Much to my joy, I found myself in Dakar again for some training on Donor Relations last week. I arrived at the weekend so I had a chance to enjoy the freedom to walk around and explore the city, eat out at restaurants, sleep in a comfy bed with air conditioning and a duvet and go for a run along the seafront! I am a keen runner but since being in Guinea I have managed one run and I will not repeat it. I had to concentrate on not spraining my ankle or being hit by a car whilst stopping dust getting in my eyes, and on top of that breathing in the car fumes, I think it probably did more harm than good.
The training bought together 25 colleagues from offices around West Africa. There were colleagues from Sierra Leone and Liberia too and twice a day, as per usual, we were taken out of the class to have our temperature taken. On the first day, when everyone shook hands to introduce themselves, the three of us didn’t.
People wanted to know what it is like working for WFP in the Ebola affected countries and it made me aware of how quickly you can get used to a routine, because having your temperature checked and washing your hands with chlorine up to 4 times a day isn’t the most normal of routines! My colleague here was refused entry into a shop because her temperature was 38 degrees. We walked around a bit, came back and it was down to 37 so they let us in. But what I had to clear up was that we do not see people dying in the street or bodies left by terrified families. Even though one of the Ebola treatment centres is a stone’s throw from the office in Conakry, the city doesn’t look like it’s been taken over by a terrifying and deadly epidemic. Life goes on as it must, with kids running in and out of cars and motorcycles, teenagers holding up traffic by playing football in the road, men talking on street corners and women washing clothes and peeling potatoes outside their house.
I was interested in how their office works, how do they get to work, do they have power cuts and running water, can they take a taxi, and whether they have supermarkets and what they eat! I have to admit I have been absorbed by news only related to Ebola and what the training bought back home was that there are so many other crises in the world and so many countries in need…
It is mid December (and I haven’t heard one Christmas song!) I remember when I arrived, I wondered how I would find the energy to stay here. It’s been such a roller-coaster of emotions and although time has gone quickly, three months in an emergency has felt a lot longer than in normal life. It has felt a bit like a sink-or-swim situation and I have been sleep deprived (I say as I am writing this at 4:30am on a saturday morning) and snappy at family at home. Sorry Dad! It has been emotionally and physically exhausting but believe me I have laughed a lot. Every day brings new stories to tell and new memories that I will carry for years to come.
I have met so many incredible people from all over the world and from all backgrounds. My colleagues are so dedicated, working late in to the evenings and throughout the weekend. The national staff are always smiling and have been welcoming to the influx of new staff. The bonds that are formed working together in intense situations are very powerful and I believe these friendships I have formed will be long lasting. I am inspired by their determination, ingenuity and resourcefulness and I count myself very lucky to experience working with WFP here.
And December also marks a year since the first case of Ebola was recorded in Guinea. No caring for the ill and no handling of the dead, Ebola is a disease that destroys people’s ability to be human.
I feel more optimistic than when I arrived in September with things getting under control but there is still a lot of work to be done. I will return to Guinea in the new year and hope that when the time comes for me to leave, the situation will only be better. And to end on a quote from one of my favourite films, Shawshank Redemption, “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”