It has only been about six weeks since I came back from my backpacking trip and here I am, sitting at the airport again, leaving for a new 'adventure'. This time, my journey is to Lebanon, more specifically to Baalbek, in the Bekaa valley (close to the Syrian border, see map below). Let me explain how I ended up in this...
When I had to leave my previous job, I knew that this was a most probably an unique opportunity to do something I always had dreamt to do: work in the humanitarian field. As I had no experience in this, having worked rather 'on the dark side of capitalism' (and this is in no means meant in a negative way), I always asked myself how I could make this happen.
As you know, I'm neither a doctor (which is a good thing, as I faint easily when seeing blood...) , nor a nurse or any other kind of social worker. One evening in November 2015 I was watching TV and saw an ad from Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) where they were advertising that they were looking for non-medical staff. The ad really struck me and I went online to research about it.
I will always remember the first impression of entering the MSF office.
This is how I learned about the position as Finance and HR Manager. Having a background in Business Administration, it seemed like a good match for me, and I decided to attend an information evening. Early December 2015 I went to Geneva and I will always remember the first impression of entering the MSF office. It felt like being in a beehive, all chaotic, people running around, the receptionist calling for people over the microphone, world maps everywhere and a big board with all expats' departures and debriefings. And I knew: I would like to work for them :-) When then they went more into details about the position, their values and ethics, I was even more sure about my intuitive feeling. So I applied for the position of Finance & HR Manager and got my interview and assessment in January. To prepare, I even dug out my old accounting text books...
The interview was quite classic, to get to know me better and really to see if I know myself well enough to know how I react in difficult, stressful and unknown situations. The HR assessment was based on case studies about intercultural differences, how to react to bribery attempts, etc. and the finance part really was about accounting, Excel calculation and cash management. As I went travelling just after the assessment-date, they called me while I was in Colombia to tell me that I was in! I remember that day very well, I was in Cartagena, just before starting a catamaran cruise to Panama... and I was so excited, a dream came true!
The MSF HR team already had an assignment in mind for me, and I got the offer just a week later (normally it takes much longer to find a placement): Baalbek in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon, for a departure mid-May. I read through the project description, the difficulties and security guidelines. I decided to accept it.
As there was a pre-departure training in Vienna early April, I shortened my trip and came back to attend it. Despite the fact that I was jet-lagged, I was overwhelmed by the feeling of starting a new adventure. We were 24 participants, a mixture of doctors, nurses, logisticians and admins from Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Panama, France, Germany, Madagascar, Pakistan and Switzerland. I met many nice people from all over the world and got lots of information about MSF, their set-up, guidelines and ethics.
Training was the first time that I really felt like a part of MSF and it felt really good!
Coming from a completely different field, I didn't know what to expect when I arrived at the training, but I was really impressed. And I knew once again that I was in the right place, as everyone was sharing the same ideology and values. It was the first time that I really felt like a part of MSF and it felt really good!
After this tiring introduction week in Vienna, we had another two days of Admin training in Geneva where we learnt more about the finance and HR processes that we would need in the field. And there it was, my remaining month in Switzerland to get ready for everything!
I had to find someone to sub-let my apartment (which wasn't as easy as thought, but I managed to find someone in the end), get all the administrative work done, line umpire at the Fed Cup, organise some things for my brother's upcoming wedding, help my best friend at setting up her new business, meet family and friends, pack my whole apartment and move it to the basement and finally pack my suitcase for 6 months in a new country! I was very stressed the last days and weeks before my departure and I apologise to all those whom I didn't have the chance to say goodbye to before leaving...
Will I cope with everything? Will I get along with everyone? Will I enjoy it?
For sure, I was nervous. I didn't know what to expect... a new culture, a new job, a new organisation, new colleagues who also happen to be my flatmates, and and, and... how will it be? (How) will I cope with everything? Will I get along with everyone? Will I enjoy it? Will I be able to see something from the country? How will it be to live with a curfew? How will I react to seeing so many refugees who lost everything? How will I integrate all those moments once back home in a stable environment? Many, many questions to which I don't I have the answer...
I'm very lucky as I know two colleagues already, having met them in Vienna in the training. Marc, a Swiss German doctor, and Brigitte a nurse from Lausanne, will both be with me in Baalbek and so I'm not leaving to the complete unknown (and we got along very well, so I know that we will have some fun moments in our apartment).
Many people asked me if I wasn't scared to do this, and I have to say, that the answer is no. I really trust in the security framework of MSF and with their values of being neutral they usually get accepted well in the communities they work in. For sure this doesn't give a guarantee that everything will run smoothly, but as I always say: everything happens for a reason!
As many people asked me as well if I will keep posting on my blog; yes I will - to let you follow me in this new journey, let's see what kind of adventures the next months will bring :-)