The tell-tail sign of a red and white MSF flag and 'No guns' sign on the gate signified our arrival. The compound, fenced in tall grass panels reaching eight foot in height, surrounds five mud-walled, grass-thatched tukuls. Four cement and bamboo rooms will house six ex-pats for the next six months.
I met the team: the field coordinator Jean-Baptiste, Moctar the outreach nurse who I am replacing, Brian the logistician, doc Suzanna and nurse Kirsten, and also many national staff eager to welcome me to Mattar.
I was quite excited until I looked over the back fence and only 10-15 meters away was the river snaking its way as far as I could see. It was an awe-inspiring sight! I couldn’t believe it was so close. Kids were swimming and playing, some were fishing and women in coloured clothes washed on the banks. The sides of the river were perhaps 10 meters deep to the water but I was told in two weeks it will be at the bottom of our fence, and by then our only means of transport! How lucky am I to have arrived now and be here to bear witness to the rapidly changing landscape as it passes from the dry to the big wet!!!
After a quick tour of the ex-pat compound, the health center and the far end of the village, I commenced my handover and staff introduction that continued till dark!
Later as we sat outside and enjoyed a cold beer together, the fireflies danced their hypnotic display, bats flew, lizards cricked, insects chirped in a rhythmic high-pitched song and the howl of wild dogs drifted in.
Up at five thirty with the sun and the birds. Not much sleep as my two-inch foam is laid on top of a metal door with handle included! The Tukul is hot with very little ventilation and probably 10 degrees hotter than the outside temp of mid-thirties. I’m told it's cooler to sleep with the door open but bats come in and will shit on you and also Betty the two-meter iguana doesn’t mind hopping in bed with you when there’s an open door invitation! OK, so my door's closed and I’ll just sweat it out!