We rolled in to Lubumbashi on June 15th after a grueling 2-day overland trip from Dubie, covered in dust and exhausted after successfully and completely handing over what was MSF-Dubie.
For the past 2 months, there was an increasing workload and ever-approaching deadline that pushed me to longer days and to even work the odd Sunday! In my end of mission evaluation, I got an “A” in quantity of work, but only a “B” in stress management as I was starting to wear out, as I’m sure my fellow teammates can attest to.
It wasn’t just me who was getting tired either. May 31st was the official end of MSF presence in the hospital and all of our medics were on a plane and flying back to Lubumbashi the next day. Not the same for the logistics team as the official departure of the medics meant that they could truly attack the closure in earnest. Radio antennas to remove, furniture from expat rooms to ship, electrical cables to recover (and candles to distribute!), stores to reallocate and donations to deliver.
And deliver we did! The 3-month drug donation that we left behind to help them get started is literally a mountain of boxes! Preparing THAT donation was a huge job for the logisticians and it is honestly to their credit – expats and national staff alike – that we were actually able to finish everything on time. Somehow they were able to stay motivated and to maintain both a high quality and a high quantity of work right to the very end, even though most of them were working themselves out of a job. Impressive.
I also have to give some credit to our handover partners, the ministry of health and the catholic sisters. We may have been busy closing the project and wrapping things up, but they were just as busy setting up a totally new system and trying to figure out how to run things without MSF looking over their shoulders. Receiving our donations was a significant, demanding and stressful experience in itself. Suddenly they have generators and cold chain to look after. They needed to figure out where to store things and who is responsible. While MSF commits to providing free health care while present, this is not a long term solution and, following the handover, they were also installing a user-fee system. Setting this up and dealing with the associated repercussions in the community involved a significant amount of time and planning on their part. Busy to say the least.
It still feels pretty good 2 weeks later as I write this final entry. It’s Sunday evening and I’m now sitting in a café in Amsterdam, waiting to debrief in the MSF headquarters after spending 10 days in Lubumbashi tying up loose ends and writing my end of project report. Looking back, it is amazing at how well things went throughout the closure. Nothing went missing, staff motivation was good right to the end, we didn’t cut any corners and even our partner relations stayed positive. This is a closure to be proud of and, in all honestly, that isn’t always the case.
The sign included below was made a month before we closed and became a mantra that was repeated over and over by our national staff in team meetings, during goodbye parties and throughout daily activities. This desire to be an example to follow was inspiring and it held strong right to the very end.
Done and Done
It is also amazing at how long it takes for the weight of responsibility and commitment to slip from my shoulders. Every day now, my “To Do” list gets a little smaller and Canada seems a little closer…and (finally!) I am no longer wide awake at 5 am with my outstanding tasks and miscellaneous worries filling my head.
As I enjoy a cappuccino and relish the blues music in the background, I also note the simple fact that I no longer represent anything or anyone. Here, I’m just another guy in the café. I’m not a mazungo or the ‘white’ guy. I don’t represent MSF or Canada or expats in general. I am no longer ‘le grand chef’ or responsible for 92 staff or running a 120 bed hospital in the middle of the bush. I don’t have to carry a radio or to always be in touch and on call. I’m not longer a teammate or a leader or a manager.
…I’m just me. After an intense 6 months as Project Coordinator for the closure of Dubie, I’m ready to just be me for a while.
However, I’m sure it won’t last and before long I’ll be gearing up for the next project with its new context, its different team and its various challenges. MSF is a great organization and I am proud to be a part of it. I like where we work, what we do and how we do it. I feel privileged to have access to such eye-opening and impacting experiences and I truly value the opportunity to help those in need in such a direct and meaningful way.
While this may seem surprisingly positive following a closure, I am still able to see the big picture and my place within this crazy world of MSF. My staff and the community kept telling me not to worry…that everything with a start must also have an end and that this is the just the natural progress of things. In a way, they are right.
Thanks for reading!