Behind the Scenes

"They should probably search me on the way out": Kim gets tempted on a trip to logistics heaven...

Every three months, a member of the international staff on assignment in the field gets a vacation. There are human resources laws and rules and the administrative side, but really we measure the need for a break by the number of pounds lost, the darkness of the bags under our eyes, and the shortness of our tempers. Three months is a pretty consistent number. No matter how much energy, enthusiasm, or know how anyone has, after three months it’s time for a break.

My three month break happily coincided with an important training for logisticians with MSF. I got a trip to Bordeaux, and four vacation days on either side of the two-week training. It’s a bit over three weeks away from my project, which makes me a little nervous, but there’s no denying I need a break. I’ll be gone for a while, but I prepare my team for my absence. We’re all replaceable.

A hop, skip, jump, 4×4 trip across the south of the country, humanitarian flight (did I mention it’s for humanitarians; I feel important), international flight, train, plane, bus trip, and finally a 30-minute walk from the airport, and I’m in Bordeaux, at MSF-France’s esteemed Logistics Training Center (CEFORLOG).

CEFORLOG is housed on the same campus as MSF Logistique, a spin-off company of MSF-France dedicated to humanitarian supply, from medicines and pharmaceuticals to non-food items to revolutionary ‘kits’ of ready-to-go solutions for every common problem in any field. We get to tour the warehouse, and it is awe-inspiring.

Thousands of square meters of MSF material makes my mouth water. Sitting in front of me is the perfect part, tool, or machine for all of my projects and problems a thousand miles away in dusty, hot Chad. Too bad I can’t bring everything home to the field with me. They should probably search me at the end of the tour. That filtered non-return valve to convert generators to accept tank reservoirs is just too tempting.

Our supply chain is very complicated, with questions of budget, accounting, customs, inventory and local supply all to take into account. Nothing’s free, even though we’re all on the same team working to provide health care around the world. There’s a reason logs resent paperwork. I want my motorpump now!

The training is a nine-day gauntlet where referents, experts, and grizzled old-timers try to download the necessary information for rudimentary competence in 13 comprehensive areas into our skulls. We’re a group of 43 logs from 20 different countries, each with at least one mission of experience on the ground, in the field. We learn about electricity, mechanics, waste management, controlling construction projects, human resources, warehouse sizing, medicine temperature management, security, radio communications, biomedical equipment maintenance, and computer troubleshooting.

I come out of the training feeling a little like superwoman, while at the same time trying to keep my brain from spilling out my ears. I have undergone the final generalist training that MSF provides. After this, to learn more about those areas there are only specialized training sessions. I am LOG!

It’s time to return to my field (after a few extra days of relaxing in Bordeaux, then a train, metro, bus, inter-continental flight, humanitarian flight, and punishing overland 4×4 ride) and apply what I’ve learned. Three weeks of absence combined with fresh, newly-informed eyes will keep me and my team extremely busy for the foreseeable future. Probably for the next three months.

And I think it’s time to open the hospital when I get back…