Central African Republic: A question of perspective

Sylvia is a German doctor, currently working in the Central African Republic town of Bossangoa on her first assignment with Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF). In this blog, she writes about the importance of taking time out.

Recently I was preparing for a special weekend in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. My so-called "R & R" weekend was coming up.  

"R & R" stands for "rest and retreat". Every six weeks, international team members are entitled to take a few days away from the project. This time we travelled the distance between Bossangoa and Bangui by plane, unlike when I arrived a few weeks ago. I was very excited because I had never flown in such a small plane before.  


The airfield at Bossangoa
The airfield at Bossangoa

Above the clouds 

For domestic flights, MSF uses their own aircraftor sometimes aircraft belonging to the UN. There is no public air traffic in the Central African Republic 

On the morning of any flight from Bossangoa, the runway is always checked first. RunwayIt’s more like a sandy road. Whether the plane can take off or not depends on how much it has been raining. 

On the morning of our flight, I woke up around five o'clock. It was raining hard and thought the journey would literally be a washout. But, luckily, the sun fought its way up and by around two o’clock we were able to start.  

It was a great experience to see Bossangoa, the endless landscape crossed by brown rivers, and at the end, Bangui, from above.  

Arriving in Bangui I was amazed by how big the airport and the city seemed to me. When I landed six weeks ago, coming from Paris, it was the complete opposite. I can still remember how amazed I was by the small capital airport... Perspective changes fast 


The Central African Republic landscape from the air
The Central African Republic landscape from the air

Rest and Retreat

The same can be said about my R & R weekend.

Although I thought that I didn't actually need any rest and that I wouldn't need the weekend break, I came of age when I arrived in Bangui.  

In retrospect, I am extremely grateful that I had this break. I wasn't aware of this while at the project, but I had built up considerable tension. This could be because of the long working hours, the difficulties faced by our patients (that are experienced up-close in the hospital) or because of the limitations on our movements in a project like the one in Bossangoa.

Not only did my tension drop this weekend, but, sadly, my immune system also took a break.

So, on the first day in Bangui, I was flattened by a severe gastrointestinal flu. Well, I think everyone here has to go through it once. 

Nevertheless, Bangui still had a lot for me to enjoy during the remaining days: a room with air conditioning, a meal in a restaurant followed by a visit to a bar, swimming lanes in the swimming pool and above all replenishing my stocks of chocolate, shampoo and other things in the supermarket.

After four days we went back to Bossangoa, this time by land.

As I have already written in my first blog post, it’s only 50 minutes by plane but the journey stretches overland for about eight hours with potholes, red sand dust and whatever else belongs to a trip with the Landcruiser  

However, this time it wasn't cold feet that I had but the anticipation of the upcoming weeks in the project.

It's all a question of perspective.