Today is the last day of my sabbatical. Today, if all had gone according to plan, I would have accepted another mission and would get ready for the field again. Would have sent the passports of the family to the HQ in Geneva and started feeling this so familiar mix of anticipation and excitement. I have always loved my job as a Communication Officer, and it always surprised me (I can say it now) that people would pay me to do it!
But 6 months ago, Marcel got a great job opportunity in the Philippines, so this time I would be the one following with the kids. Jobs are never secure in the humanitarian field, so a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, especially when you are looking for family postings. So here we are all in Cebu, for another 2 years!
Last week, I had a talk with the Human resources manager and he came with two offers: one position was in Yaoundé (Cameroun), in a regional delegation with offices in the 7 neighboring countries, 50% in the field, with the chance to work in French, English, Spanish, and even learn Portuguese. The other one was in Khartoum. Both family postings, both very challenging assignments.
I did not feel bad whatsoever when I declined the offers. A bit of frustration, but easily evaporated when I remembered my years in Sudan. The next move was obvious: if I were not available for the next 12 months, then I would have to resign. Fair enough.
So I did, yesterday. A few lines to end up the most fulfilling working relationship I have ever had. I mentioned it to Marcel like another fact of the day, between Leandre’s new bump and Maelle’s last tantrum. It is only this morning when I received the confirmation of my end of contract that my mood dramatically changed.
I browsed the pictures of my ICRC missions, from Sri Lanka to South Sudan, Liberia, India and Thailand, and I felt completely overwhelmed by the memories of the precious people I had had the privilege to cross path with. You would think that aid workers are the most generous people, but you have no idea of all we can learn in the field. Resilience, hope, tenacity were invented by all the people we are simply lending a hand to. My decade in the field has been my school of life, and taught me so much about gratitude, faith and love. My biggest lumps in the throat and my loudest spontaneous laughs.
I will always remember my very first mission in the remote village of Wau, South Sudan. We had to deliver a Red Cross Message to a mother separated from her son some 15 years ago. He was a teenager when he came back to a devastated and empty home, and started his journey in refugee camps.
He was now a medical doctor, happily married in Canada. He would go to church every Sunday, and meet up with people from his home country and even his hometown, sometimes. One particular day, he talked with a new comer who not only happened to come from the same village. But also who could give him news from his mother and brother.
When our little team left the office to look for the mother, I had no hope at all. 15 years, seriously!
It took us 3 days of muddy bumpy roads, rivers crossing and countless mosquito bites before we eventually reached the “village”: A few tukuls in the midst of nowhere. We talked with the head of the community, the religious leaders, anyone who could help us find our way. The more people we met, the more hopeful I became. The image of the mother came into focus. She was not only a name anymore, I could almost see her.
Eventually, we found the little earth house. And old woman in rags came to us, holding tight to the arm of a teenager. Her toothless smile was like a sunshine ray. Before I had time to introduce the team, the boy said “you are coming to tell us about my brother, right? My mother has always said that one day, people from the Red Cross will tell us where he is now”.
I read the message, showed the pictures attached, and could not get my eyes out of the old lady. She was not excited or emotional, as I would have expected. She was simply content, happy, reassured.
A couple of months later, I had the chance to meet with the famous Canadian doctor. He had taken a six-month sabbatical to set up a clinic in his little hometown.
So long ol’ Henry !
I feel very sad to officially leave the Red Cross family, but so thankful for the chance I had to contribute, at my little level, to help the good work forward.
Tomorrow is another day, just need to sleep on this one. Close this one chapter, take all the good lessons and nice memories, and use them to write the next. Every end is a new beginning.