Fieldset
Chapter Five: Meetings

Working with local officials is a vital part of responding to a health emergency. Luis is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of MSF's response to the Ebola outbreak there.

The official introductions with the local chief set the tone for us, and emphasize how much traditions and rites are rooted in these communities.  

Today it’s the turn of the Chief Medical Officer of the area – the MCZ (Médecin Chef de Zone). He’s inquisitive but seems to be very collaborative, and a little, I admit, overwhelmed by the events. He must be no more than 170cm (5’8’’), of strong build, and carrying a small brown bag with a shoulder strap that makes me smile. We sit around his desk, and we go through our strategies and our micro-plans for the experimental Ebola vaccination. Everything feels like something from a book of pure science fiction. 

In the dark

There is a Local Crisis Committee which meets twice a day, at 7am and 6pm. This takes place in a room of the hospital, clearly marked. There must be about thirty people around a large table. The noise of the electricity generator is so omnipresent that it is difficult to hear each other.  

Then suddenly, everything stops.  

We find ourselves in perfect darkness. Insects flock to the screens of tablets, phones and computers. Despite the lack of light, we continue as if nothing had happened. We end the meeting with cordial farewells, and we return to the base. 

Exhaustion

The MSF base, which includes the staff living area and the office, is a former primary school. The team has finished the fence, and put in electricity. It’s life-changing. I’ve not been here for three days yet and the monothematic meal: rice and beans (when it's left) exasperates me. I get settled, and try to find the boxes of tinned tomatoes. It will give a nice touch to the evening menu. 

I go to bed. Exhausted. Not necessarily physically, but mentally. Because you have to think of several things at the same time. My head is elsewhere. In Barcelona with my loved ones, in Kinshasa because I would like so much to move forward on several files at the same time ... 

(...) 

I lie on the mattress, with no pillow, after taking a “shower” with water from a bucket. It feels mind-blowingly good. Pauline lends me her Le Petit Marseillais almond shower gel. I place a little in the palm of my hand. I make the pleasure last. It’s priceless. I can’t think why, but it feels like the concrete is digging through to my hip bones. I try to think of something else. Something pretty. Beautiful. Relaxing. My eyes succumb.