It was 3rd June when I arrived at Islamabad airport from my 3-day briefing from MSF Hong Kong. It was an amazing experience to see a sudden shift of environment where the weather is humid and the people wear the same style of clothes. After a very long queue in the immigration counter, an MSF staff approached me and took me to the car. The driver handed me a mobile phone that I will be using during my 6-month stay. He also handed me my briefing schedule for the day. This is my first mission with MSF as a Nursing Team Supervisor for the Lower Dir, Timergara project and I've never been this excited.
I reached the accommodation and took some rest. I also had lunch with other field workers who happened to be in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad whether they were waiting for the extension of the visas, on long weekends, on their way to their holidays, and waiting for other necessary documents. All new arrivals, like me, have to wait for all the required documents before we could move to our project site.
I went to the MSF office in Islamabad and had several briefings which were very informative. People at the office were very accommodating. It made me feel like home. I had a briefing with the Head of Mission where I learned deeply about the country’s history, security context, and MSF’s projects in the country. The Human Resource (HR) in-charge gave my ID, my per diem and some briefings about the HR policies. The medical coordinator guided us about the organizational chart and I had an overview as to what could be expected in the field. The logistician coordinator briefed me once again about the different security guidelines in the field. Some of the guidelines are available in MSF online platform which I downloaded and read while I was on my way to Pakistan.
Timergara is a traditional and quite a conservative area of Pakistan. As an MSF international staff, we were not allowed to take pictures anywhere in the field except inside the expat house; we were also restricted to post pictures of national staff online. We were also advised to be very careful about what we post in social networking sites for our personal opinions may violate the MSF principles which are always neutral, impartial and independent. Also, I may not be an alcoholic person but the idea of drinking a couple of beer or two to end the night after a very stressful day of work would be nice but in Pakistan, especially in Timergara, it’s considered a dream. Why? Mainly because it’s a Muslim country, where alcohols are prohibited. It’s one of the golden rules: NO ALCOHOL. It’s either you follow this rule or else they will send you home. Ha! My liver would probably be the only one rejoicing about this rule. However, I think I could manage that. As I said, I’m not an alcoholic – just an occasional drinker. HA!
Part of Pakistan customs is to wear the shalwar kameez, a traditional outfit which are loose pajama-like trousers. The legs are wide at the top, and narrow at the ankle. The kameez is a long shirt or tunic, often seen with a Western-style collar; however, for female apparel, the term is now loosely applied to collarless or mandarin-collared kurtas. MSF try to blend in to the norms of the local people. To show our respect, I was given a clothing allowance wherein the amount varies depending on in the length of stay in Pakistan. I got three pairs and was able to get it all for half price only. At first I thought that wearing shalwar kameez would drain all the sweat in me especially in this kind of weather where it’s always hot, I was mistaken. They were just very comfortable. Having seen people here wearing them, it finally made me feel like I finally belong which was just amazing.
After a few more days staying in our Islamabad accommodation, my needed documents were completed; I was informed the night before that we were finally moving the next day for the project. This was part of one of the many strict measures done by MSF. No one except me and the people from the administration would know as to when I would be leaving for the project since all movements were monitored and rules were strictly implemented for everyone's safety. These security measures first of all, are well thought of. Second, it’s well planned and lastly, it will make you feel safe more than ever.
It was half past eight, 10th June 2015, me and my colleague, in our newly bought shalwar kameez, were on our way to our 6-hour journey to the project site. Some of the few pointers I learned were to not use a headset while we were on our way for this might raise doubts, make sure that my bladder was emptied fully as we're not allowed for any stopovers, and most of all have the necessary documents with us at all time. And I mean it, all the time.
I wonder what's out there. I'm hoping for the best. But for that moment, we were waiting for the other car to pick us up and drive us to Timergara. I may be starved at that very moment but hey, all was well.