It has been 2 weeks since I left Alaska and the north countree feels like it was another age, an ancient lifetime ago.
I would like to have an MSF blog so I can freely talk about the project but in the meantime I am going to cautiously blog here.
I flew to Paris from Alaska for my briefings and stayed 2 days.
The first day I got lost in the city, was the epitomy of a foolish tourist, tried to see the Louvre, which was closed because it was Tuesday, and ended up walking probably about 4 miles through the city to the Eiffel Tower.
I saw the tower from a prudent distance because my feet were tired and I saw the Arc de Triumph in the same manner. Mobbed through some sweet gardens with old statues etc, had coffee at an outdoor cafe and sat for a spell by La Seine, that grand old river flowing through the heart of the city.
I tried to ride the bus, succeeded of course but the bus driver was lost in conversation with some beauty and I couldn't pay and he kept driving. So i hopped off when i got to the river and tried to pay for my previous bus ride on the next bus which caused some hilarity and i wasn't allowed to pay. Oh well. I dropped something in the river by accident which was of course karma for the stolen bus ride and that's just the way it goes sometimes.
I told the universe I didn't mean to steal the bus ride.
I went to bakeries and bought some good wine and other french delicacies for the Pediatric team already stationed in Koutiala and had an interesting time trying to buy a permanent marker and thumb tacs.
After spending the second day at the Paris office I flew from Paris to Bamako the next day. I was met by one of the drivers and spent the next several day in Bamako, the capital getting more briefings, and the beginning of a gradual clarity that is still continuing regarding what I will be actually doing day to day.
Last Saturday we left Bamako and had a long 8 hour truck ride to Koutiala. We stopped and had rice with tomato sauce and lean sauteed chicken for lunch and continued on until we got to our compound.
I have my own room here and the first week was almost unbearably hot. I woke up every morning between 4 and 6 am because of the heat but finally we have AC installed and which works some of the time.
My accomadations here are very comfortable, very different from a mud hut and even better than my dry cabin life in Alaska so no complaints there. We live on the second floor, the third floor opens on to the roof and in fact is the roof, and the first floor we have our offices.
My team consists of 3 other people and we all speak French. Or should I say they speak French and I try not to cry.
Day by day, second by second, every time i figure something out or understand a document or a conversation is a small victory. At the end of every night my brain is mush goo and i get a glazed deer in the headlights type of look and then wake up in the morning and try and try again.
My job seems like it will consist of major supervision and administration as we roll out the CPS (SMC - Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention) which is in its third year in the district of Koutiala in the Sikasso region of south eastern Mali. The target is about 170,000 kids under 5 who will receive anti malarial medication for four months at the beginning of each month. It is a combo of Amodiaquine and Fansidar.
This gives them about 28 days of protection from malaria while of course needing to still use standard prevention methods such as insecticide treated mosquito nets and the like. When taken correctly this method has been proven to decrease the cases of simple malaria and the reported cases of acute malaria by 75% and is really a phenomenal endeavor that translates to large amounts of real lives saved.
I don't think I can discuss the exact breakdown or exactly what I will be doing but right now I am working on modifying the paperwork so it current for this year's distribution and so it can be easily used by the Ministry of Health when it is passed to them next year.
Tchad was hard because of the up close and personal suffering we all worked with in the hospital and also because of the extremes of village life but this job is hard in a different way. I will be pretty sheltered and spend most of my time in the office so I won't really have much to deal with psychologically. The hard part for me is somehow trying to get my French better asap, to understand what is going on around me and a hard job is made that much
harder by the fact that it is in a language I don't feel fluent in. It takes me probably 6 times longer to read a document in French than in English. But I am happy about it in theory because this was my goal - to go on a French mission partly because I want to work for MSF France and partly because I just want so badly to be bi lingual and to be fluent and I guess there is no other way than this
insane immersion that I asked for. I have only been here a week. 5 months and 2 weeks to go and I expect by then I will have vastly improved linguistically. But oh. my. lawd. I don't think I have ever ever EVER been this mentally challenged.
Other than work I have managed to buy some mangoes and bananas so I can have fresh fruit smoothies and have watched the rains rolling in from the porch. There is nothing like instant brilliant deep grey sky and lightening cracking on the left while blue sky and white clouds are quickly being overtaken on my right.
I wanted to have a good blog again now that I guess I have something to write about but in reality I don't think I'll have much that I can say and somehow I have a block that prevents me from writing quality pieces. My Africa this time is the compoud and while I am in Mali it feels like I could be anywhere.
One day I'd like to get to the point where I have something real to say no matter what, not just a reaction to certain poingnant experiences but I'm not there yet so I may keep writing from time to time when the mood strikes me.
I have great internet here (except its not working right now) so you can call me on FaceTime if you have an iphone or send me an email at email@example.com. Also I have skype so send me an email if you'd like to skype. Once again thanks again for the faithful few that follow this blog, sorry I don't have more for ya.
I'm just a lonely American trying to find her way and I'll try to blog every now and again if I can think up anything prudent or interesting to say.
Much love from west Africa and thanks to everyone for their words of encouragement through email and facebook and the like - if only i could have the confidence in myself that everyone else seems to have in me.... but that is life huh people tell you they have utmost faith in you and you laugh and say ha! and then looking back somehow you pull through but when you are walking through that mire or lost in the grey of another language or in the fray
of a new experience...it doesn't seem like you can do it. And you just have to trust that even though it doesn't seem like it, you are on the right path, that you haven't strayed, that if you just try a little harder, keep going a little longer, you will break through to the light or at least get to hang out by a tiny candle or stick of insence for awhile.
So tomorrow is a new day of work a new week of work and i'm just going to keep marching through the linguistic darkness and keep looking for ways to pull my weight despite the language barrier.
Its been years since I've cried this much. But I kind of like crying. In the middle of it you can stop and smile and be like, I'm already crying. This is as bad as it gets. And this isn't so bad.
and it isn't so bad.
It really is quite wonderful. This opportunity and the stage I am at in my life and the fact that I am young and alive and free. Life is good. And I don't take it for granted. Not for one second. So once again, despite the mental panic and the heat and the tears, I am grateful.
I guess this is what it's like to live yer dream.
It's rain and heat and thunder on the rooftop and the struggle to be just be just be just be here.
Grandma Y if you get to read this, I love ya. Ever so much.