Fieldset
Taking Amazon to the Congo: first days in DRC

Sarah has just set off on her first assignment with MSF. She blogs about final packing decisions, her first impressions of DRC, and the invaluable help of a driver called Doris ...

 

Anybody from the UK who is reading this will immediately understand how I felt when the departure for the first leg of my flight to the Congo was announced half-way through the special episode of the BBC Radio 4 soap opera 'The Archers'. This meant that I had to wait even longer than poor Helen Titchener did to find out whether she was going to be convicted of the attempted murder of her abusive husband. She wasn't, by the way.

 
So, how has it all been so far? I knew I had to reduce my packing by about 50%, but  just wasn't sure which half to leave out. Walking boots out. Bottle opener in (hope springs eternal). Hair dye? Nine months' worth? Just to keep up the fiction that at my age I'm naturally still a dark blonde?
 
I did pack a Kindle, having spent a happy couple of hours loading it with improving literature and trashy novels. I wonder if there's a Congo product that I could take to the Amazon one day...
 
So, hard packing decisions and goodbyes made, I finally left London. As the MSF project is in North Kivu, on the far eastern edge of the Democratic Republic of Congo and fairly close to the Rwandan border, it made sense to fly to Kigali, the capital of Rwanda and continue by road to Goma, just over the Congolese border.
 
Sarah next to an MSF landcruiser
 
My driver (called, rather improbably, Doris), realising that I was cross-eyed with jet lag, fussed over me solicitously. His composure only slipped slightly once, when, at the frontier, I thought he asked me for a yellow card and he received in return a blank stare. All I could think of was football. It took a few moments for the penny to drop and for me to realise that I needed to show my yellow fever immunisation certificate. Which in my case is green.
 
I have now been at the MSF base in Goma for two days, catching up on sleep, meeting the staff, reading reports and starting to adjust to the exuberant friendliness of everyone I meet. I come from the south of England, where to acknowledge a stranger, let alone to greet him or her, is considered very abnormal, so naturally I am deeply traumatised by this.
 
I'm aware that by the nature of where MSF works my freedom of movement is necessarily constrained. Whilst I completely understand the reasons for this, and realise that the organisation can only function if each of us plays our part, there's a small bit of me that feels as though I've been taken back to boarding school. 
 
Tomorrow, however, I will be setting off for Mweso, the town where the  hospital in which I will be working is. Will I cope without walking boots or hair dye? It's time to find out.