Its been just about month since I arrived in Congo and I must say that every day something happens to add a bit of colour to proceedings. There is never a dull moment.
One of the projects that the base here in Lubumbashi supports has just entered an important phase. MSF has intervened in Bukama, about 450 km from Lubumbashi, due first to a cholera outbreak and then to an outbreak of measles coupled with malnutrition. Normally in Western countries measles is not known for being such a serious disease. However it is the fact that the measles outbreak coincides with malnutrition which has resulted in many people losing their lives. Over the next 2 weeks a team will aim to vaccinate about 30,000 children for measles and the aim is to vaccinate even much more people during the intervention.
There is also a programme to treat malnutrition! As a result, the base at Lubumbashi is a hive of activity as we find a way to deliver the team, food, vaccinations, medication and equipment to Bukama and surrounding regions.
Here in Lubumbashi my days have found a rhythm. My day starts at around 7am when I wake up to the sound of Marvyn Gaye “What’s going on? Brother, brother, brother“. I take a shower, throw on some clothes and savour some toast with nutella. Its so good! After breakfast, I jump into one of the MSF vehicles, the same wherever you go in the world, white with the MSF insignia on the bonnet and two doors. Another tell tale sign of an MSF vehicle is a two meter high radio antenna attached to a grill at the front. It’s about a 7 minute drive to the base and it’s a bumpy ride, with well maintained sections being the exception.
I arrive at the office for the 8am meeting with the whole team, generally about 12 of us, and everyone explains their priorities for the day. There is a fair amount of banter except on Monday mornings, which is generally a bit quiet (which is understandable). After the morning meeting five of us, the logistics team, made up of the supply Logistician, the Buyer, the Storekeeper, the Assistant Logistician and myself take a few minutes to go over what are the logistics priorities for the day. The meetings are generally focused towards making sure everything is ready for the next delivery to the projects by plane or road. There is a rigorous logistics procedure necessary to buy anything from a pen to a generator and deliver it to one of the projects in the field. It is quite a chore sometimes because I have to approve every request to buy or take something from stock. But I suppose its important to look after the pennies!!
After the morning meetings I get busy with the priorities for the day. There are a number of projects which need to be carried out both at the base and at the house. For example, at the base we are extending the storage area and redoing all the electrical installation. Already we have installed a new high frequency radio mast and after a day of trying we managed to communicate with our coordination in Kinshasa 2000km away. Yes…really satisfying!
I just mentioned that we are about to redo the electrical installation for the base. Two weeks ago something happened which forced our hand with regard to getting that started. I was in the radio room at the base working on the Outlook computer and J-F comes through from the other office and says calmly “Ike, I think there is a problem next door”. And you know what, he was right…. Three monitors in the Logistics office had massive plumes of smoke coming from the back of them and even more frightening was the series of loud banging noises. I was absolutely petrified but I think I did a good job of hiding it. We cut the generator and I stood there for about a minute clutching a fire extinguisher that I hoped I would not have to use. After investigating the incident, It turned out that another NGO we supply with electricity from our generator had caused a short circuit on their side which resulted in a power surge and ultimate chaos on our side.
Another day that sticks in the memory was the day we received delivery of 6 cubic meters of sand we had ordered from a local supplier. We need lots of sand for building work we are carrying out at the base and the house. I was called to the gate to check what they had delivered. I asked the supplier where the rest of the sand was because there must have been about 2 cubic metres lying on a plastic sheet in front of me. He told me that in Congo that volume was 6 cubic meters! This was completely new territory for me so I resorted to logic to try and find a resolution. However, the whole thing hinged on the supplier admitting that we were talking about a lot less than 6 cubic metres. Unfortunately, and very frustratingly, he was not in the mood to concede this most basic of notions. In the end they reloaded their sand on their truck and we decided to buy sand from another supplier who shares the same idea of what a cubic metre is.
There is a lot here to keep me on my toes, whether it be logistical problems with planes and trucks we need to get the supplies to the projects or even issues to do with running a base itself as the above examples illustrate. But the longer that I am here in Lubumbashi the more that I have the desire to go to the projects and help the people MSF is here to help directly. There is a distinct possibility I will be going to Bukama in the next few days to help with setting up the vaccination programme. That is a really exciting possibility, so Im crossing my fingers that is going to materialise!
Be in touch again soon.