Arriving in the Central African Republic: Cold feet and red sand

Sylvia is a German doctor, currently working in the Central African Republic on her first assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF). Here, she shares her experience of arriving in the remote town of Bossangoa.

The entrance gates to MSF's project in Bossangoa

First steps in the Central African Republic

I've been looking forward to leaving for weeks.

Before I left, I received a security briefing. Honestly, it was the first moment that I had cold feet about going. In addition to my anticipation, which had so far predominated, now there was fear.

As it quickly turned out on arrival, I had worried too much.

As an employee of Médecins Sans Frontières in the Central African Republic, you will receive excellent care in the capital Bangui, and the safety briefing will give you clear "do's and do not's" to follow. The feeling of fear that haunted me in Germany disappeared just as quickly as it had come.

On the first evening after my arrival, we went out to a restaurant in the capital Bangui. Over the weekend I was able to visit (almost) all the places in Bangui where we as MSF staff can go without any security concerns: the Grand Café, the supermarket, some restaurants, the swimming pool in a sports club and the three houses where other MSF staff live.

The long way to Bossangoa

Before we went on to the project in the north of the country, further briefings were waiting: communication, personnel department, more information from our medical coordinators, and of course once again, safety. There was a lot of very useful information again. Then we finally made our way to Bossangoa...

However, instead of taking a flight as planned, our flight was cancelled and we had to drive one day later.

So, a 50-minute flight turned into an eight-hour drive… which also had its good sides.

Halfway along the route, I was able to meet my predecessors – Matthias and Selene – for a short exchange. It's always easier when handovers take place in person. And finally, although covered with red sand dust from the roads and shaken by countless potholes, we arrived safe and well in Bossangoa.

At first sight, our camp in Bossangoa is a little paradise: green, big, there is even a "sky bar" built on top of two containers in the garden, from which you can see the river next door and watch the sunrise. 

Treffen mit Kolleginnen und Kollegen: Anästhesist Wolfgang und Krankenschwester Eline.

Meeting with colleagues - anesthesiologist Wolfgang, and Eline, a nurse
Meeting with colleagues - anesthesiologist Wolfgang, and Eline, a nurse

The first day: Shaking hands with lukewarm feet

Finally, it was there: my first day in the MSF hospital.

My superior and colleague, Facily (our medical activity manager), guided me for two hours through the entire hospital and I shook an infinite number of hands.

It is a university hospital supported by MSF. Patients are mainly sick children with malaria, malnutrition and diarrhoea. There is also a maternity ward, surgery and areas for the treatment of tuberculosis and HIV. It is a large clinic, partly run by the ministry of health and partly by us.

Although I no longer have cold feed anymore, I approach to my new role with great respect. My first real working day is just around the corner – fortunately, Facily will be by my side.