Our small team bound for Zemio are all on the same flight; myself, Adam the doctor, Lesley the nurse. Amsterdam – Casablanca – Doula – Bangui. We’re excited. Who will be on the plane with us? Anyone? Empty, I suggest, bar other aid workers. In Casablanca with an extremely tight layover, we find ourselves boarding almost last. How wrong I am. There is no room for our carry-on luggage as all the free space has been taken up by journalists’ cameras and equipment. We argue to squeeze in our essential blood testing machinery at the very least. It just makes it. How ironic.
The plane is packed. It’s heaving, surging almost and I’m not entirely sure there are any other NGO staff aboard. Ah, one from MSF-France. Super. It’s noisy and disorganised. The flight crew rush through the safety procedures in three different languages. I can’t tell if they are speaking English but I know we are airborne seconds before they sit down. At last, a hush befalls the chaotic rabble and I have time to take it in. The crowd is diverse, journalists in their plenty; some worldly silver haired sages versus fresh faced youths, all clutching their cameras. Wealthy locals sporting mirrored sunglasses and gold chains, and then some people like us. There is definitely a sense of foreboding amongst this diverse crowd, as if we are flying right into the eye of the storm.
After a couple of larium-riddled fitful dozes, and a stop in Cameroon, we are here. It’s hot and I’m feeling a bit twisted as we board the airport bus at the foot of the stairs. Lesley is giggling and I notice the terminal is less than 200m from the bus. It is taking time to fill up and when we finally shut the doors, turn 180 degrees and drive the 15 seconds to the door, I’m a bit fed up.
Stamps and disembarkation cards are checked, I chat with the person from MSF-France and we all wait by the well organised luggage conveyor. Not bad. So it’s a shame when my luggage doesn’t actually arrive, but I fill in the necessary paperwork half expecting it, and we move towards our base. The airport is manned by French troops, who nod us through the barrier. I see one of the journalists on our flight is already filming us as we leave. At base, I see an old face from my last mission and meet everyone there, it’s great to finally be back in the fold and, although tired, I have a good feeling and the team seems great. In between briefings we doze a little and drink coffee. By the time lunch is finished, so are we.
We make it to Chateau, our home for the next few days. There are two expat houses here in the capital. It’s in a great spot, high above the town with a fantastic view over the lush greenery, out to the river with Congo in the distance. We eat, we chat, we have our first official meeting. Tomorrow’s agenda is some administrative training, but it’s a late start so I don’t set my alarm before I, thankfully, hit the hay.