Once I was afraid, I was petrified…

“I don’t know if I can do this. Then again I don’t know if I can’t do this”


Apparently first said by Ffyona Campbell, I heard this quoted in a talk by www.alastairhumphreys.com/– a rather adventurous fellow who over 4 years cycled round the world! 


It struck a chord with me then and right now….I know exactly what Ms Campbell meant!


As the tyres of my little plane screeched down the tarmac I had a peculiar feeling in my gut about arriving back in my wee town…excitement mixed with a little apprehension. However so it was to be – someone somewhere in their wisdom had decided this quite colossal project was the project for me.


(Maybe it was late on a Friday afternoon or there was free booze on offer during the last HQ ‘where to put people’ meeting).


HA! Who am I kidding…bring it on I say!!


Now we have our location compound secured it’s time to start ‘training the troops’. Word is obviously out that some big new shiny organisation is in town and I am stopped and asked for a job with alarming regularity. It can’t be good for a town when so many skilled people are out of work. On the plus side it means we will be able to cherry pick some really great people to join us.




The very first deminers ready to get started


Operations won’t start for a while until we have trained up all our new deminers, paramedics and supervisors. Not that that means we are twiddling our thumbs….oh no no no!


 I haven’t been this busy in a long time.


 NOT sitting in front of a computer all day, RARELY at my desk for more than 5 minutes, BOMBING around sourcing kit and equipment, OUT IN THE FIELD supervising training courses…setting this whole project up from the start, it’s what I do



Out in the training ground watching our deminers master the painstaking job of demining



Getting in on the action – it’s important to get the training absolutely spot on


Don’t get me wrong…I’m far from finding this a walk in the park though but I am enjoying the constant tough questions which my team throw at me, trying to figure out a ‘culturally acceptable’ way to approach challenging situations, I’m even finding the laborious task of financial planning pretty good (the trick is stay in the office…once you leave it’s amazing how easily distractions come your way!).


I like the fact the buck stops with me but balanced with that is the opportunity to really make my mark here and put my ideas into practice.


And every so often one of my team will do something which is so wonderfully random that I can’t help but break into a broad grin – like turning up at my desk with corn on the cob from the small cluster of maize which has sprung up in our compound.


Occasionally however one of them says something just so out of the blue it’s all I can do to stop myself cracking a rib as I try to stifle my laughter…yesterday for example my training officer told me not to be alarmed if I saw 2 goats being slaughtered in the yard. It was perfectly fine, it’s just to celebrate the end of the training course!


Like it’s the most natural thing in the world to have goats’ lives being ended within spitting distance of your desk!


Not to leave me out of proceedings I was duly presented with my huge helping of goat and spaghetti the very next day!



Pops – you wouldn’t like it…smells like goat!


Once or twice the sheer scale of what we are doing has crept into my mind. All this going on right now is all my responsibility. All these people want answers from me, solutions to their problems, help, money…arghhhhhhhh….when it happens I generally stand up, walk away from the corner of desk space I have, wander outside and have a wee look around….then smile and relax again.


 So as I spend the evening reading by torchlight during yet another powercut (I’ve never had so many candlielit suppers…sadly not the romantic type!) or trying to guess when shops might be open or closed (apparently sat afternoons are not for working!)…it feels just like one big adventure…


 And I am LOVING it!


Always be bothered…

Minesign & locals

After another tough week at work and a night out with the Programme Manager of one of the big international aid agencies, my admiration for aid workers with many more years under their belt than I remains undeterred.

It does make me wonder though just how they keep their perpetual composure, passion and most importantly their sanity! 

Without a doubt, my technique is to always be bothered…’

I’m not talking about being bothered on any grand scale…it’s small things which help me keep my sanity. Small things which I know once I’ve done them I will be glad I’ve done them – even though at the time it’s all too easy to think I’m too busy / tired etc. etc. etc. 

So even when I’m in a rush to meet a report deadline, I will always be bothered to make a proper cup of coffee to sip on while I work.

Even when I have ‘to do’ list as long as my arm, I will always be bothered to take 2 minutes to listen to what one of my staff is slowly trying to explain to me.

Even when I am living out in the field for days on end, I will always be bothered to stick on a nice necklace or bracelet to remind myself that there is still a female underneath all this combat and t-shirt field-uniform!!

Even when I get home late from work and want to just shower and sleep, I will always be bothered to do something ‘none-work’ even if just for 20 minutes – read a couple of chapters of a book or cook a quick bite to eat.

Two stories in the media this week showed me just how it can make a difference by always being bothered.

Keep on plodding!

Humanitarian Award

Good motivators for me if I’m having one of  those “oh I really just can’t be bothered to…….”

Tough day at the office…?

In the words of my big sis…“ah yes sis but when YOU say you’ve had a tough day at the office it usually means something really quite different to what most of us mean when we say that….”

The sun was shining and the birds were singing (the guards were sweeping and the dogs were barking!)…all seemed well in the world. However, you just know the day is going to turn into a toughie when your car won’t start because the battery is flat!

Got home from work today shattered – deployment into the field is delayed, my drivers are still struggling with changing a tyre, my supervisors have decided they have lost the ability to use a basic walkie talkie radio, uniforms are late, the photocopier is broken and I was told my logistician spent a months worth of food money of out-of-date rice which everyone is now refusing to eat!

I was greeted at the gate of my house by an irate carpenter & his wife – how come he can work weeks and weeks behind schedule but when I don’t pay him the milli-second he (eventually) delivers my furniture, he is all set to call the police?

I asked my maid to buy fruit and milk and she somehow translated that into powdered coffee cremer and 2 kilos of oranges! And my guards have collapsed my lovingly grown tomato plants with over-enthusiastic watering (ie pouring an entire bucketload of water directly on top of them)

What to do….

I called a friend, admittedly just to have a bit of a moan. She sounded flustered…she told me she had been away for the weekend, her house had been broken into, not only had they taken cash, TV…the usual stuff..but that they had basically cleaned her out of anything not bolted to the floor…beds, fridge, her bathtub !!!!

Just as I was cursing the ‘banditos’ who robbed her she then told me that in her state of anger/shock/upset she had run over her dog and killed her.

Kind of put things in perspective for me….

Tell me something about yourself

Oh how different life is over here. I think this thought a heck of alot but occasionally something happens which brings it home more than ever….at the moment my senior national staff are interviewing new recruits up here.

 The ‘interviews’ generally take place in a busy ‘through route’ office so people wandering in and out throughout the entire preceeding. My guys get ALL interviewees to arrive at exactly the same time then make them wait in turn for hours on end while they do the interviews. They are all given a number on arrival and when presented to the interviewers by the guard they are introduced by their number! It’s like being prisoner!

 The interviewees come in (no pen or paper in hand!) and perch on a chair, looking like they are about to take off any second. The interviewers fire questions, occasionally chatting between themselves if one disagrees with the other about something. At one point I noticed one of the interviewers just standing up and wandering out for 5 mins or so for no particular reason!

On the first morning of interviews I was very politely asked if I would like to move out of the room they were interviewing in…we’re all a bit squashed into 2 offices at the moment …its a bit like hot desking except its more first come first served! Arrival times are getting earlier and earlier each day!

 I thought they wanted me to move because I would disturb THEM as I spoke to my other staff and had to go in and out of the room for various things….but no….they thought they would disturb ME!

 10 mins in, its all over and the next ‘number’ is brought in!

 As for our driver recruitment – my Ops Manager & Chief Mechanic are like a tag team and have been thoroughly enjoying themselves putting our potential new recruits through their paces in a very thorough interview. We have brought in the latest addition of an eye test as well as identification of various dashboard lights!

Test number2

Plus we also do a little ‘whiteboard’ scenario “what would you do if…”

 Driver interview1  

When the quizzing is done for each little scenario asks the other “are you satisfied with that senhor?”, the quizmaster thinks pensively for a moment then eventually says he is and they move on. It’s utter brilliance!

I don’t think I managed a minute of work entertained by the entire preceedings – it was all I could do to stop myself chuckling (very unprofessionally) at their technique.

I have been assured this is all very normal when it comes to recruitment in Mozambique…! It’s unusual to say the least!