jacket.

Sunday off today will include a team back to go over logistics of upcoming projects, and August is right around the corner.