Well here it is, the first of my long awaited field trip posts from teknaf and khagrachari. I left nearly a month ago, and sadly, I'm just getting to this post now. The past month has been a blur of field visits (2 work weeks worth) and budget fun.Honestly, I can tell you that for someone who enjoys budgets as much as myself (I know, I know, a sickness) this past month has even been enough to turn me off of numbers. Although I'm getting quite good at estimating the cost of bamboo roofs (just another one of those transferable skills you pick up working for MSF :)
Ok, so Teknaf. Now, technically I was supposed to leave on the Sunday, the 15th of April, in the morning and fly directly to Cox Bazaar (about an hour or so). But the airline called me on Saturday afternoon and told me that the flight had been cancelled. I'd been warned that this airline was known for canceling flights, so I took it in stride as they rebooked me for the flight to Cox on Monday morning. So leaving my knapsack empty, I went about my normal routine and wandered in to the office Sunday morning for a regular day of work.
And then they called again. Nope, Monday flight cancelled too.Would I like to fly Tuesday? At this point, the trip is starting to shrink beyond the point of usefulness. The work week in Bangladesh is Sunday through Thursday, and the last thing you want to do as a capital staff person is show up in the field and force the field expats to work with you on their weekend (they rarely get a weekend off as it is, and I'd rather they only work when it's emergency related, not the Finco wanting a tour of the clinic). So if I flew out Tuesday morning, then I'd have Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday and I'd be flying out Thursday. I start to ponder the usefulness of this Tuesday morning flight.
But that wasn't necessary, because they cancelled that one too. So now it is noon on Sunday and I've nearly decided to ride a bike to Teknaf.The clock is starting to tick since it is one of the big budget planning months and since Teknaf only has a 6 month budget, and could really use a full 12 month budget, it was really important I get out there to talk to the team. Plus they were in the process of hiring 30 new staff for the new hospitals, and again, I felt that since I was 'HR', I should try to be out there to help with that if needed. So I started asking people around the office what the alternative was. And then we had it!There was a flight to chittagong in 5 hours, which could meet up with the car movement the next day! Huzzah! So now, all I had to do was wrap up at the office, go home and pack, run to the shop and buy cheese and chocolate for the field team, get to the airport, fly to chittagong, sleep there, and wake up in the morning for a short car trip (4 hours) and boom… I'd be in Teknaf just past lunch on Monday. The whole trip would take just less than 24 hours. (Seriously, look on a map at the distance; it's like going from Vancouver to the Okanagan. The bicycle plan may have saved time).
But all of this was nearly for naught. I arrived at the airport totally sweaty and gross since the power was out while I was trying to pack and I kept wavering between shoving my laptop in my knapsack (too heavy) and carrying it separately (would have to check a bag) which finally resulted in me repacking in the car (never recommended). When I finally got to the airport, I had about 15 minutes before the flight was scheduled to depart (my mother is rolling her eyes as she reads this) and so I rushed through the front door, shoved my bags on the security belt, and went off to where the woman could pat me down in the privacy of a curtained booth. As I finished up, smiling at the guard with the big gun, I glanced up at the screen and saw a flight to chittagong listed… and it was cancelled.
So in true Julia fashion I grab my bags, dash out the door, and chase after my driver who is starting to pull away. Many people watch me do this.And they are giving me a lot of space. The driver parks and comes up to me just as the information screen switches from bangla to English, and at that moment I realize it is not actually my flight that has been cancelled but another one scheduled for the same time, and if I want to check in on time, I've got about 5 minutes to do so. I apologize and sheepishly slink away from the chuckling driver (and observers) and reenter the airport. The men at the front wave me past the initial check, since I've already had my bags and person searched, but the guard waves me back – he would like for me to be rechecked. [This exchange would later provide me something to mull over while I waited for my flight – is the guard now suspicious of me? Am I going to get hauled away? I don't like to annoy men with guns.] At the desk they don't seem concerned about my timing, but as I would soon realize, that is because the flights don't actually leave as scheduled. Nobody actually tells you this though. You just sit in a large waiting hall, sitting, waiting, watching the clock tick past the actual departure time with no announcements, looking for people holding the same ticket as you for reassurance, and the finally a podium is set up, and people in the appropriate uniforms start taking tickets. Everyone then piles into a mini-van and off to the plane and away from Dhaka.