Saturday, September 26, 2009
To break with the usual length between postings, I am making use of a 6 hours layover in Dubai to update my blog, and to update you on the most recent developments...
So we have indeed gone to the Maldives , but had the joy of learning just before boarding the plane that our 4 ACF colleagues and their 2 pilots were finally freed :-) What better news to start our honeymoon? Much has been written and said since they got out, so I will just relay my happiness to you guys and wish them to turn this page as soon as possible, a page that nobody should have to write, especially not an Aid Worker!
Apart from that, we do confirm that a romantic trip to the Maldives is definitely worth it, even though Male airport had disturbing similarities with the Kabul Airport (those who know will sympathize) that the Kenyan coast remains an ideal follow up, and that sadly 5 weeks of work between this posting and us coming back from leave have very quickly shelved all those nice moments!!!
So here we are, after my now regular cycle of debriefs/briefs between Brussels and London I have started my new job as a regional security person for Save The Children, and the Aid world being one, I have had the joy of learning that I would not inherit of the 11 countries I was promised, but of the whole 22 countries in Africa where Save operates, while we recruit my counterpart for Western and Central Africa...thank god for budgetary constraints reducing the number of trips but since September 1st, I have had the opportunity of spending 1 week in Lodnon and 1 week in Cairo, and my planning for the next 6 months should see me alternate between Kenya, South Sudan, Somaliland, the Congo, Ethiopia, and South Africa. I have also begun my quest for a visit to Zanzibar(no laughing please)for sole security reasons and have to admit that it working out would really make my job worthwile ;-) all in due time...
And now, off to Syria for a little week to attend my sister's wedding and reset the counters and then....YALLAH!!!
Finally, and as I grew accustomed to at the end of each posting, I would like to have a thought for Trayle's 3 colleagues still held in Somalia...once those 3 out we will end this Somali chapter, but until then may all our thoughts go towards a quick liberation and the end of this ordeal that is sadly becoming too common :-(
Sunday, August 9, 2009
I was telling you about Somalia on May 26th 2008, a context that I was starting on, and an experience that will have lasted…15 months; a context on which I will have spent the most time (as I did for DRC) but by far the most tiring, intense, and complicated context, and of which you least come out ok; 3 as in the number of NGOs with whom I will have collaborated. Save The Children for 6 (3X2) months, then back to Action Against Hunger for 6 months (3X2 still), and to finish, 3 months with Doctors Without Borders. 3 as in the number of kidnappings of NGO workers, that I will have faced directly (managing the ACF hostage taking) or indirectly (consequences of the 2 MSF expat kidnapping, as well as the ACF Kenya one where colleagues of Trayle were taken) 3x3=9 aid workers still missing (7 ACF expatriates and 2 pilots)
3 Million, as in the number of people in need of Aid in this country that has ceased being one a long time ago, and for which our presence should be all but questionable, to see how necessary the humanitarian IV is… Somalia, a sum of contradictions, paradoxes, permanent questioning, where the dark side cohabits systematically with humanitarian duty of care; a context that will have contributed to radicalize all forces on the ground (NGOs and militias alike) where everyday we are pushed to the limit. The limit of what’s acceptable, tolerable, conceivable, the limit of our mandates, of our personal will, of our means too… you can see (or not) why you don’t come out unhurt of today’s Somalia
But all those considerations set aside, this remains an experience of incredible wealth, a kind of a culmination of those past field years. A historical context first of all of a rare complexity (cf. my 2006 postings on the Somali border where Trayle and myself lived) a current context also illustrating the confusion of genres like nowhere else (cf. my 2007 postings on Afghanistan), and a security context that has rendered access to beneficiaries something almost impossible for us expatriates, which has consequently put our national staff on the front line (pun intended) like nowhere else…
So, security. This field of the humanitarian sphere in which I was always implicated through one’s operational culture, weary about their team’s security in the course of duty. Or through one’s decision to develop it, conscious of the bigger role this topic is taking in our post September 11 world, for which we could never thank enough those who have illustrated on the ground de concepts of axis of evil and other words of wisdom, which have contributed to this joyous humanitarian and military mess, as well as to the confusion of genres I just mentioned, the latter having sadly become something to factor into the Aid we are trying to provide to the victims of the “ War on Terror”
Security, a field where NGOs are beginning to give themselves the means to counter this now infamous confusion, and to adapt to the evolution of our trade, the latter becoming one of the most dangerous today (sad contradiction) A good transition.
Firstly to tell you about my new job which sees me going back to Save The Children in a regional safety and security specialist role for Eastern and Southern Africa. A beginning of specialization in the form of a technical advisory role, one less operational and less concrete than the field work I have been involved in until now, but a challenge of the most interesting ones, and the possibility to improve access, but mostly and simply to improve our conditions of intervention in a riskier and riskier trade, increasingly drawn into considerations in which it should never be drawn into…
Secondly, to step down a bit from all this emotional investment of the last 5 years, and concentrate on my private life…so where am I standing? Following our settling down in Nairobi, and the discovery of Expatriate life in its most stereotyped and epicurean meaning, Trayle and myself tied the knot; first in smart clothing in Nairobi, then with our feet in the Indian Ocean water: a wedding just the way we wanted it, and where we wanted it. Many friends and families were absent for obvious logistical and financial reasons, but as we said to everybody, celebrations do not end here ;-) Time now to increase the size of the family, from 2 to 3, and for that time to change our professional lives a bit, this explaining (partly) my new professional role: nappies and trolleys soon? Inshallah!
But for now, time to rest a bit and what better than honeymooning to turn this page properly? So the Maldives here we come, followed by the Kenyan coast, so as to compare the Indian ocean beaches, before writing the new page which I sincerely hope will be calmer and less passionate… let’s see if this remains possible in this humanitarian world, so engaging and so violent, but so necessary…
I would like to finish this posting by dedicating it first to my 7 ACF colleagues and the 2 pilots still detained today in Somalia, hoping for their freedom as soon as possible and the end of this hell that should never have existed… dedicating it then to all Somali national staff still detained there, and whose faith sadly seems to less matter since nobody seems willing to talk about it, and finally to all Aid workers that still work on Somalia with increasing constraints, and that try to make a difference in conditions that do not deserve anything else than the utmost respect…big up to all of you.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Friday, August 15, 2008
Friday, July 18, 2008
While waiting for the next posting, here are two excellent articles that sum up Somalia perfectly...and sadly! To give you an idea of the country we're trying to work in.....
The second one to update you on the latest shift affecting us humanitarian workers:
Monday, May 26, 2008
Salam, Bonjour, Hello, Hola, Mbote, Jambo, Hayyeh that and much more…I finally update this blog, 7 months and a half after the last real posting where I was telling you about my challenges in Afghanistan from the top of the mountain in Hazerajat. So much since, so let’s go step by step!
Americano-Anglo-Middle Eastern holidays allowing me to enjoy the East and West coast, as well as London, Damascus and also Dubai before getting back to work beginning of March: exploratory mission in DRC, North Kivu specifically, for Action Against Hunger. An area with needs as massive as security is bad, and ACF’s will to develop activities will have allowed me to do this Congolese pilgrimage with a special meaning to me! Yes my friends the Congo, my first assignment, the one that gave me the will to go on in this NGO world, the one that taught me much more than what I can acknowledge, a country that s given me so much and to which I was more than happy to repay my debt. So I headed to Goma beginning of March with a colleague and came back two weeks later with the widest smile. Professionally speaking our mission led to launching of assistance programs as well as a considerable fund raising allowing ACF to begin project implementation while they get a better grasp of the area, and conceive more ambitious activities. Personally speaking, how can I put it? Meeting up again with this country and its people, discovering a new part of the
The amount of blasts from the past that never left the country, or came back after a few escapades is impressive. A journey through memory lane, and one of the most enjoyable, but no nostalgia, only happiness in writing this new chapter. I had a tough time leaving, and something tells me that it is not over yet between the
I could have stayed some of you might think, all the more as ACF offered me to, a logical follow up to a successful exploratory mission, but I was eager to take some time off in Kenya after North Kivu before turning the page and beginning my new job…yes my friends, before leaving for Goma I had signed with another organization, British this time, called Save The Children, to become their security coordinator for Somalia, a position based in Nairobi, Kenya J
A change in employers, and the end of my experience with ACF. A step affectionately and emotionally of the hardest after almost 4 years (I started as a volunteer in London HQ on June 1st 2004) spent with this organization. An organization that taught me everything I know, and that gave me the most unique opportunities to gain my experience. Please refer to my French blog with postings since 2004 if you want to know more. It was time nevertheless to go see elsewhere so as to diversify my experience, discover another way of addressing humanitarian concerns, but also discover different means (and not necessarily wider ones). Last but not least, let us not forget different working conditions and a more generous package that also plays a part, since we are not monks (as I often like to remind people) but professionals with envies, requirements, and even individual and material needs.
I am now a security coordinator. Our team’s security, expatriate and national staff alike, as well as our beneficiaries, has always been part of my prerogatives and I wanted to have an exclusive experience in this field and put (temporarily?) logistics aside, so as to develop my expertise and see if such specialization would appeal to me. And what better than a context like
I believe you got the hints by now, there will be changes for our couple. My Cherie and I have decided to get married and plan on offspring in the years to come. You should be all aware that we are engaged since December 2006, and were just waiting to find ourselves in more hospitable lands than
So you have the global picture, I believe we will be properly sorted as of July, and our door will be wide open to all of you (not at once though…) and maybe get to catch up finally with this bloody time that keeps going by, and because of which we have so much to catch up on…
Next posting on my first steps in
Thursday, February 21, 2008
To get you through the wait for my next piece (I know I know) here:
1) A press communique posted on Action Against Hunger's French internet site, written by my beloved :-) We're talking Afghanistan of course and water problems.
2) An interview conducted by lemonde.fr with Action Against Hunger's head of Mission in Kenya. The interview is from February 1st but is fairly interesting if you want to understand a little bit of what is happening there right now.
3) To finish on something a little bit lighter, here is a moment of congolese musical (tragi)comedy...really worth it!ah souvenirs...
PS: All in French I' m afraid, but definitely enjoyable
Saturday, October 13, 2007
6 months later, I finally take the time to update this blog I have been neglecting too much. I am writing from Hazerajat, in the Central Highlands of Afghanistan, on top of the mountains, where one of our three operational bases is, and out of which we run water and sanitation and food security programs. My second field visit so to say. As a logistics coordinator one of my responsibilities is to go regularly to our bases to verify the quality of logistical support, to coach and train expatriate logisticians and national staff, and sometimes reset the counters when things are going out of control. One hour by plane to get there, or 3 hours by helicopter, or 3 days by road on board of a 4X4 (what I actually had to do twice and both ways) I was visiting our Taywara base just before getting here, a base running without expatriate presence since May 2006 owing to security complications and proximity with one of the Taliban strongholds. Thank god we have programs in Kabul to remind ourselves of what the field is like. Security doesn’t make things easy….good transition to talk about the latter which has been continuously degrading since 2005, and continuously degrading since the winter snows melt. One thing comes to mind….WTF!!! Kabul remains our most risky base owing to everything you guys hear and read about in the media, that and much more…. Security of the mission doesn’t only mean managing it, it’s also being often blocked in Kabul to ensure a potential evacuation, cancel field visits, and regularly modify our plans to adapt to the context, reduce the risk to the minimum, and try to remain unpredictable. To sum it up, I went to the field for the first time in July (one visit), a second time in October (two visits), and I am planning on two final visits before the winter in November, if security allows it of course…
But why insist so much on what we sacredly call the field? Well because this year is my first one as a coordinator, based in capital, whose function is to supervise those running the projects, along with managing the multiple (and often tedious) interactions with Headquarters. Apart from security, coaching, and control mentioned above, I have also to define the logistics needs of the mission to the donors (to get money and nice equipment) on top of managing our existing means countrywide. I am therefore responsible for the car IT and equipment parks, for the good running of our bases and programs supply chain, not forgetting movement monitoring within the country, and that and much more…. I think you get the point: less contact with the beneficiaries, but an equally important management role, giving means to the mission for it to run properly, in collaboration with the program coordinators, the administrator, and the head of mission: the coordination team. We are in touch with HQ through our technical referents who support us each in our respective fields, through our procurement, IT, and maintenance departments who allow us to make up for needs we cannot satisfy locally, and finally through the desk officer and his team, kind of the big boss of the mission in touch with all donor HQs, and whose role is to be our ambassador to the operations department managing all missions of Action Against Hunger. Is that all? Of course not, as I haven’t mentioned the technical department in charge of research, the communication department handling media, mailings, and other communiqués you guys get in the West, the financial department giving us money, and last but not least, the human resources department supplying us with expatriates, a staple sadly too rare for destinations like Afghanistan.
One serious problem affecting us, that of not finding volunteers for Afghanistan. The Media are to blame we are told, because of this biased image of a violent and dangerous country. Why stop at that? Why not show the progress accomplished since the Taliban were toppled in 2001? Yes the situation remains one of an insurrection with the government controlling less than half of the country, and one would be naïve not to consider this country not at war still, but what about reconstruction, health and education systems progressively rising again, and all the constitutional steps taken for the past 6 years? This reminds me of the media coverage of Arabic countries, where the background to reporters talking is still too often a desert or a devastated piece of land, to keep alive the image of the underdeveloped Bedouin …no comment!
One problem brings another, one of imposing bad company instead of walking alone…Clowns galore expatriate wise, between those who come to save the country, and those who want to evangelize the natives. You all remember the kidnapping of the two French hostages in April, kidnapping that occurred in a zone where even fools wouldn’t dare venturing, and the more recent and edifying kidnapping of the 23 South Koreans coming to evangelize our bearded friends, kidnapped on the most dangerous road of Afghanistan. Who to blame? The ones sending those people, all those small organizations and congregations who in my opinion should be sued for such acts. This clown issue also applies internally sadly to us serious NGOs having a hard time finding expatriates for our projects. A situation so exasperating that I prefer to stop here!
Our last ordeal? Money of course and the associated policy of the ones providing the dough: I give you the international community. For almost two years now the general mood is to finance directly the Afghan government and all humanitarian/military structures supposedly in the best position to address problems we as NGO have developed our expertise on. In relation to the government I couldn’t agree more, but only on the basis of proven good governance, which is sadly not the case in this country plagued by corruption. In regards to this monstrosity of having Einsteins in combat gear assisting populations, it is difficult to find words because of the damage such an association of concept does to our neutrality and puts us NGOs under the impression of taking sides in a conflict when our only aim is to assist vulnerable people. What is then left for us of all those billions injected in the reconstruction of Afghanistan? Few crumbs forcing us for nearly two years to reduce our activities, while needs remain as important as before if not more.
This is why a mission like Afghanistan is considered a tough one. Because we have to face all those problems and maintain our presence for all the populations still struggling. What about motivation and morale? Well, we keep the faith, especially during those field visits I was telling you about at the beginning, when we get in touch with our beneficiaries and mostly with those who cannot be our beneficiaries because of all those walls surrounding us. Afghanistan still needs NGOs, and could definitely do without all those clowns we come across, and without this confusion of genres the military are imposing. What to do again? Just be patient and wait for the international community to change its tactics and give us back means to act upon, thanks to our lobbying, denunciations, and determination…inch Allah!
I would like to end this posting with a special thought to my friend Irfan working for the International Committee of the Red Cross, taken prisoner by criminals wanting to sell him to the Talibans, while coming back from one of the most dangerous areas of the country where he was negotiating the freedom of the last German hostage released couple of days ago. Irfan also participated in the release of the South Korean hostages a couple of months earlier. Thankfully enough, the story ended on a bright note, with him and his 4 other colleagues (abducted at the same time) released safe and sound. Please spare a thought for those who like him risk their life everyday for others in this country, but also in all those troubled destinations where we try as much as we can to make a difference…big up to all J
Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Oh one last thing... it is in French, so hope you won't have too hard a time understading it!
Friday, April 13, 2007
When you’re an expat, all tastes and wallets can be accommodated. May everyone be assured, we‘re not missing anything and specially not food or alcohol, all of that in the most secure environments. It becomes a little bit more complicated when we want to discover the other world, the real one, the one of afghan people. Welcome to the reality of tight security (which I have to monitor) controlled risks (or not) and all kind of assessments every time we go out of our green zone. We’re banned form walking outside of a small perimeter, banned from driving, accompanied movements most of the time with national staff. Always be discreet, no NGO visibility over here, the contrary actually with a low profile policy to blend as much as we can. The cultural barrier is also quite impressive as you can imagine, regarding women first of all, but also regarding a strange type of Islam rather difficult to perceive, somewhere between politeness towards expats, proper zealousness, and disillusion towards the west which, once again, only portrays its most mercantile and less ideological side, a side regularly denatured by ignorance, anger and other extremist manipulations.
So past the usual salamaleks, the couple of outings to popular restaurants with the staff, and the cups of tea exchanged at the office, what is left? Expatriates, my biggest deception since arriving in afghan territory. The readers of my French blog often
Saw me doing the apology of those friends and arms companion circles, as rich as strong and sincere. What about Kabul? Sadly all the contrary L First chock, the average experience and age.
Arriving in such a battled context, I was expecting to meet people with a certain experience, who would have been through other difficult destinations, and mostly older people (more mature that is) How wrong was I! With a rough 25 years of age and consequent reasoning, the level of debates is alarmingly low. Add to that an impressive naivety, shining through admiration for “this great country of warriors and wonderful landscapes) forgetting all realism and/or social, historical, and cultural barriers. The humanitarian world has always partially been populated by people escaping something and looking for something else, but a culture medium for growing youngsters doing their semester abroad in Afghanistan, this leaves me jaw dropped.
Another choc, the community circles reigning in the expatriate world, and more specifically in the French one. If getting together with compatriots has always been a joy, augmented with a good wine bottle, some genuine food, and all kind of pretexts used to do the apology of the French way of life (and bashing of the English in rugby hehehe) here the situation is closer to a linguistic and cultural ghetto. My humanitarian experience has always been rich thanks to the melting pot of nationalities I have come across, so what a deception to fall in such a monochrome universe! Annoying clichés surface again, along with stupid prejudice sometimes even flirting with intolerance, but the worse bit? Other nationalities do the same…who to blame then?
Of course we’ve organized resistance, undermined though by end of assignments of valorous warriors, but the fight goes on. In the end is this situation really bad? This little resistance group has an undeniable advantage of clearing a lot of free time, then available to be enjoyed in many ways, but this will be the topic of my next posting.
A military vocabulary adapted to the situation, but why? Because we are in a country engaged in an active war (a novelty for me) and I am discovering a new part of the NGO world, our friends the campaigning military men, in charge of war but also of winning “hearts and minds” the infamous motto common to all Einsteins in battle gear. The name of foreign troops in Afghanistan, ISAF (International Security and Assistance Forces) sums up the confusion we pay the price for as NGOs. For the I the S and the F no problem, but isn’t strange that assistance, usually reserved to NGOs, be part of their mandate. Yes we are “facing competition” from our friends the army men…and what does it give? A real mess as dangerous for the quality of Aid provided as for our own security. Big up to the men in green. My disgust of the uniform may come today from more complex elements, but is still as alive as ever. More explanations? To be followed in the next episode….to keep you hanging on to this blog ;-)
Saturday, April 7, 2007
Following the kidnapping of 2 french aid workers, and while we slowly dig the increasing insecurity sadly promised to us in Afghanistan this year, find a little interview I did with the french news site lemonde.fr. In french of course (sorry guys...) Thanks Marion ;-)
Monday, March 12, 2007
So here I am writing my first official post in English from…Afghanistan! I am sitting comfy in my bed in Kabul trying to give birth to this new blog after my silent year 2006 which saw me mostly not sending any news to the outside world. So where to start? First of all please know that Trayle and I are still together. For those of you not in the know (any left?) I met this lovely lady in DRC end of 2005 and we have been together since. Well girlfriend is not really the word as we are officially engaged since the 3rd of December. This happened on a sunny Kenyan day at the Masaï Market in Nairobi. A street vendor gave us his blessings by selling us two nice silver rings, in a ceremony witnessed by all neighboring vendors, happy for us, but sad not to have us contributing to their daily turnover. This ceremony followed an official proposal made (and accepted) on a white sandy beach on the Indian Ocean six months earlier. No talks of wedding for now, even though several ideas come across...in due time my friends ;-) Our Kenyan mission on the Somali border ended on December 19th and we were able to take 3 weeks of rest between Paris and London (interrupted by all kinds of briefs and related meetings though) before heading for the country which gave birth to Action Against Hunger in 1979, a country that remains an emblematic destination for the humanitarian world, a country where its past, present, and future collide with such a density that it is hard not to be in permanent questioning about what we see and experience over here. Nothing messy in my head, but all that is brewing in an unconventional way and having lots of (side) effects on me little head. How can I explain that? Let me go chronologically to bring you where I am standing right now. What comes across when you think of the history and past of Afghanistan? The Russian invasion, the mudjahiddins, the civil war, Massoud, Ben Laden, the talebans, the coalition, the poppy…internal and external conflicts sadly too old to mention, that have put the country on its knees, traumatized generations, and annihilated all hopes of future, making this notion impossible to grasp for a lot of people. DRC comes to mind not for the nature of the conflict or its duration, but for the horror it has created and the devastating consequences it had on the population. On our NGO side, well Afghanistan remains the humanitarian laboratory where blossomed (not to say where born) protocols, procedures and other methodologies that make today the strength of organizations like Action Against Hunger. A mission to which special attention is given by our Paris headquarters, and with whom the relationship is comparable to a past love affair, where one is still in touch with his previous flame, hoping for a new beginning as melancholic as improbable, while this flame has grown, evolved, and changed for better or for worse. Afghanistan today, is summed up as far as I’m concerned by this huge poster of Massoud one can see as soon as one comes out of the airport parking and we start our journey to town. Afghans are alike, warriors for who honor comes before dialogue, and for whom gunpowder remains sadly the most used language, regardless of what the media and others feed us regularly. Massoud of course rhymes with France and its official and unofficial massive investments in terms of human, financial, and military resources ever since this love relationship started. We are talking about the same Massoud who despite his noble intentions did not hesitate to bomb the Hazara areas of Kabul owing to one of the ever changing alliances with warlords and other AK47 masters…food for thought as the last thing I want to do is to launch once again this debate. Let’s get back to this enormous poster serving its purpose: a reminder to the French of what they like, and I would even say a poster comparable to a direct debit form? One wonders owing to the number of Froggies in Afghanistan, and the amount of official representations, NGOs and other French companies. The “Afghanistan” label seems to be a very successful one as I have met expatriates working for “Free Afghanistan”, “Afghanistan Tomorrow”, “Afghanistan Brittany” (!!!) and the list goes on….so what to think about this poster? A well crafted marketing strategy or a genuine identity in the process of being built to overcome clan interests, without forgetting all the smuggling business and the mighty poppy? I don’t think I will find any answer to this question, but remain fascinated and enchanted by this country where so many strong emotions cohabit. What about the future then? The great unknown for a year considered to be decisive (like the one before actually) at all levels. On society level where tradition, religion, and other cultural exerts are being extinguished by all kind of futilities coming from our beloved consumer society. But how can you condemn Afghan people for enjoying bits of our western consumerist paradise, an escape from a gloomy present they rather bury and replace with sophisticated mobile ring tones, and big imported SUV? On the political level too, where corruption has completely corroded an administration incapable of keeping promises for a better tomorrow that Karzaï had once sworn to make reality. Also on the economic level where poppy eradication becomes an obsession while growing it is often the only income generating activity allowing people to alleviate their misery, leaded with the absence of any other alternative. And finally on a military level where the infamous talebans are exploiting this (almost) still life to go back to an era where, to quote a 2001 European ad, 100% of afghan women had disappeared. Add to that of course the strategic interests of neighboring Pakistan, and the one and only Uncle Sam hell bent on triumphing from evil, in order to eclipse the Iraki gong show and other republican adventures you know better than me… The future of NGOs too? I am realizing, with all consequent enthusiasm and interest, that we are writing the new post 9/11 humanitarian order, with the slow death in its actual form of our neutrality, and a fair amount of our operating principles, replaced by a new deal emerging from humanitarian/military interventions, war of religions and civilizations (god do I hate such stupid expressions) and all the good vs. evil confusion one can retain. Ok, I will stop for this time; I think you have a good idea of where I am for now. Next time I will try to give you a glimpse of our Kabul daily life at and off work, not forgetting our friends the militaries who add their unique touch to an already crowded scene. I would like to finish this posting with a special and sincere thought to all friends and colleagues currently in Darfur. No need to dwell on the news or the context of this intervention, but I would like to point that the physical and sexual aggressions the local populations and NGOs are subject to have become beyond the unacceptable. All my thoughts go more specifically to all Action Against Hunger teams which have been exposed to that recently, and that still go on despite all the horrors they witness and are victims of. Big Up Amigos all I can say from here.