Open letter to family, friends and beyond....from Tissi Paradis!
Sep 13, 2013
So it's been a month since I arrived in Chad, and three and a half weeks since making it to the airstrip of Tissi Paradise (as it's fondly known to its MSF inhabitants – expatriate and national staff alike, we may or may not be deluding ourselves, but for what its worth, it sounds good – both in French and English!) - and if all goes well, I will be heading to Bir Nahal tomorrow to assess the situation there and see how I can support the log/admin team over there. A priori, I will be there for 10 days to a fortnight before making more regular to and fro’s between Tissi and Bir Nahal when the dry season arrives.
Tissi and Bir Nahal are actually twin locations under the same big project umbrella, 14 kms apart, but due to it being the rainy season and lack of access by roads – due to wadis – these incredible bodies of water that form spontaneously during the rainy season, some are so big there are currents and waves on the edges – movements between the two locations have been extremely hard to coordinate and realize.
Our current mode of transportation for people (patients and staff) and cargo are by airplane and helicopter. For certain urgent/emergency situations we've resorted to transporting patients and certain cargo by donkey cart – the most hardy form of transportation around town. Thinan, the CERU (Chad Emergency Response Unit) Administrator who's 'on loan' to Tissi at the moment, to reinforce the admin team, made a joke the other day as we passed a donkey munching happily away on some grass on the way back from the market, he said, “Voilà, le vrai l'âne cruiser, la moyenne de transportation le plus fiable dans le coin, avec juste 1 horse power!” ;-)
The days go by very quickly here – the sun rises at around 5am, and sets just around 6pm. I've emailed home to tell my mum the news that she'd never thought she'd hear, that these days I'm in bed and asleep by 10pm, and up by around 6:30am if not earlier. But really, the days go by fast here because there's a lot of work to be done, and that really speeds up time. I'm here as a log/admin – so I am supervising and supporting the administrative and financial operations that in turn support the medical activities that MSF is running over here. My responsibilities run the gamut from drawing up and keeping up to date contracts for our staff – both medical (e.g. nurses), paramedical (e.g. community health workers, cleaners, nursing aides) and non-medical (e.g. logisticians, guards, radio operators); recruitment (more nurses! more nursing aides!); paying salaries; disbursing payments for purchases and services, and ensuring that we get enough money from the capital to the project to able to do so!; attending to HR needs; implementing certain systems that should be set in place and ensuring that certain HR and finance standards are respected. There's not been a dull day since I've arrived, and I'm exceptionally glad to realize how the lessons I learned especially from the mistakes that I made during my first mission in Burundi are helping me support and help the team here now, despite the radically different context.
There's so much to share that's happened in the 3+ weeks that I've spent in Tissi so far, but I wonder about this update being too disjointed and rambly, I really just wanted to say hi the wider circle of friends and family beyond my parents and siblings and the few close friends that I've managed to keep in touch with simple text only emails - it's also been an experience arriving and then settling down in such a remote, isolated location (if you try to google Tissi, Chad – as I did when I received this mission proposal – you’ll probably get the “this location cannot be found” message – but if you scroll over to the most south-eastern point of Chad, where it meets with the Central African Republic and Sudan, that dot where the three borders meet – that's where you'll find me and the MSF Tissi Paradis team!) where the medical needs are so clearly huge and the void presque impossible to fill, where access to and from are so compromised (to give y’all an idea, we have medical and logistical cargo waiting to be delivered to Tissi currently stuck in Abéché because the weather conditions have not permitted the airplanes to land; and most times when we have a scheduled movement for personnel – it’s a big whoop-whoop in the air if we get a 100% rate of arrivals and departures as planned!), and where the security context is one that is fluid and volatile.
That said, I’m really glad to share as well that my team-mates, both expatriates and national staff, are an awesome bunch to be working and living with. That’s not to say that we haven’t had any differences of opinion over certain topics or ways of how things are to be done – MSF expats are generally strong-minded people with each person having a myriad experience under their belt, and as for my interactions with national staff, I’m the one who’s learning all the time how to strike a balance between trying to strive for MSF standards, within the parameters of the reality of the working culture in Chad. But at the end of the day, really, I think I’ve lucked out in terms of who I’m being stuck with in the bush, I wouldn’t change a single person in the line-up. Just for an idea of the diversity of expatriates and national staff, we’ve got in no particular order: a Mauritian project coordinator, an Indian doctor, a Swedish nurse, a Canadian WATSAN, a German supply log, a Rwandan tech log, a Congolese nurse, a Croatian Humanitarian Affairs Officer and yours truly from Penang, Malaysia. Our national staff also hail from various parts of Chad, and even within the local community, there are at least 5 different dialects spoken. It is a fascinating context to be in, and all the more so when you realize that it’s all happening right here in this tri-border outpost!
I think I’m going to end here now, but not before sharing a bit of what I’d like to write about in future posts (public engagement = commitment to writing at least one more time!): this Sunday morning – first time seeing an open gunshot wound being dressed; the other night - accompanying the on-call medic and seeing them fight to save a chubby bubba of a baby fighting against cerebral malaria; walking about with Bertin and Peter and Abo and Adoum in the community; market day with Thinan; the plane getting stuck and the snoring pilots whom I had to share my tukul with; falling asleep on the latrine, in the rain, during one tiring night of dealing with a bout of “Welcome to Tissi Paradise” stomach discomfort rite of passage...(I should’ve known when the doctor's first question to me when I was being introduced to the expat team when I arrived was “Did you bring your own Tango Papa?” *tango papa = radio speak for “toilet paper”); Ted the toad and “patatas and fritas”. There are stories to be shared, and if I am good, and if time and energy permit, I will be make good on this during the weeks to come. Inshallah!
In the meantime, here’s signing off from Tissi Paradis,