Practical test

Kim is a logistician working for Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Chad. She blogs about about the mental gymnastics needed to do her job everyday...

"The mason in Gabian needs 100 bricks to complete the waste area. The route is inaccessible due to a large water puddle 9 kilometers from the health center. The puddle is 1.2 meters deep. The bricks in Gabian cost 50 francs, but the bricks at our base in Moissala cost 25 francs. The mason needs the bricks to finish tomorrow, but the driver of the pickup is sick until Friday. We cannot give money to the mason for bricks until we have a receipt, and he has no money to buy bricks to give us a receipt. What do you propose?"

I finish asking the Supply Logistician the above question, and I realize that I just wrote a question for the entrance exam for logisticians. This is our life, not a made-up word problem. He starts to discuss options with the mason.

I turn back to the receipts and contracts that I'm in the middle of validating, but get interrupted by a driver looking for validation for travel paperwork for the weekly movement to the city with the airport.

"We won't pay 50 francs for a brick, because we're here to help the community and that's simple extortion, which isn't very nice."

I agree wholeheartedly with the Supply Log, then get distracted by the radio op who tells me a driver is just outside and pretty sick.

After finding another driver to take him to the hospital, along with a doctor's note, I return to my desk to find an email saying the flight details have changed, and there is now a flight landing in a city two hours away, in addition to the flight landing five hours away (which is a two-day round trip). I jump on the phone to confirm that the pharmacy package that we were about to send to our sister project in Sido can wait until Monday.

"Maybe the Health Center Manager can find an oxcart and the community can bring back your bricks if we deliver them to the other side of the puddle. Will we need a canoe?"

Everything's ok for Sido, so I check with the booking agent to see if we can change the flight booking for the four people traveling tomorrow. No problem. Gold. At this point, administration comes in and explains the 12 contracts I have to sign in place of the Field Admin, who is on vacation.

"So you'll talk to the supplier, get 100 bricks for 25 francs each, finish the work, and bring us a receipt all by tomorrow evening?"

I like how the conversation is progressing without me.

I re-sign the paperwork for the movement that has now changed, and get interrupted by a call from the Log in the capital. Do I have the license numbers of the two rental cars that we have, so he can extend the contract until the end of the third anti-malaria distribution? No problem, it's just right here. Oh, that's the mileage. Um, I'll check with the radio op.

"Just don't forget to get us a receipt, it's very important. We cannot pay without it."

I tune back in for the final conclusion of the brick logistics. The Supply Log has all of the details arranged, and the mason is happy with the conclusion. I pull out a blank receipt form, fill it in, leaving just three blanks, and explain it to the mason. Name of supplier, date, signature. Easy. Price is fixed at 25 francs per brick, and we need 100. Signed, sealed, delivered. Well, not yet signed, and we don't seal things, and the delivery will be tomorrow. Inshallah.

With that taken care of, I send off the license plate numbers to the capital, replace the sick driver in the week's rotations, close my office, and go to lunch. The contracts can wait until this afternoon.

That was a busy half-hour.