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© Rob Verrecchia/MSF
17 Jan 17

23 tell-tale signs you've worked with MSF (or will do someday)

You know you probably work with Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) if...

1. You can strip shower so efficiently that you have change leftover from one litre of water.

2. The merest hint that cheese may have arrived with the monthly food order elicits a bleat of joy followed by an undignified stampede to the kitchen.

3. Your stomach is cast iron resistant to the varying degrees of sanitation and weird foodstuffs that you subject it to while on mission, but falls apart the moment you eat out on your arrival home.

4. Physically, you have ripped musculature from lugging around a tonne of cargo per week but, cardiovascularly, you struggle with a single flight of stairs as  security restrictions mean you haven’t been able to walk much further than the width of your base in months.

5. Fireworks genuinely provoke your startle response. Followed by embarrassment.

6. You disconcert newcomers to the field by spending an inordinate amount of time staring at their feet in awe of how strangely clean they are.

MSF staff in the Philippines dance before a handover ceremony.

7. Seeing a mirror while on mission is an approximate monthly event and is usually coupled by brief failure to recognise your own reflection, followed by dismay or pride at the amount of facial hair you’ve cultivated in that time.

8. Supermarkets at home baffle you. And the very sight of a whole aisle of 59 different types of breakfast cereal has been known to induce tears.

9. You sort of understand why Bob Geldof does what he does but wish he would do it in a less cringeworthy way.

10. You react to every small shadow moving in your peripheral vision as if it is a snake. Which, in all fairness, it sometimes is.

11. The first thing you put into your bag (at home or away) is a head torch – you never know when the Greater London generator may go off.

12. When flying, you always pack three pairs of underwear in your hand luggage, in preparation for when: a) your luggage inevitably gets stuck in Casablanca where you are not or, b) when your plane doesn’t arrive for three days, but for reasons best known to themselves airport security refuse point blank to give you back your checked bags.

13. Occasionally you dream in Excel.

14. You consider intestinal parasites, leprosy and female genital mutilation to be normal topics of conversation at dinner. This may explain why you are still single.

15. After several months of having only Sudanese-brand beer, you take longer smelling your first glass of wine when you get home than you do drinking it (aka Wine Foreplay).

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16. You consider e-readers to be tantamount to proof of God’s love just for humanitarian workers. Backlit ones more so in places with erratic generators.

17. You are willing to spend 100 euros on a 30 minute massage but not more that 10 euros on new clothes and consider this to be a completely sane and rational distribution of money.

18. You refuse to throw away your Birkenstocks when they have basically disintegrated past the point of even being flip-flops because in your head, and in comparison to everything around you, they still count as “fancy footwear”.

19. Any clothes that expose your knees and/or shoulders make you feel as if you are showing positively scandalous amounts of flesh. Realising this fact makes you feel decidedly Victorian, but you can’t help it.

MSF staff in Kabul.

20. Any air temperature even slightly below 25 degrees Celsius is automatically classed as “bloody freezing”.

21. Coming home and not having to sleep under a mosquito net leaves you feeling weirdly exposed.

22. You continue to greet/thank people on your return home in a variety of obscure tribal dialects. And then not infrequently apologise in them too.

23. You know your passport number and issue date by heart. And how many blank pages you have left to fill…

Thanks to Hayley and Brigitte who contributed to this!

Emma orginally wrote this as a blog post in 2015. Read the original here.

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