I’ve been to lots of developing countries, but have never seen anywhere like this. Walking into the centre is disconcerting – in any capital city you expect a minimum level of traffic and infrastructure, but here there is virtually nothing. The odd person walking along, a couple of motorcycles and shops, but that’s all. Avenue Charles de Gaulle seems to be the main street, but even this is calm, quiet and without much commercial activity. Most of the roads are tarmac, but there are few pavements and traffic goes in the direction it wants. I stop to ask the way in a general store where a lady is sat down behind the counter. She stands up and I’m horrified to see a drip sticking out of her arm attached to a bag of fluid on a hook. I back out, protesting, asking her to finish whatever she’s doing, but she insists on getting someone to see to me. At this point an MSF driver pulls up and asks would I like a lift to the market. In the heat, I gladly acquiesce. Wandering through the market is a pleasant experience. There’s no hassle or requests to come look-see and examining an item on a stall doesn’t immediately draw people around asking what size you want and telling you how much it is. There seems to be everything you could want, but the quality isn’t great. After 10 minutes of looking I finally spot a pair of flip-flops. They don’t match, but at least they’re both orange, albeit neon. They cost a ridiculously small sum of money, although no doubt I’m paying an inflated price compared to a local. Normally I haggle determinedly until the seller is worn down and just wants to get rid of me, but seeing how utterly little the population has, I have no heart for it. Back at the office, there is an in-depth security briefing and tour of all the rooms. It’s basic but everything necessary is there. I’m shown how to use the radio and the procedure for tracking my movements. A big whiteboard shows everyone’s names and current location. Each time you leave somewhere you have to communicate this to the radio room, stating your destination and method of transport. If they don’t hear from you within the time allotted, a procedure is followed to locate you. I feel protected but a bit trapped all in one, although I know it’s essential I follow this to the letter. The embarrassment of setting off a full-scale security alert just because I was having my hair cut and forgot to report in would bring me more shame than I could bear. Because of the time needed waiting for my government-issued authorisation to travel round the country, I won’t be leaving until next week on the WFP plane. That means 4 days ahead of gentle activity before my immersion in the field. In the midst of further briefings, I’m sent to the depot to help process an incoming order. The received stock quantity is checked and its storage location noted. All done on paper and in a dust-covered and hot environment, the feeling of actually doing something as the markings mount up is tangible. I’m glad to be finally of some use. One evening a few of us decide to go out for something to eat. The popular joint in town is Cote Jardin, and entering feels like being on a package holiday in Spain. Lots of low tables on the sand surrounded by cushioned chairs under overhanging trees is a lovely atmosphere in which to eat a meal and have a few drinks in the evening heat. The food is very nice too, about the price you’d pay at home, and I savour what I presume will be my last portion of chips for a long time. Once finished we call on the radio for a lift and while waiting peruse the many Land Cruisers lined up outside. It’s like a Who’s Who of NGOs – lots of UN vehicles along with Oxfam, CARE, ICRC and other smaller agencies. When I come back to the capital for holiday, this will definitely become a regular haunt. However, later that evening I discover at least 30 mosquito bites around my ankles, despite a liberal application of repellent. I operate like a mosquito rod – if you don’t want to get bitten, stay within 5 metres of me. I’m not looking forward to the next few days of insatiable itching but it’s a lesson well-learnt. In future it will be full-length socks and tucked-in trouser legs, no matter how ridiculous I look.

Leave a comment

Enter the characters shown in the image.