05 Dec 15
Antonia ZempAntonia ZempSwissNurseEthiopia

The things I'm grateful for

It won’t be New York, Tokyo, Australia or Hawaii, but rather South Sudan, Afghanistan, Congo or Syria. It won’t be peak season, beach weather and tourist attractions that are going to determine my destinations, but rather hunger crises, epidemics, war and natural catastrophes.

This month, I have taken up my two-year contract with the MSF Emergency Unit. From now on, I have to be ready to leave for emergency missions within a couple of days. No sooner said than done… while unsuspectingly attending an epidemics training in Paris, my phone rings during the five-minute break and I am told where I will spend the next two to three months: Ethiopia.

Waiting for my visa and off we go! MSF has identified an emerging hunger crisis in the country and wants to intervene as soon as possible in order to keep the consequences at bay.  Since I am not familiar with nutrition programmes, an experienced MSF nurse is going to accompany me for the start.

I've met her before, during my assignment in Sierra Leone, and really appreciate her support… plunging in at the deep end is not ideal. It will be nice to see her again and it’s also part of the job – meeting a lot of people from around the world. Some of these encounters turn into friendships that outlast the assignment and it’s always nice to meet again, even if the circumstances could be more pleasant.

When you're on assignment, you arrive in a foreign county that is completely unfamiliar, with no clue whatsoever about what's awaiting you. A familiar face means the world to you
Antonia ZempMSF nurse

When you're on assignment, you arrive in a foreign county that is completely unfamiliar, with no clue whatsoever about what's awaiting you (and “no clue” really means what it says). You can be unsure if everyday routines like shaking hands to greet someone could possibly be taken as an offence. Even at the airport you have to just look for a white MSF jacket, as, without your driver, you don’t even know the address of the MSF office. In these circumstances, a familiar friendly face means the world to you.

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I still have a few days left to visit my family and friends and run some errands. A last round of jogging, enjoying the cold winter air, eating a fresh vegetable dish, walking through the city in the absence of any haste or tension. For the next three months, I will have neither the time nor the opportunity to do all of this and it’s exactly why I am so grateful. A glass of clean, cold water directly from the tap. Wow!

I hope to send the next report directly from Ethiopia. Until then… have a nice Christmas break and be thankful for everything that there is to enjoy!