And I plan to stay here for a while…
The story of how I ended back in one of my favourite counties a bit of a tale. I had been in Liberia over 4 months, working on the Ebola response. As the emergency wound down, I found myself being moved from the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) in central Liberia, to the capital city of Monrovia to work on strengthening the near-obliterated healthcare system. I traded my glorious views over the jungle and my staff of 120 people who I loved dearly, for the shining coastline where waves barrelled angrily against the white sand, barely drowning out the chaotic city behind. The moved occurred without warning, only days before I left for rest and relaxation leave (R&R) in Thailand.
Upon my return, I quickly got stuck into my new project, but just as quickly I began to feel that something wasn’t right. Maybe I wasn’t right for the project, or Monrovia wasn’t the right place for me, or something, but I was aware that for one reason or another, I was no longer happy. Inevitably I ended setting my sights elsewhere; even Pyongyang or Kabul seemed infinitely preferable to another month of West African chaos and the pervasive smell of chlorine – from both the perpetual routine of Ebola disinfection and the regular cycle of pool parties.
My contract came to an end and I quietly slipped away from the country that had been my home for nearly 6 months. More than once someone asked me to stay a little longer, but in my deepest core, I knew I’d given everything in me to fighting the epidemic. I was willing to risk months of unemployment if it meant I saved my sanity.
Unemployment wasn’t something I had to worry about. Within moments of stepping off the plane in Heathrow I had a random Facebook message from a friend of a friend in Liberia. Did I want to come to Myanmar and work with a particular NGO as their WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) Program Manager? My stomach did a somersault: I had been looking at this very job for almost a month – I had known I wanted to return to Southeast Asia the moment I smelled the air in Bangkok weeks before. This job was my first choice, but I didn’t want to rush into things before I had even left Liberia – the plan was to apply once I had gotten home. And now I was home, albeit not even through immigration.
It was a sign.
Within 2 weeks I had been interviewed and subsequently hired. Not long after my flights were confirmed and I frantically packed my bags, ready to endure yet another long-haul journey. Shortly after efficiently obtaining my on-arrival business visa, I emerged at the familiar Yangon International Airport arrivals area, and made a beeline towards a sign with my NGO’s bold logo, declining three taxis in the space of five seconds, but noting the price was largely unchanged since 2 years ago. Likewise the drive to my office, was much the same, although notably more congested while new buildings had popped up here and there along the way.
This time however, I am not working in Yangon, although many of my old friends still live and work there, and I do visit from time to time (normally coinciding with Fab party). My new home is in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine on the west coast. It’s a fascinatingly complex place, and so far I am glad I made the decision to come here. I’m looking forward to implementing community WASH projects and recently responded to widespread flooding caused by Cyclone Komen. I’m growing a lot professionally and personally, and I’m immensely grateful for this opportunity. I’ve found where I belong at this time.
If you’ve been reading along for a while, you will probably have noticed some evolution in my writing – slowly I’ve moved away from the tourism-centric style of travel blogging and towards a focus on my life as an internationally mobile professional. My writing has also become more introspective – this is in part due to the fact I have to be sensitive to the contexts I am often working in as an aid worker, and also because there is a real need for me to constantly assess and re-assess what is going on inside my head, something which writing helps me to process.
So thank you for being part of this journey so far – I hope you still want to come along for the rest of the ride.