Tag Archives: Merlin

Assorted pictures of Juba, South Sudan

My work in Juba has kept me far too busy to maintain this blog properly, though I hope to catch up a little during my current three week vacation (in Canada!). Here are some random photos I took in my first month and a half in Juba:

Airport-Ministries Road, looking toward the airport:

Airport-Ministries Road, Juba

A UNMIS water truck distributing some drinking water to locals at the side of the road:

UNMIS water truck, Juba

The Merlin compound, where I live and work:

Merlin compound, Juba

My desk on a good day:

My office

I gave a malaria test to one of my staff and it came out positive:

Paracheck malaria test

A side street in Juba:

Bicycle flowers

Abandoned car on a side street in Juba:

Abandoned car in Juba

A tukul (traditional home):

Tukul in Juba

One of several ginormous cargo planes that lands at Juba Airport regularly:

Cargo airplane over Juba

Great name for a company:

ESP International

Important advice in a restaurant washroom:

Toilet instructions

The sunset as seen from outside our compound:

Sunset in Juba

To mark the 61st anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese embassy organised a truly amazing talent show with people flown all the way from China for the event, including gymnasts, dancers, musicians, and even a magician who gave me and a friend 10 Sudanese Pounds!

61st Anniversary of PRC
61st Anniversary of PRC
61st Anniversary of PRC
61st Anniversary of PRC

Lloyd Donaldson (1963-2010) – Man with a Moustache on a Mission

Lloyd Donaldson, a journalist turned humanitarian, had a big and amazing moustache, and a big and amazing heart. I knew him for less than a year, but I cried my eyes out when I found out four weeks ago that he had died very unexpectedly, only 46 years old.

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On my first day in the office in London last September, my supervisor introduced me to Lloyd and I was given the desk right beside his. I used to tell people how lucky I was to be given that desk, as Lloyd became a driving force in my internship experience and soon became a friend and my favourite Merlin staff member for his crazy work ethic, passion for life, determination to get things done, way of caring about people around him, and his way of caring about people in need of humanitarian aid in the distant countries whose maps plastered the columns around his desk.

In our very first conversation back in September 2009, when my logistics colleagues weren’t paying attention, Lloyd leaned over and told me that any time I had a question that I felt too stupid to ask to the logs, I should ask him and he would do his best to answer (which he did, many times). He also showed me the top drawer of his filing cabinet, where he kept his dark chocolate supply, and told me not to ask but just to take some whenever I wanted – Lloyd was very generous.

I spent many hours working with Lloyd on the Indonesia and Haiti emergency responses. He put a lot of faith in my abilities, gave me a lot of responsibility, and was always there to provide constructive criticism and lots of feel-good positive feedback. He taught me a huge amount during the time I was at head office. The example he set for everyone who worked with him was really amazing.

Lloyd hard at work in the middle of a very cold January night in Gatwick Airport Servisair Cargo Shed H, preparing to send seven tonnes of supplies including giant ROFI tents to be used as a life-saving surgical operating centre in Port-au-Prince, Haiti:

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For his big moustache and his absolutely enormous heart, a lot of people will miss Lloyd for a long time, and I doubt any of us will ever stop appreciating what he did for each of us as individuals.

“Why do you do it?” he asked. I replied immediately, “Because we can.”
     – James Orbinski (former Intl President of MSF), An Imperfect Offering

I don’t know if Lloyd ever read that book, but he showed that same attitude, because I can (apparently, as a boy, Lloyd and his best friend used to bring tools to school and disassemble anything they could, then take the stuff home, “because they could,” so I guess he had that in him all along). When you boil down all the big words and philosophising on the question of why people become humanitarian and development workers, I reckon that’s about the most logical and human explanation anyone can come up with. He did it because he could.

I miss him a lot.

YouTube video: Lloyd Donaldson’s Life-Loving, by his friend and former business partner Gregory Kunis.

3 weeks in Lubutu

After spending the first two months of my humanitarian logistics field placement with Medical Emergency Relief International (Merlin) in Kindu, I was invited to fly north up to Lubutu to act as the interim logistician while the usual guy was on vacation. On May 19th, I flew up on a little Busy Bee Congo Let L-410A, which landed at Tingi-Tingi airport just outside the town of Lubutu. Tingi-Tingi is not much of an airport… although it has an official ICAO airport code, it’s actually just a straight section of the road that links Lubutu to Walikale. Merlin staff block both ends a few minutes before the plane lands so there aren’t any people or vehicles on it.

Takeoff after my arrival in Lubutu:

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This is the market on Lubutu’s main street, the same road as in the first photo but a few kilometres from the airport:

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Merlin’s Lubutu base supports 27 health centres in the Obokote and Lubutu health zones. During my first week there, I got to visit several of them. On the way to one such centre, this was the view of an MSF vehicle in the driver-side rear-view mirror of our LandCruiser:

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Inside one of the health centres:

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We also visited a few water sources that Merlin had rehabilitated to provide safe drinking water to local communities:

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One Sunday, a couple of us went to the Lac Vert (Green Lake) which is located 8km along a muddy old track through the jungle. It’s not the easiest road, as this very sketchy bridge demonstrates:

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There wasn’t really anything to do at the Green Lake other than swim and take photos of strange insects. I’m saving the bug pics for another post though.

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Lubutu is a 4 hour drive from Kisangani, the 3rd largest city in the DR Congo, so getting peanut butter, Dairymilk chocolate bars, and biscuits is pretty easy. Put these three together and you have a Lubutu Manwich. Try it sometime, it’s delicious:

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Of course, no blog post about a town is complete without a sunset photo or two. This one was taken looking directly West while driving home from the office:

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This was taken looking North-West through the wire mesh covering the window of the office which I called my own for 3 weeks:

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Cyclists, or tolékistes as they’re known in the DRC, frequently transport either goods or people from place to place. This guy seems to have decided he could make more money with a bench full of passengers than a single one on his rear rack:

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At the house, Mike (the boss) had 5 cute puppies which liked to run up and play with anyone’s ankles, regardless of whether said person was moving or not. One day I heard a loud squeal and looked down to see an airborne puppy, flying a few feet through the air ahead of my moving leg – it had been scooped up by my foot as I was walking full speed.

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One of the puppies was promised to Pam, the boss at our Punia base. June 11th, the day I finished my three week stint in Lubutu, I was flying to Goma with stops in Punia, Kindu, and Kampene on the way, so I was assigned to take the puppy to Pam in Punia. Mike and Okame (one of our drivers) boxed her up in an old inverter box with holes cut in the side, and off we went to the office for a few hours of morning work before the plane’s arrival:

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At the office the puppy ate some food and napped. Then, when it came time to head to the airport, she was put into a bigger box with holes cut in the sides and the seams taped shut. On the drive from the office to the airport she peed in the box (luckily we had put some plastic sheeting in the bottom) and then proceeded to lick up her own urine. In the small plane, I had to keep her on the seat beside me to make sure she wouldn’t break out of the box and run amok in the plane. About midway through the luckily short (15 minute) flight to Punia, she vomited inside the box and then for the next five minutes proceeded to lick that up too. As we descended for landing, she spent the final 3-4 minutes trying to break out of the box while I made sure she didn’t. She may look cute, and it was quite funny in many ways, but I think next time we should find someone with a tranquiliser dart before flying a puppy anywhere.

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After spending the weekend in Goma, I returned to Kindu along with a bunch of other staff members, where I spent the next week as interim logistician there before making another trip back to Goma on June 23rd.

Humanitarian Logistics in a Nutshell – Part 5b: More Construction and Rehabilitation

While I was in Lubutu as interim logistician from May 19 to June 11, I had the lucky chance to oversee a number of improvement projects being carried out on the office base. While the main focus of any humanitarian is on the community in which he/she is working, it’s important to remember that the national and international staff managing the program need to have a functional and safe working space.

One project involved hiring a subcontractor to rebuild the paillote (thatched-roof hut) that protects the 13kVA generator. Without a good, rainproof shelter, a very expensive generator could be badly damaged or destroyed by one of Lubutu’s unbelievably heavy mid-afternoon downpours, leaving the base with no source of electricity.

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The finished product, tested several times in the weeks that followed:

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We got another subcontractor to build a new hut for the guards, because it’s not very fun to work a 12 hour shift after being soaked to the bone:

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Another project during my stay was increasing the security of the base by building a new brick wall at the front to replace the bamboo fence and increasing the height of the brick walls on the sides of the base. These are four photos of the same section of wall; the first two were taken from inside, the last two from outside:

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A leaking building can be problematic if you’re using computers for most of your work, keeping binders of archived documents for donors on your shelves, and vital medicines in your storage rooms. Since there were many leaks in the office roof, the landlord agreed to replace it and Merlin (Medical Emergency Relief International) agreed to supervise the work. It was ridiculously loud but it was important work.

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Back to the walls – after the bricklaying was done, the walls were plastered with cement as you could see in two of the photos above. Following this, a tyrolienne was used to give the walls texture (I don’t know if this has any practical application, but it sure looks nice!). That metal machine – the tyrolienne – shoots out thousands of tiny drops of cement onto the wall as the worker winds a handle on the side of the box.

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Paint comes next, white and green to suit Merlin’s organisational image:

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An ultra-smooth area was created on which to paint an organisation logo and spraypainted before the logo was added:

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A shiny new roof and a bright new wall:

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Final touches – adding a hand-painted Merlin logo for visibility:

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It was really neat watching as the different improvements on the base were carried out and it was a good learning experience as I was able to ask lots of questions to our rehabilitation logistician and the different workers pictured in this post.

Well, that’s the last of my “Humanitarian Logistics in a Nutshell” posts. If you want to read some stuff written by someone who knows a lot more about what he’s talking about, check out Michael Keizer’s well-written blog on humanitarian logistics and other aid-related stuff: A Humourless Lot. He offers good insight in a writing style that’s very accessible.