Hello from Belgium

Hello again after a long time away from writing.

Since I wrote last, I took a nice trip around the west coast, then hung around California doing some IT work. Then I moved to Lausanne, Switzerland where I studied French for two months for 4.5 hours a day. I also enjoyed riding my bike a lot, up to 200 km a week, through the Swiss countryside. I moved to Geneva and stayed with friends there during September and some of October. I volunteered at MSF Switzerland’s headquarters, doing special projects for the Logistics department there and continuing my French with a private tutor.

I went to Geneva to work with the logistics department because I was frustrated that MSF’s recruiters have not yet found me a posting. The problem is that over this year, I have always found something interesting to do that takes me back out of the pool of available volunteers. So instead of continuing the pattern that was not working, I decided to make a commitment to living in French-speaking countries, studying, until MSF is ready to interrupt my studies and send me to the field.

In fact, what happened was that the Geneva Logistics department had an extra spot in a training course and sent me to that instead! So for the last week I have been in Brussels Belgium with colleagues from all of the operational sections around the world studying together in the Technical Logistics Course (TLC). This is a very big deal for me; this course is required to do all the things I want to do in my MSF career (work as a logistical coordinator, work on the emergency team, start a project). Also, to do this training, I had to agree to work for MSF for 12 months more. This is no problem for me, but it should motivate them to give me a posting and get their money’s worth!

I am currently working with my recruiters to find a posting where I can work in French. Because I can’t understand French too well when it is fast, or on a radio, or in a meeting, this is tricky. The key is to choose a mission without security problems, or where the security information could be safely handled in English. To ask someone to slow down and repeat something about a truck full of food is one thing. But to miss an urgent warning and drive into a checkpoint of unhappy soldiers is quite another.

The class so far is quite good. We have class each day from 9 am until 9pm with coffee, lunch and dinner breaks.

Also, my birthday was a few days ago. One of the most important lessons I learned in the TLC is “Never have a birthday when you are surrounded by 30 logs, one of whom is from South Africa.” MSF Logs are legendary among MSF people for always being able to supply the alcohol, no matter the challenges, and it was no different here in Belgium. I ended up digging my own grave, because an Englishman who does not speak French asked me to translate for him. He was trying to get Sambucca, but the woman didn’t know about it (and I was already too drunk to translate Sambucca into Pastis — the French anise liquor). After many tries, he got frustrated and said, “well, does she have tequilla?” I translated and she said, “mais oui, monseiur! Un tequilla?” Bon. But then my friend says to her, “Non, dix sil vous plait!”

I’d been had. First, apparently my friend spoke enough French to get himself ten tequillas, after all. And I suppose you can guess that they were not all for him, but for me and the rest of the table. We did manage to get the teacher of the course to take a tequilla shot. no surprise there, actually… he’s a log too, you see. I somehow ended up with two of the ten shots, and though I am old enough to know better, it is hard not to take a second tequilla shot when you’ve got 9 logs chanting “drink, drink, drink”.

So, a good evening was had by all. The morning, not so much… but we all got up early and got on the bus.

The bus takes us to MSF Supply, the supply base for MSF Belgium. There is a log playground there where we can see stuff as it looks in the field, and generally walk around in the mud. Dirty logs are happy logs, so we are happy logs.

(See the pictures here
to see what dirty, happy logs look like.)

Next week we have mechanics, more water and sanitation (i.e. more dirty logs), and something else I can’t remember right now. The class finishes on Friday and I return to Geneva, then on to Lausanne. I will join a French class there again, and continue studying. I am also hoping to do a programming project for a friend who works at the WHO, but that is up in the air, as usual.