After two days of briefing in MSF's centre in Amsterdam the time finally came to leave for Lubumbashi.
My time in Amsterdam had been great, I’d managed to be a tourist for a couple of afternoons, met most of the DRC and public health team, been out for drinks with some returning and departing expats, and the weather had been fantastic – sunny and warm – a welcome change from the grey UK.
Unfortunately that changed to rain and wind on my departure day when Holland’s worst ever July storm arrived. During the afternoon the airport was chaotic, a lot of delays and cancellations. Sitting in the hotel waiting for my pick-up it was touch and go whether I’d even make it as far as the airport – public transport had shut down and falling trees had blocked roads (and canals).
Despite a near miss with a family of ducks crossing the motorway (they were loving the weather so it seemed) I made it to the airport on time albeit soaking wet. Thankfully the weather improved slightly and the flight left just about on time. Any nerves or feelings of apprehension about leaving were overtaken by relief to have actually made it out of Amsterdam that day.
After a brief SIX hour layover in Nairobi, incidentally sharing the runway with and taxiing past Air Force One while Obama was in town, I arrived at Lubumbashi airport. After landing, due to a lack of taxi-way, the plane did a 180 turn and set off back down the runway. Still being half asleep after napping I thought the pilot had landed at the wrong airport and was turning round to take off again, which thankfully was not the case.
It felt great to be back in Africa, and it also felt great to be speaking French again, although I would have appreciated a more gentle easing back in to speaking French than a few sharp questions from passport control. Florimond, one of our team of drivers, was there to meet and greet and I got my first ride in an MSF land cruiser – I was just like a big kid.
Getting to know the MSF house cat ©Owen Wood
We pulled into the MSF expat house, just down the road from the capital coordination base. On first impression it’s nicer than I was perhaps expecting, and the hot shower was a definite bonus. I met my new housemates/colleagues over a beer and I also met the house cat, adopted from another international organisation that left him behind. Unfortunately no one really knows his name – with a high turnover of expats here he seems to change name every few months.
Three days of briefings in the capital, lots of national staff to meet and names to remember, and chance to really figure out my role, then I fly to the main project in the field – Shamwana – consisting of a hospital and six (soon to be seven) health centres.
So far so good. Really looking forward to getting into the field and get properly stuck in to my new job.