The one question that I have been asked most often over the past couple of months is why did I want to go on assignment with MSF. My standard answer was that I felt it was the responsibility of those who have too much to help those without enough. The truth is however I don’t really know why…
To be honest I’m not sure I believe that altruism and human nature can coexist. My instincts tell me that people will always act in what they perceive to best serve their own self-interests. With this in mind how do I reconcile the obvious contradiction of "volunteering" for MSF, the world’s most renowned medical aid organization, whose mandate it is to help people most in need with an uncertainty in regard to altruism? Again, I don’t know, but I am hoping that this is but one question that might become just a little clearer over the next nine months.
What I do know is that over the past four years MSF has become the most important thing in my life outside of personal relationships. The bitter reality of course is that MSF fieldwork can come at a great cost to those relationships we hold most dear. Still it is impossible to spend as much time as I have at MSF over the past few years and not be inspired by its staff and expats to explore a mission of my own.
Sitting in the departure lounge of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport after four days of terrific pre-mission briefings, I cannot pretend any longer that I'm not about to embark on my first MSF mission. Working, packing, moving and generally trying to get my life in order has been a great distraction from what is soon to be a very new reality. Tonight I fly to Nairobi on Kenya Airways – "The Pride of Africa". Vincent a seasoned MSF employee, will hopefully pick me up and usher me to Wilson Airport on the outskirts of Nairobi, where I will catch a domestic flight to Lokichokio (Loki), Kenya. Loki is where MSF Holland runs its southern Sudan operations out of.
What has become very clear over the past four days is that for the next nine months I will be working six and half days a week and fourteen hours a day in Pieri, one of the world’s most remote and war-torn settings. Pieri is one of MSF's most isolated projects and it is only accessible by a small plane. A small plane that lands on our tiny airstrip every ten days if the rains have not washed it out. (Please see point number six below).
If we are going to take this trip together and have an honest relationship during the next nine months, I think there are some key facts that you need to know:
- I still don’t know when it is grammatically correct to use a colon.
- No I’m not a doctor. Please understand it is the number one question people ask you when you work for MSF. I am going to do supply and administration logistics.
- No I’m not going to work in Darfur. When you are going to work in Sudan with MSF, most people assume that you’re going to Darfur…
- When I land in Nairobi it will be the first time in my life that I have been to Africa.
- I hate snakes! I’m not sure I can emphasize this point enough.
- I’m not a huge fan of air travel either…And although I’ve never flown in a small prop plane my gut tells me that I’m going to enjoy my new commute to work almost as much as I’m going to enjoy sharing my new home with an endless amount of Sudanese serpents.
- Four years ago I walked into the Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders office with the hopes of someday working overseas with MSF and today is the most gratifying day of my life! The happiest will be the day that our world no longer needs MSF!
The next time I write I will be in Loki, a right of passage I’m told for any MSFer. I have no idea what awaits me there but tune in next week and you will know as much as I do.