It has been an interesting 10 days on the ground here to say the least. I would imagine, anytime one that travels to a foreign country, in the aftermath of a disaster, you are bound to find it at least somewhat interesting.
I didn't really know what to expect (as you would probably imagine), but I also tried not to come with any preconceived notions. I wondered most about accommodation (particularly when I heard we were living/working in an SA cafe), but have been pleasantly surprised.
We stay at the Sisters Cafe, Salon and Parlor (yes all three in one!). It is a cafe on the first floor, which serves a full breakfast and lunch menu in addition to coffee and typical cafe bakery fare. On the second floor is an office, massage and facial parlor and a hair and nail salon, all of which are for ladies only. The third and top floor is an attic/lounge type of space. This area doubles as our office and sleeping quarters (well at least for the men, the ladies usually sleep outside in tents or in the salon). It has really been a good setup for both working and sleeping. Plus the food is pretty good at lunch too!
The other big worry when traveling to another country is almost always the language barrier. There have been some moments (especially with cab drivers) where some things get lost in translation, but that has been quite manageable as well. The regular folks we work with all speak pretty good English, and we have some good interpreters working with us as well.
The work has been extremely rewarding. There have been a few frustrating moments (mostly with processes outside of our control) here and there, but much of that is overshadowed by the work we are trying to accomplish. It is humbling at every chance to get out and be with the people and to see not only the difficult conditions they now have to live in (many in tents or tiny temporary huts) but the resilience as well.
One of my functions is coordinating, scheduling and working with some of our partners (which sometimes also means the necessary evil of filling out forms and processing paperwork). One of our largest partners here in this operation is MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship). They work through a contracted helicopter company here named Fish Tail to provide heli flights up to the mountain villages that are not reachable by any other means (unless you are interested in hiking up steep mountain sides carrying supplies and equipment for hours or in some cases days).
MAF is sponsored by a grant from UKAID which covers a large portion of the cost for the trips. This means that we can fly personnel and supplies into otherwise unreachable areas for about 10% of the normal cost to do so. Needless to say, we do a lot of flying! In my first 10 days here we have scheduled almost 10 flight hours (which is a lot considering the average flight is only 20-25 minutes in length). I find myself there almost daily processing request forms and working out the details of flight times, locations, passangers and cargo.
The next biggest partner I have to deal with is the Logistics Cluster managed by World Food Programme or WFP as they are known here on the ground (Cheap Plug....for more on my cluster thoughts and what exactly that term means in relief speak, see my post from a few days ago on clusters). The WFP offers free resources such as, transportation (both road from contracted trucks and air through UNHAS - United Nations Humanitarian Air Service) and both short and long term storage options. They are one of the big dogs in the relief arena. So that is the upside.... The downside is there is a lot of hoops and paperwork to jump through.....a lot!
I have gotten a chance to get out and do some good old fashion hard work or manual labor. We have done a distribution or two since I've been here for which I participated, as well as loading and transportation of traps for distribution (one of the biggest needs going right now with the monsoon season fast approaching). There is of course the heli flight up into the mountains on my first day doing the assessment and giving out rice (which is likely to remain both a highlight and one of the most humbling moments).
The team we have here is extremely diverse as well making it an even more interesting experience. Our team leader Damaris, is German (but a UK convert of late as she works for IHQ Emergency Services), our incoming team leader and current camp management lead Carol, is currently Territorial Commander (a big boss in the SA for all the non Army folks who may have tripped into this blog) for our Pakistan Territory of the Army, but originally from Scotland in the UK. In addition to Carol, both George and Macdonald on our team are also from Pakistan; Sharon and VT are both Salvation Army officers from India (the Eastern Territory, which is also the home territory of Nepal); Petr has joined our team from Czech Republic, where he serves as a corps officer; Kathy is here from the SA Social Justice Office in NYC, but originally from New Zealand; Myself and two other Americans Mike and Amanda (both from Hawaii), round out our current team....and of course our many local Nepali friends that helps us on a daily basis.
Well I know this has been a rather lengthy post, so to those of you that have stuck with it I hope it was a good read! For those that stopped reading, we forgive you!
Until next time....