I haven’t been sure how or when to write about the last week. Every
day has been a different emotion.
For the last several weeks there has been discussion of kidnapping and
security at our meetings. Should we go or stay. I was becoming numb to
the conversations and then a kidnapping two hours from our location
happened combined with a visit from what they call a Super Log. He is
from Paris and well trained in security measures. He returned to the
Capital to discuss our situation and then the Cameroon kidnapping
happened. I knew then that we would likely be sent home, but was still
not prepared. Our acting FieldCo, as the actual FieldCo was just
returning from R&R and had decided to stay in the Capital, called a
5:00 p.m. meeting with the drivers for what I assumed was a briefing
of our security situation. Instead, it was an announcement the expats
were leaving at 6:00 a.m. the following morning and two would remain.
A palpable quiet came over the room. I looked around and saw tears in
several of the men’s eyes while at the same time feeling myself
flooding with emotion. More emotion than I expected for something I
knew was coming. The following 12 hours no longer even seem real. We
were sent a list from Coordination about what each of us needed to do.
Being the admin I got the lucky job of burning four years of paper and
packing all personnel and tax records. I kept calling Coordination to
confirm that burning so many records was really what they wanted me to
do. I was in a state of disbelief watching so much history go up in
flames. My heart was heavy. Every time I passed a watchman or a
driver, I started to cry. It didn’t help they were also crying. It is
a hard way to leave a mission. Part of my sadness was leaving people I
was just getting to know, and leaving a project that was doing so much
good and bringing hope into people’s lives. I felt like we were
abandoning a group of people who relied on us in many ways and it felt
so irresponsible to leave in so fast and so early. However, MSF is
very clear that security is never debatable. It was hard to let go
that I had made plans to stay. I had settled in. My room was just how
I liked it and I had acquired some charcoal and local incense to mask
the bug and cleaning spray in my room.
We all worked on our various duties well into the early morning hour.
There is a lot to do to close down a project in 12 hours. I tried to
sleep around 3:30 a.m., but all I managed to do was look at the
ceiling until it was time to get up. We loaded the trucks at 5:30 a.m.
and shortly after 6:00 a.m. we said goodbye to the two expats who
remained along with a handful of the national staff. Fortunately, I
had the back of the truck to myself surrounded by what we were
instructed to bring with us from the project and our luggage. It gave
me time to cry, observe one of the most amazing sunrises, and reflect
on my brief two months. The calls started coming in around 9 a.m.
asking what happened and wanting to know if we were closing the
project. Each call ended with, “We miss you!”
There was only a small group of us who were evacuated as five had left
two days earlier as part of a reduction of team strategy. I am
thankful for the evacuation team – it was a solid group. We mobilized
and got the job done. Overall, we had a good group. There are
challenges living and working with the same group of people, but at
the same time it is a growing experience. There is one person who I
will probably remember the longest. Although, there were many things
at the time that annoyed me, most of the things do make a good story.
It is an MD from New Jersey who brought a 12 pound (maybe more) ham
from New Jersey to a Muslim country and talked about fixing it every
day for a week until we did! The day we planned to bake the ham he
was already asking me instructions before I had my morning tea. He
arrived with two very large suitcases filled with food and gifts. He
was one of the members who left early and was still in the Capital
when we arrived. And, of course, the first thing he asks me as I am
climbing out of the truck is about the damn ham! Did we eat it? Did we
bring it!? Oh for the Love of God! I hadn’t slept. I was emotionally
exhausted, but all I could do was laugh and say no, “your ham was the
last thing on my mind when I left.” He then asked two other members
of the team about the ham and a packet of smoked salmon.
I had initially had been told I would be leaving the day after we
arrived in the Capital, but fortunately our FieldCo put a stop to
that. She was right we needed to rest. It was good to reunite with the
team who had left earlier. It took a few days for the sadness to
dissipate so having time to share the stories and a chance to debrief
was exactly what was needed. Not to mention some time to blow off
steam, sleep, and laugh. I’ve been working since we arrived on helping
with a plan to keep the project running remotely. That has been
helpful in letting go that sense of abandonment I felt. We have been
saying goodbye to team members day by day. There are five of us left.
One will stay another two months and the rest of us leave this week.
I am ready to go. More than ready. Today is Monday and am no longer
getting called five times a day. I only received one call today from
the cook calling to say she missed me. It warmed my heart. Although,
she also wanted to know who had the March roster. She was another one
that could be a challenge at times. A strong personality who the week
before we left came into my office to tell me she could take leave
whenever she wanted and she was going home and had already called a
daily worker to cover her shift. So I got the fun job of telling the
daily worker to go home and to tell the cook that she was indeed
working. We then had to have conversation about who authorized what.
Again, in retrospect a funny moment. At the time, maddening.
There really is so much to say, but not sure what more at this time. I
will miss the people and the project. I hope it can be continued
remotely as the work is so important to those in the community. It has
been amazing first mission experience cut short by four months. I
regret not writing more as I had a long list of things to write about
before things so radically changed. Who knows maybe I still will. It
was a reminder as to why putting things off is not a good idea. I am
not sure what is next, but I suppose that will present itself in time.