Slow and yet too fast

"After my six months here in the Central African Republic I can only say: It is an amazing experience! You learn so much. I am sure that an assignment with MSF will not allow anyone to return home unchanged."

Sylvia Schaber is an internist and has spent six months with us in Bossangoa in the Central African Republic. At the end of her assignment, she looks back a little wistfully, but full of gratitude, on her work in an international team.

At the end of the month I am leaving Bossangoa. I have learned to love the people, the project and my life here and it is with a heavy heart that I am leaving. What seemed to be far away on Christmas and New Year’s Eve is slowly becoming more imaginable – living in Germany again. Having good cheese for breakfast, enjoying the silence in my beautiful apartment, going for a walk in my beloved winter boots and having a delicious espresso in a café. It is the little things about coming home that I am really looking forward to. 

Christmas with DJ Wilfried

Before getting too nostalgic, I would rather tell you about my Christmas here. They were special holidays, because, as you can imagine, everything was completely different from usual. It started with the preparations: during my last weekend of "rest and retreat" in Bangui, I got a Christmas tree – a 1.20 m high plastic beauty – as well as a chain of lights and a crib. Thanks to my dear colleagues in Bangui, the tree arrived by plane in Bossangoa a few days behind me. Together with the crib we set it up in our living room. Despite all this, I must confess, I couldn’t get into a real Christmas mood. 

On the morning of December 24th, which was a normal working day in the hospital, we listened to Christmas carols at breakfast. Eline, our colleague from Sweden, offered Pepperkakor, Swedish Christmas cookies. On Christmas Eve we had a feast with barbeque skewers, pasta with raguu (a kind of bolognese from the oven) and homemade pesto from homegrown basil with real pine nuts from Bangui. We ended the evening in our "sky bar" with music by DJ Wilfried ? - a great colleague from the Ivory Coast. 

The sad reality

Only the surgery/anaesthesia team had to work. They had been called to hospital for a caesarean section to help a child into the world. The child, however, was stillborn. Unfortunately, such incidents are a sad reality here: the long distances people have to travel to the hospital, inadequate pre-natal care, and, as I wrote in a previous post, the indefiniteness of birth dates, which increases the risk of complications at birth. 

The 25th of December was a normal working day. I spent the morning doing my medical round and with admissions of new patients for the emergency department. As always, it was a day that offered several new cases that are either rare, or not seen at all in Germany. The first was a child with malaria who suffered from severe anaemia (this is a consequence of malaria), fortunately, there was suitable blood available in our blood bank. Another patient suffered from gastroenteritis, a gastrointestinal infection with severe dehydration resulting in clouded consciousness. Fortunately, we were able to help all those who were admitted and the day remained calm. 


Even at the end of my assignment I still have a lot to do: the last trainings and ultrasound courses are on the agenda and a good handover report has to be written as well.


The beautiful reality

I was even able to call it an early night. Back at our place, my colleagues were waiting for me with a wonderfully prepared Christmas dinner. What a beautiful feeling when I arrived: everyone was sitting on the porch being happy about my early return.

Already I get very sad again when I think that our time together will end soon. But we still have a few days together. And there is still a lot to do and experience in these remaining days. The last training courses from the series I've been running are still to come. The last ultrasound courses for my colleagues are also planned. A good handover report is also already ready, so that the colleague who's replacing me can pick up exactly where I left off.  

"I’m not coming back as the same person I was when I got here."

Then there is the farewell. At the hospital, my farewell, including a party, is already planned. As I have witnessed several times, farewells here involve a big ceremony with official speeches, seating and lots of loud music.

The farewell is always something very dignified and solemn – I am curious! I reckon when everybody starts to dance, the mood will certainly become more relaxed. I am already looking forward to it. (Even though, as a European, you feel quite unmusical and immobile here. ?)

After my six months here in the Central African Republic, I now understand much better why people go to projects with Médecins Sans Frontières several times. It’s an amazing experience! You can learn so much. I am sure that an MSF assignment does not let anyone return home unchanged.