In the Beginning

In the beginning, long ago, there was the thought that MSF would be an organization I would want to work with. They are neutral, impartial, non-denominational and go to all the tough places. They seem to do all the right things; to have a moral backbone.

In the beginning, long ago, there was the thought that MSF would be an organization I would want to work with. They are neutral, impartial, non-denominational and go to all the tough places. They seem to do all the right things; to have a moral backbone. This was exemplified for me when they publicly announced, some time after the Haitian earthquake, that they no longer were seeking donations for Haiti. There had been so much money donated for Haiti that it could not be appropriately used in a timely fashion, so they offered to return the money if requested, or publicly said it would be used for other needy projects.

I thought long and hard and long about applying to MSF. But, they ask for a significant time commitment, a minimum of 6 months, but usually a year. This is a long time to be gone. A very long time to sort out the work, the house, the kids, the friends, the partners, the bills, the unexpected that can happen in that length of time. And of course, there is the fact that you will be giving up your salary for quite a long time. So many decisions. So much indecision.

I have worked in Africa before. I have travelled. I thought and I thought and I thought. I didn't tell anyone. I didn't know if they would take me, but I thought they might. Just in case they said no, I kept it to myself. I thought I would know what I was getting into And so I sent the application, (very long and very detailed) and I waited. And I waited. And I waited some more. Finally I called, and they said "so sorry, your application was not attended to, but could you come for an interview?" "Ok, said I." "Would tomorrow work for you?" "Yes, I can come tomorrow." So the stage was set.

A very small room. Two interviewers and me. Tough questions. "If you were told by your PC (Project Co-ordinator) who by the way, is 20 years younger than you, that there was to be an emergency evacuation because of security concerns, NOW, and you would have to leave most of your things and all your patients behind, and they would probably not live, would you stay, or would you go? I think this is a song, but I couldn't find the answer in it. This must be some sort of test, I think. Will I follow orders? Will I put my patients' welfare ahead of mine? Oh dear.

They said yes. You are conditionally accepted into the 'pool' of volunteers, and we will contact you when we have a position that may fit your needs and your skills and our needs. But first, we must hear from your references, and then you must have a very detailed medical exam and then get many many immunizations, and then we will let you know that you are fully accepted. Then, you can read the JP (job profile), and decide if that specific job is one you are interested in doing. And so you wait. I have now learned that the wait can be very short or very long.

So, I told the family and the friends and had a very emotional parting of ways with my beau. The lure of the unknown, the challenge of working with MSF was stronger than my need to remain. It was a very difficult conversation, but accepted and acknowledged and allowed me to move forward with excitement. I thank him for that.

And finally, a job profile for work in the brand new country of South Sudan. The profile came to me on the very same day that South Sudan became an independent country. Perhaps this was some sort of karma; a sign that this is where I should go. Or perhaps I just wanted to go somewhere, after the months of thinking and hoping and wondering and waiting. So I said maybe this would work for me, and they said no, we don't think so, but how about this other job? And so I said yes. Yes, I will.

But first, they said, we need you to go for training, to your PPD (Primary Preparation for Departure) orientation. It seems a week in Amsterdam, with 40 other brand new MSF'rs, studying and attending lectures 12 hours a day and being challenged in so many ways, is how I will learn more about what I have said yes to.

I especially liked the role playing, trying to figure out the appropriate response if a gun is pointed directly at you or not directly at you It seems the response is different. Ouch. And the book, called 'Staying Alive' that explained what to do if a grenade was heading for me. Good to know.

The week was very good. It was a relief to be with people who understood that each of us was making a decision to work for a humanitarian organization that goes to dangerous places, and we all were aware of the decision we were making, and we didn't need to justify that decision here. We had all faced the difficulties at home of people looking at you like you had lost all your senses when you told them about your plans. It was so good to not need to justify why I was volunteering to live in a dangerous place, to eat tinned food for months, to not have running water, to embrace snakes and lizards and sleep in a tukul (thatched roof mud hut that cools down to 35 degrees celcius by 3am). It is difficult because sometimes I really didn't have an answer that made any sense to me. So difficult to put words to what was mostly a feeling. A need. A difficult to verbalize desire. It was so very good to feel part of the group, who understood without any need to talk.

And so, I went home to pack.