Tag Archives: Logistics
On January 12th, five of us flew to Faradje, in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo, to set up and run an emergency measles vaccination campaign for the town. We spent a pleasant, if at times very tiring, two weeks in Faradje. We ate and slept at the Catholic parish, and set ourselves up to work in the office of the Danish Refugee Council, the staff of which were exceedingly kind and welcoming. In Faradje, like many towns in DR Congo, the remnants of the violent Belgian colonial past are still very visible in the perfectly straight, tree-lined streets and a number of old buildings in various states of disrepair.
One of the three main roads in town, the Faradje-Watsa road:
L’Administrateur du Territoire de Faradje has his office in an old Belgian administrative building, a facsimile of those in which many of his counterparts in other territories can be found working:
Homes in the area are newer than the colonial buildings, but the architectural style is far older, as it’s more closely matched with local needs and locally available and affordable resources for home-building.
The last time I worked in DR Congo, I saw Canadian shirts all over the place, including a UBC Thunderbirds jersey in Lubutu. This time around, in a completely different part of the country and nearly two years later, it is apparently still trendy to sport Canadiana. Take, for instance, this dapper young man sporting a vintage 1993 Vancouver Canucks hockey jersey while riding his retro-style single speed bicycle around Faradje (those with a good visual memory will recall that the little crest on the corner of the jersey was worn to mark the 100-year anniversary of Lord Stanley’s Cup in 1993).
The Catholic church in Faradje, as seen from our veranda, including the police ghost, frequently seen in the area, patrolling the grounds of the church:
We also went inside the church to have a quick look:
As for the measles vaccination campaign, which was the whole point of our visit to Faradje, we first had to set everything up. This included setting up a small generator outside the hospital to power the fridges and freezers we brought for the vaccines and ice packs. Apparently the incredibly loud noise of a generator two metres away does not in any way diminish one’s quality of sleep, evidence of which is provided by this friendly sleeping pig:
When I got close for a better photo, I woke him up, but the generator was no problem…
Freezers on the left for ice packs, fridges on the right for vaccines and solvent, all correctly placed on palettes:
Inserting frozen ice packs as an insulating layer in an ice-lined vaccine refrigerator, a step often ignored by those setting up such refrigerators:
With the cold chain in place, and a team of community mobilisers out on the town spreading the message about the upcoming vaccination campaign, it was time to select locations for vaccination sites and get them set up. In four of the five fixed sites we set up, we built temporary shelters against the sun and rain. First, sticks were cut and holes were dug:
Next, posts were pounded into the holes, cross-beams were tied to the taller posts, and orange plastic fencing was installed to control the flow of people through the vaccination sites:
Completed vaccination site, minus the roof, with space for two separate vaccination teams to work:
Here’s a vaccination site with tarpaulin roof attached. Children enter to either the right or left of the central dividing fence, generally based on their age (under five years on the left, five and above on the right, for instance). A child first sees a registrar who fills out a vaccination card for the child, then the child is vaccinated and receives a Vitamin A pill and sometimes a de-worming pill.
The long line of people waiting four abreast was quite impressive to see on the first morning of vaccination at this vaccination site:
Of course, every single kid who was vaccinated was a happy, smiling bundle of joy:
After being vaccinated, each child’s finger was marked with gentian violet to show that he or she had been vaccinated:
Staff for the vaccination sites, recruited locally, were identified by MSF tape around their arms. This was our youngest employee:
My motorcycle driver and I were responsible for buying donuts and peanuts for the ten vaccination teams in five different sites. Each day we would buy out the entire stock of several donut sellers, who would laugh uncontrollably at the mundele (white man) with the enormous appetite for donuts.
As we had no vehicles in Faradje, we used the hospital ambulance for some needs, but the majority of work was done by a bunch of motorcycles we rented locally. At one point, we had over 20 motorcycles at our disposal. On the final day, we took a group photo with 16 of them:
As a side project, during and after the vaccination campaign I organised to increase the size of the hospital’s healthcare waste management area, with two new pits dug: one for glass vials and ampoules, the other for the ashes of sharps boxes. We left just before the project was completed, so I had to hand over to another NGO, but we got a good start on it. Each pit was 2m long x 1m wide x 4m deep once completed:
We also gave protective clothing for the man responsible for healthcare waste disposal:
Each pit needed a reinforced cement slab as a cover. For the glass vials and ampoules pit, the slab would have a simple hole to drop the glass down into the pit, with a lid to keep rain out. For the other pit, a drum burner would be fixed in the cement so that the ashes from sharps boxes would drop directly down through a hole in the bottom of the burner, into the pit. For the cement, we had to buy gravel and sand…
…plus bricks for the foundation on which the slab would sit…
…and of course cement too! We also bought iron re-bar to reinforce the cement, and wooden planks to create the form for pouring the cement.
Aside from work, there were some lighter moments in Faradje, such as the First Annual Faradje Olive Pit Spitting Competition. This involved eating an olive, but keeping the pit in one’s mouth, then attempting to spit the pit into the hollow tree stump a few metres away (which can be seen in the bottom right corner of the church photo above). For the first round, each participant agreed to put $20 in the pot, and whoever first succeeded at landing the olive pit in the tree stump would get all the money in the pot. I managed it on my second try, immediately winning $40. We then decreased the buy-in to $1 for each participant, increased the number of players to eight, and kept trying for a while longer.
Playing around with unused medical equipment (normally, this apparatus is used to transport people from one part of a hospital to another, or particularly in care homes, when a wheelchair or gurney is inappropriate or less convenient. In a hospital where each ward is in a building of its own, separated from the others by very uneven terrain, this patient transportation apparatus becomes more useful as a coat rack than anything else).
A bit of Monday afternoon poker with unused vaccination cards substituting for poker chips:
We also zipped out to the river’s edge one day in Faradje to see some hippos. There were about ten of them, very cool to see! In this photo, three hippos are visible:
Disclaimer: The postings and views expressed on this site are mine alone, and do not represent the position or values of Médecins Sans Frontières.
If you happen to pick up a Land Cruiser at a remote border crossing in Côte d’Ivoire one day, well over 100km from the nearest fuel station, and you find that your colleagues on the Liberian side of the border have kindly drained all the diesel out of the two
70L 90L fuel tanks, hence explaining why they were three hours late arriving, there are a number of potential solutions to get you out of your predicament.
The first solution is that you were already prepared, and brought some diesel in 20L jerrycans with you to the border, attached the roof of the vehicle that transported you to the border crossing (let’s call this Land Cruiser A, and call the other one Land Cruiser B).
If you didn’t think of this, the next best option is to syphon some fuel from one of Land Cruiser A’s fuel tanks into one of Land Cruiser B’s fuel tanks using a syphon tube. Of course, while trying this option you may realise that Toyota had you in mind when they installed anti-syphoning guards in Land Cruisers, making it virtually impossible to get the syphon tube into the fuel tank of Land Cruiser A.
Once these first two solutions have been eliminated from your list, there is a third option available: open the drain plug on the bottom of one of Land Cruiser A’s fuel tanks and place a container underneath to catch the diesel as it slowly pours out the small hole. To do this, you should park the vehicle on level ground or, if possible, on raised tracks so there’s more ground clearance between the bottom of the fuel tank and the container you’re using to catch the diesel. This is very time-consuming, as a Land Cruiser consumes about 13L/100km, and the fuel drains out of the tank pretty slowly. You’ll also be taking fuel from the very bottom of the tank, which means you get all the mucky sediment settled on the bottom, which is not good for your vehicle. Hopefully the fuel filter in Land Cruiser B can remove most of the sediment before it gets to the engine.
The fourth and final solution available, aside from parking the vehicle and coming back later (and probably finding it missing upon your return), is to buy fuel from a friendly Italian aid worker who happens to have just opened an office 50 metres away from where you’re trying to drain fuel out of your tank, and who happens to have made a fuel run the day before to stock up on hundreds and hundreds of litres of diesel, and who happens to have seen you from his office window trying the second and third solutions.
Disclaimer: The postings and views expressed on this site are mine alone, and do not represent the position or values of Médecins Sans Frontières.
Dear family, friends, and those who fit into both (or other) categories, this is that once-yearly mass email I send out and post to my blog to bore you with the details of 365 days of my life. It’s safe for work, except that you might fall asleep face first on your keyboard while reading it, thus creating a small commotion in your office.
The short version:
- Canada, South Sudan, England, Wales, England, Canada, Netherlands for a few hours, Germany, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia for a couple hours, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, France for a few hours, Canada;
- Watched South Sudan vote to become the newest country in the world;
- Built two custom single speed bicycles in Canada;
- 2 months still working for Merlin, 3 months lazing around Vancouver, 6 months working for MSF;
- Missed the 5th Legendary Annual Summer Camping Trip, will try not to let this happen again;
- Finished reading War and Peace and several other books;
- Saw elephants;
- Grew beard.
And now for the extended version, with a sprinkling of photos, some of which I’ve put within sentences (how clever).
When 2011 started off, I was nearing the end of a super fun three week holiday in Vancouver. Technically speaking, when 2011 started off I was on a dance floor surrounded by green lasers…
…and booming bass, doing my best to jump up and down and side to side in what I hoped might be mistaken for dancing, while wearing a Buzz Lightyear costume with glowsticks lighting my flightpath at the wingtips.
All good things come to an end, however, and by January 2nd I was sitting back comfortably in a Vancouver International Airport departure lounge. The fact that I can show a little piece of plastic to a company and they then let me sit in a chair, in the middle of the sky, speeding over the land and sea at sometimes over 900 km/h, still amazes me. Two days of travelling took me back to work in Juba, South Sudan, where I had two months remaining on my contract. On January 9th I was lucky enough to witness the referendum on secession that resulted in South Sudan becoming the world’s newest country six months later.
I also witnessed the delivery of, and first flight of, South Sudan’s first air force…
…went hiking up Jebel Kujur to take a Sunday mid-morning nap…
…and got a guided tour of the Physical Rehabilitation Reference Centre run jointly by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the South Sudan Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare:
In my final week in South Sudan, I just barely managed to make it to see Juba’s best kept Engrish secret, the manure cure shop:
After leaving South Sudan, I spent the last week of February visiting friends in the UK. Within hours of landing at Heathrow, I was in real doctor’s scrubs in London, complete with anti-bacterial silver oxide thread participating in the Imperial College med school’s time-honoured, purely academic activity known as the Circle Line Pub Crawl with my friend Aidan and his fellow future doctors.
I also visited my friend Jackie in Cambridge, where we went to a show and the next day I took a long walk along the River Cam…
…and also saw my friends Katie and Louise in Oxford before hopping on a plane to return to Vancouver at the beginning of March. While waiting for my plane, I saw the mythical Airbus A380 roll by, the largest passenger aircraft in the world:
I spent the next three months waiting in Vancouver to go somewhere new and unknown. I filled my time sleeping with no alarm, going to physiotherapy for my knee, building a couple of custom single speed bicycles (one for my sister, one for me)…
…checking the forecast for days when I could comfortably take my motorcycle out on the town (there were very few of these days in what was apparently Vancouver’s wettest and coldest spring in the last half century)…
…and watching the Vancouver Canucks make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since I was 10 years old. The city came alive like nothing I’ve seen (I was in London for the 2010 Vancouver-Whistler Olympics, living 5 minutes from one of the 2012 Olympic sites, so I missed out on all that craziness), with free taxi rides, SkyTrain antics, downtown street parties, and all kinds of awesome all around.
Into these three months, I also somehow squeezed a trip to Kelowna…
…a couple of quick visits to Bowen Island…
…a two night trip to Ottawa to get a visa for Côte d’Ivoire and see my friends Alex and Luke…
…and a motorcycle ride to Salt Spring Island…
With the Canucks comfortably ahead in the final series against the Bruins, I left town to start my next job. Having spent a year and a half with Medical Emergency Relief International (Merlin), in the UK, DR Congo, and South Sudan, I’d decided to try on a different pair of shoes: Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders, aka MSF). They decided to send me to Côte d’Ivoire, but first, I flew to Germany (with a few hours spent hanging out in Amsterdam to see my friend Pieter-Henk) for the MSF PPD, a 10 day group introduction to the organisation for new staff. I can’t spoil any secrets by talking about it online, except to say that it was really fun, and I met and befriended some very cool people.
During the PPD, I even woke up one morning at 4am to watch Game 7 of the playoffs streaming online, then had a productive day in Germany not torching police cars on camera.
By the morning of June 19th I was back up in the skies.
By supper time that day I was eating supper (how appropriate) with my new colleagues in Abidjan, the biggest city and former capital of Côte d’Ivoire (Abidjan was also the name of the local watering hole in Buea, Cameroon, where my friends and I used to eat barbecued meat with a beer in the evenings after a good day’s work back in 2007).
The next day I arrived in Daloa, where I spent the next three and a half months working my butt off. Work was hard, but I gradually trained my staff to do a lot of the work I was doing myself, which greatly increased the number of hours I spent sleeping. It also let me get out of the office a bit more, including a day trip across the border into Liberia to help bring some medical goods into Côte d’Ivoire.
In Daloa, I saw our medical stock grow from taking up the space of a small bedroom with a few shelves…
…to taking over my bedroom as an overflow area.
At the end of July I organised to move our office out of the house and into a dedicated office space, where we had a new warehouse space in which I had custom shelves built…
…and another room of boxes stacked on pallets. What a difference a couple of months makes!
We also helped the Ministry of Health run a measles vaccination campaign for over 15,000 children and later on collected the dozens of sharps boxes from remote health centres.
I also helped improve the water and sanitation standards of health centres around Daloa by donating soap and other supplies, and making these hand washing buckets for patients and staff:
We also spent a fair bit of energy rehabilitating a couple of health centres that had been looted and badly damaged by armed groups during the conflict.
They needed doors repaired, smashed locks and windows replaced, electricity and lighting restored, furniture built and donated, grounds cleared and cleaned, and much more.
My logistician, Moussa, did a great job of supervising all this work.
Two months into my time in Daloa, a few friends and I managed to see a huge wild elephant nearby.
By the end of September I was pretty tired out, so I decided to take a week’s vacation next door in Ghana. I had to fly out of Abidjan, so on the way from Daloa to Abidjan I visited the biggest church in the world in Yamoussoukro:
In Ghana, I became perhaps a bit too familiar with Ghanaian buses for such a short stay…
…and had two different vehicles break down from radiator leaks, but the trip was really fun, and I got to see a whole bunch more elephants while I was there.
I also saw lots of sideways lightning, which I’ve only seen in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
Back in Côte d’Ivoire, within two days of my return to Daloa, I was asked to move to Tabou to replace the logistician who was leaving a bit earlier than planned. I was a bit surprised, and quite moved, when two of my staff broke down in tears when I announced the news to them. Tears of joy, perhaps, to finally be rid of their boss? The next weekend I arrived in Tabou, a very small town on the Atlantic coast, just a few kilometres from the Liberian border, overlooking the Gulf of Guinea.
I spent the next two months in Tabou, squeezing in three short trips north as far as a town called Para, with some beautiful stretches of road…
The last few weeks in Tabou were really focussed on closing down the project, which at its peak had over 40 national staff running 20 mobile clinics, plus support to 12 health centres (of which the farthest was 6 hours away), and running an intensive therapeutic feeding centre plus an ambulatory therapeutic feeding centre for malnourished children. Closing the project involved a LOT of paperwork (I might have drowned if it weren’t for the wonders of mail merging), but also some fun stuff like big donations of drugs and supplies to health centres and the Ministry of Health.
Our office/warehouse space went from being completely packed with medicine…
…to completely empty!
Other big jobs in closing the project in Tabou included donating all sorts of furniture and office supplies to another NGO working in the health sector, which involved lots of trips back and forth from our office to theirs…
…and uninstalling our radio and comms equipment, like the VHF antenna bolted to the top of a 15 metre pole. The VHF antenna is on the left, not the huge mobile phone tower in the background!
I also got to burn all the unimportant paperwork in our big fire pit, fun!
Having closed the project, and with the December 11th parliamentary elections having passed without any violence, our team returned to the MSF coordination office in Abidjan. Eating extra oily omelets with my colleagues on the way to Abidjan was, as usual, good times:
I spent the next few days in Abidjan, finishing up some final reports and burning more unimportant paperwork…
…then took a three day road trip to the Liberian border to import a Land Cruiser into Côte d’Ivoire as the Liberia mission was also closing.
My last few days in Abidjan were spent helping the Financial Coordinator with some actually important paperwork (sadly, this did not involve any fire).
Then, on December 22nd/23rd an Air France jet kindly carried me to Paris for a coffee with Thomas, a friend and all-round amazing guy on break from his job in Afghanistan. Having finished coffee and a croissant, I high-tailed it back to the airport just in time for my flight to Toronto and eventually Vancouver. I landed about three hours before a DJ show downtown, for which I’d bought a ticket online a month earlier. Knowing that several friends would be there, I showed up downtown to surprise them. And, with the 6 month beard that was weighing down my chin, they were definitely surprised.
The next day, Christmas Eve, I went to Studio D Hair Salon…
…and to the extended family at our annual Boxing Day party.
With that over, I removed all my white Santa hair in time to avoid scaring the surgeon who’ll be slicing my knee open in the future. On December 29th we met, we talked, and we settled on fixing my knee once I return from wherever I go next, if it’s about 5-6 months from now (oh, how I love waiting lists).
On December 30th a huge group of friends descended on the King’s Head in Kits to say goodbye to the place…
…which then shut its doors on New Year’s Day. Apparently it’s going to become a Wing’s. The following night, a potluck of culinary delights…
…followed by another crazy New Year’s Eve party with friends…
…helped shut 2011 down, and open 2012 up, a year bound to be filled with 24 extra hours of adventure, and boy am I looking forward to it!
If you got through this entire summary, I’m impressed; if you take the time to send me an update on your life, whether it be short or long, I will be even more impressed, and promise to read it too (I’ll even reply!).
Cheers, beers, and bicycle gears,
Have you ever got your car stuck in a big puddle, unable to dig the mud out from under the car to get moving again, because there’s so much water it just keeps filling the mud back in? Probably not. But, if it should ever happen to you, I suggest you think outside the puddle.
Our Mitsubishi L200 (a 4×4 pickup truck) entered a seemingly shallow puddle only to suddenly sink into a very deep part of the puddle. Within a second the rear differential was already sitting in the mud at the bottom of the puddle, so we were stuck.
We got the shovel and hoe out, and tried to dig the mud out from underneath in order to get the vehicle moving again, but the puddle was too deep: water just kept pouring the mud back in under the car and making it sink further. Keeping the engine running to make sure water couldn’t get in and destroy it, we began waiting for people to walk by. Soon enough, we had 3 young men down to their boxer shorts trying to help us get unstuck, but still no success!
After about half an hour, a young man wearing a red sports jersey with Chinese lettering happened upon us. He took our hoe, and started walking off into the tall grass at the side of the road, forcing the grass down to the side to make a bit of a path, without explaining his strange actions.
After a minute or so, we began to understand: the young man first cleared some of the grass and then began loosening up the soil at the side of the road. He then began digging a trench about half a foot deep and two metres long, perpendicular to the road, leaving some soil at the edge of the puddle to keep the trench dry while working.
Once they judged the trench sufficiently awesome, my driver broke the dyke and the water began to flow out of the puddle.
To speed up the flow of water out of the puddle, one guy continued lengthening the trench farther away from the road, and my driver and one other passer-by used their hands to push the water faster toward the trench.
Within ten minutes, the water level was low enough to dig out a bit of mud and for a dozen people (by this time, quite a crowd had gathered around) to stand only ankle-deep in the water. Together they rocked the vehicle side to side for about a minute while the driver revved the engine and pumped the clutch until the tires gripped well enough to drive out of the puddle and onto a dry part of the road. In total, the car had spent nearly an hour stuck in the puddle! Check out how happy my driver was afterwards:
The moral of the story: think outside the puddle. If you’re stuck, and the road is at the same or higher level than the surrounding area, put your civil engineering hat on and try emptying the puddle.