I write this in that void between Christmas and the new year. I’m currently in Bangui, capital of Central African Republic (CAR), for three weeks covering for a colleague who has returned home for the holiday period. At the end of my stint here, I will return to the far north of CAR and hand over my base to my replacement. I’ll probably leave CAR on or around 14th January. It’s been a long, but magical, two years here.
Christmas in a country languishing near the bottom of virtually every league table relating to well-being and happiness is a drab affair, though – to give them their due – Central Africans do like to celebrate by getting roaring drunk and wearing silly hats. Yup, pretty much exactly like Christmas in the UK. The day itself was marked, at least for me, by nothing other than a Skype call to my daughter, who was lost in the world of her Sylvanian Families.
Since coming to Bangui though, I do seem to have hit a rich vein of ideas for my Master’s dissertation. The fact that I am completely alone in a house which has everything I need helps. I really can spend the evenings making fine progress with no interruptions; well, save for the guard asking me if I need the generator switched on. I’ve been flying along. I have the introduction down and am moving ahead with chapter 2. I should admit though that I have something down for every chapter so far. I no longer stare at a blank document and wonder how to kick off a chapter. What really helps in this process is that I am genuinely enjoying the research. The current chapter under construction covers a history of humanitarianism up to the end of the Cold War. Now, I’m in the humanitarian world and I’m uncovering huge gaps in my knowledge. This really is giving me a great deal of confidence in the workplace. I actually know stuff now. And that’s one of the reasons I decided to do an MA in International Policy and Diplomacy back in the summer of 2014.
The incredible amount of peace and solitude also means that I can read voraciously, taking in literature relevant to my dissertation as well as other books. I’m ploughing through the bibliography of John Steinbeck at the moment, though I think that may be about to grind to a halt because I really am not enjoying ‘To a God Unknown.’ Still, no one can accuse me of not trying. If you’re an English literature student, please don’t pull me up for not enjoying all the works of this Nobel winner. I was sitting in a roadside shack last week enjoying a warm beer when a street hawker went by with a book by Abdoulaye Wade, the grand old man of Senegalese politics. ‘I’ll give that a go,’ I thought, bartered away for it, and wandered home to leave it somewhere and forget about it. Well, it’s time to dig it out. Who knows, the old boy may throw something up for my dissertation. But if not, at least I’ll know something about the Senagalese presidency. You just never know when that might come in handy during a post-dinner discussion. Not often, I’m guessing.
By the time you read my next blog I’ll have departed Africa (almost certainly not definitively) and preparing for my next adventure which looks like it will be the fight against leishmaniasis in Syria.
Africa has taught me a great deal. It has taught me what extreme pressure in the workplace really is, to be very grateful for having been born and raised in a truly fortunate country, to be thankful for abundant food, to appreciate good health and health services. Enjoy what you’ve got, folks!