I’ve just come back from a bike ride. The sky is blue and cloudless, the green verges are splashed with the bright yellow of the first daffodils. Birds are singing, ponies graze happily in the fields. Spring is arriving, and all is tranquil in the peaceful countryside, where I ‘m lucky enough to live.
And my mind turns to where I will be in just four days. Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, and scene for the last few months of the most horrendous acts of violence. I’ve seen the news reports, and the reports and videos on the MSF website, of sectarian brutality: Christian “anti-balaka” militia apparently taking revenge on their Muslim neighbours. I’ll be working in one of the hospitals, or maybe in a clinic in a makeshift camp in the airport for IDPs (internally displaced people) where Muslims are seeking shelter before they can flee the country; and I wonder what kind of dreadful wounds, the result of machete attacks or gunshots, I will be faced with. ………………It’s hard to imagine.
Meanwhile it’s on with the packing. My master packing list – yes, I’m totally anal, surely the delight of any MSF logistician – has lots of ticks and a few yellow highlights of things still to be bought. Thank goodness the undies dilemma is solved. Who would have thought what underwear to pack could involve so much deliberation? Everything will be on full view on the washing-line in a multi-cultural society. So no scanty lace Elle MacPherson numbers, nor do I want to own up to the sagging, greying cotton pants on the line. So that meant a special trip to M&S. Now it’s just a question of which of the shirts & trousers scattered across my bedroom floor I most want to wear for the next two months, to fit into my 23 kg weight allowance. Marmite, English Breakfast tea, my down baby pillow, a silk sleeping bag – they’re on the Essential list and are already packed.
When I came back from the Congo just before Christmas, I said I’d done my last mission. It was incredibly tough physically, and I thought that at my age – which is a secret, but I’ll admit to having my bus pass – I didn’t think I wanted to put myself through that again. But I always say going on mission is rather like having a baby: you forget what an ordeal it was and just go for it again! Getting a request to help in such an extreme situation, where the need is so great – it’s a challenge I can’t refuse. Tough it will be, probably tougher than anything I’ve done before; but we’ll be providing health care to a terrified and distraught population where otherwise there would be none. I’ll be working in a team of dedicated professionals, all of us giving 100% to one aim. And the feeling of fulfilment that comes from that is hard to beat.
Which is why I’ll be on the plane to Bangui in a few days. Next update will come from there. Far from this green and pleasant land, where, in the lottery of life, I had the good fortune to be born.