Thursday, September 6, 2007

One week in...

Today, during my evening run, I had a close call with a machete. Though typically imposing, the instruments are quite practical for cutting through dense grass and plants (or anything else for that matter) and are common along the streets in Monrovia. I was jogging with a CHAI coworker and a South African pilot in Sincor, a neighborhood in eastern Monrovia, and was jumping around potholes in the road which had filled with mud. I hopped, not-so-gracefully, towards a corner of the street covered by plants and stepped forward just in time to see a machete clear the path. If anything, this first week has proven that the year ahead will keep me on my toes.

I returned to Liberia one week ago as of last night, landing at Roberts International Airfield on schedule and with all of my luggage. I enjoy landing at RI; it’s a small airport and passengers disembark via ladder to pour into a very crowded customs office. I’m looking forward to completing the necessary paperwork to warrant stand in the “resident alien” line.

Wednesday was a day of logistics. I headed into the office, delivered all technology I packed for the office (I carried three laptops, an MP3 player, and a phone), bought a phone, talked to a couple landlords, priced office supplies, and took a very excited trip to the tailors. One of the CHAI employees is working to refurbish a room at the JFK Hospital in the Sincor neighborhood and subsequently making curtains for the pediatric ward. The primary cost is the cloth itself. Two or three yards may cost 10-15 US Dollars, depending on the material, and the service charge may range from 7-15 USD, depending on the order. Typically a shirt it less than 15 USD.

Friday proved to be a fast orientation to both the M.O. of meetings in Liberia and some of the key issues of the next couple weeks. I arrived at the National AIDS Control Program (NACP) for a 10 o’clock meeting; we started at 10:30 and ran (at a steady clip) until about 3 before everyone’s attention started to wane. The focus was on creating indicators with which to measure the quality of services offered by health facilities throughout the country. While I am working directly with the NACP Supply Chain Manager, much of our work will relate to the process of Monitoring and Evaluating (M&E).

At the close of business Friday I went with a couple coworkers to a happy hour at the American Embassy. The embassy, despite being of smaller size, sits in an enormous compound - fit with a helicopter pad in case an emergency evacuation is necessary. Apparently, during the war, the apartments nearest to the American embassy were the most expensive in the city because tenants were willing to pay premium for the security offered by the embassy and nearby UN buildings. To a certain extent, rent in apartment in this Mamba Point neighborhood are still high. Happy hour was... happy... with plenty of Heineken to go ‘round.

This past weekend was a welcome time to wrap my head a few work project - then unwind while getting to know a bit more of the city. I went to a Hash run on Saturday (a story unto it’s own), followed shortly after by a party hosted by a number of UNMIL characters. As the Liberian police force is still in its infancy, the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has thousands of men and women on the ground to train local officials. Logically enough, each battalion is referred to as the first syllable of the country name followed by “bat”. For example, a battalion from Ghana may be called GhanBat. “BanBat,” a battalion of women from Bangladesh guards the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Monday brought more meetings - though the discussion this week has been a bit more lively than I’d seen earlier. The top priority for the coming weeks is preparing for the LFA (Local Fund Agent) to inspect the Global Fund mission here in Liberia. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria (GFATM) is the primary donor of antiretrovirals (ARVs) in Liberia. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is the primary recipient of these fund and thus the chief procurement party. UNDP works with the National AIDS Control Program (NACP) to forecast the demand of supplies and I, in turn, am offering technical support to the Supply Chain Manager at NACP. The report submitted by the LFA may significantly impact the funding Global Fund devotes to Liberia, and subsequently the supply of ARVs in the country. Thus, we are all putting the majority of our energy into ensuring that the hospital facilities the LFA will visit are prepared to demonstrate their capacity to manage HIV/AIDS tests and treatments.

Amidst the focus on this more serious topic, everyone enjoyed brief comic relief at the expense of a small mouse in an NACP conference room. In the middle of her sentence, a UN speaker gasped a bit, shook her head and, pointing across the room, said, “I’m sorry, I can’t speak, there is something moving over there!” The remainder of the meeting went much more quickly in spite of the distraction.

Tomorrow I will go to the Firestone Hospital (of the Firestone Tire & Rubber Company) in Margibi County for the first of several visits to prepare for the LFA inspection. No doubt, it will be yet another day of something new and unexpected.

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