Its been a week since I arrived in Congo and its passed really quickly. I stayed 2 nights and a day in Kinshasa where I had several briefings with each department in the MSF Belgium Coordination team. Kinshasa itself is a hive of activity, very densely populated and majority of people live in relative basic conditions. Welcome to Africa !! You may have heard there was fighting in Kinshasa recently due to political dispute.....dozens of people died, havent had a confirmed number yet. The MSF-B team in Kinshasa were unable to leave the office compound for 48 hours. The same happened to over 300 children unable to leave a school in the middle of Kinshasa. Apparently they could hear the gunfire. It must have been frightening.... i only just missed it as I flew here to Lubumbashi the morning of the same day the fighting started. Things are a bit calmer there now.
Lubumbashi, 2000 km away, is a completely different proposition to Kinshasa. Its probably the closest you will get to a European type city, in Congo and most of Africa. The majority of roads are well planned out, its quite calm and there are loads of restaurants and you can buy "western" products really easily. Life is good here.
On the other, i have a job which demands a lot of responsibility and it is almost 24/7 in terms of when I could need to get things done. I finished the hand over 2 days ago, it was well done but I was still nonplused after it – the guy I took over from, Gilles, did a really good job in the 3 months he was there. I am responsible for the MSF support base at Lubumbashi.
Basically the national staff are a really good group of people, all really experienced and know their jobs really well. Im really there to coordinate and set priorities. I’ll tell you, its pushing my French skills to the max.
One thing is my boss is 2000km away in Kinshasa and the positive side is that Im absolutely free to choose what I do. At times though I’ve thought, theres no support here even if i need it so I need to find a way to make things work.
What does the base support ? It supports two different projects. The first one is based in Mitwaba about a few hundred km north east of Lubumbashi. It took a truck 19 days to get there due to the state of the roads !! So we tend to have 3 or 4 flights a week in that direction, sending medical supplies, water and sanitation equipment, motor bikes, spare parts and sometimes food. I havent been there yet but it is supposed to be a classic type MSF project. It is there to provide access to primary healthcare for the population who due to war have seen their healthcare system reduced to tatters. Saturday morning I woke up very early to take a truck full of supplies to the airport on route to Mitwaba.
The second project we support is called Pool Urgence Congo (Emergency team Congo). There have been some new outbreaks of measles in the region of Malemba at the same time as major floods. A PUC team from has just made its way to the area to decide what action MSF should take. So in cases like that the base does everything it can to get people and supplies where they need to be.
I live in quite a big comfortable house and until two days ago I shared with two other people. One of them was the guy I am replacing and he’s not coming back, now back in Brussels. The other is the coordinator of the PUC team and shes somewhere in Malemba for 10 days. So Im going to be living alone for a few days. You get used to having people around because you live and work in a team. There are visitors to the house fairly often though… people travelling to the projects or going on holiday from the projects usually stay over for a day or two.
I’ll fill you in again when I get some more inspiration.