17 December 2016: Trinidad, Cuba.
This is it. A glass of champagne in an Air France flight toward Paris and I’m suddenly realizing I’m out of Central African Republic (CAR). End of mission, end of twelve amazing, crazy and challenging months, pushing my personal and professional limits into new unknown territories, but bringing a surprisingly nice feeling of accomplishment. So much more could have been done though and so much more need to be done in a country just aspiring to peace and a bit of stability.
But despite the sadness, I know my job is done. Debriefing tomorrow and then a good break, before heading for another mission, another country and new limits to be pushed. But that’s another story…
On est ensemble!
Normality is, by definition, relative. And with the arrival of my successor, I slowly start realizing that my year in Central African Republic is almost over. But I am also becoming fully aware that I won’t be able to share that year, my work, with most of my friends and family, with “normal” people. How could I explain to them that my normality, my daily routine, sometimes has nothing to do with theirs?
A few people will understand, but the majority will either think that I am unconscious and naive, or a brave guy saving the world. Except that I’m neither of them. Our references, our perception of life, security or definition of common knowledge just became quite different over time. And there is nothing wrong with that.
Sometimes, in extreme situations, you realize that normality is everything but universal. And that we all learn to cope with new situation, new surrounding. But are we all ready to leave our environment for something new? I have heard so many times people telling me that they would love to travel around the world, to work in Africa or to live far from their comfort zone. But what are they doing to realize that dream? What do you do to be yourself?
Someone just asked me if (and how) I have access to internet in the field. While I had a pretty good 3G internet connection in Darfur, internet in the South East of CAR is a rather rare and expensive resource. It is more or less either by BGAN (mobile solution, at 5$/MB) or by VSat (fixed installation, at about $1000/month), both using a satellite connection. Although I’ve been travelling lately with a BGAN for work, I can obviously only use it for professional and urgent matters (or it’s gonna become a rather expensive Youtube video…). But if I have the chance to get access to another organisation’s wifi, then it’s X-Mas and I can load the news on my iPhone and read all the daily articles of the New York Times, which usually keep me busy for a while at night.
However, being isolated has some positive aspects too. You can learn how to cook a monkey, stop a colon of aggressive ants going out hunting or simply how to make sure a turtle doesn’t flee before you start boiling it.
So, because it’s always good to know it when you have annoying neighbours or a spoiled nephew: How to cook a monkey?
It’s actually very simple: Find a monkey, kill it, throw it in a fire, carbonize it for a while, remove its hair, cut it in half, eviscerate it and chop it into pieces. Do NOT throw away its hands or head, it’s supposed to be the best parts and it’s a fantastic way to shock your vegan friends.
Enjoy your meal!
When music isn’t enough, photography has always proved to be my best bubble. Just focusing on the light, the subject, trying to reproduce the feeling or ambiance perceived, and enjoying it.
And all the rest doesn’t exist anymore. What else?
My mind is clear and in control. My senses in alert. Are they coming? I quickly get dressed in the dark, hide my sat phone and close my bag. My movements are surprisingly precise. I can feel my heartbeat getting back to normal. I know what just happened. The screams stopped right after the detonation. I switch on my flashlight, point it towards my face and open the door.
The cold is biting my cheeks and my throat. I close my eyes, for a few seconds and feel the wind against my face. Alone, with just the sound of the snow against my skis, and my breath, as I’m pushing to maintain my speed and expel my rage. My thighs are burning as I empty my mind. I wish it were colder.
In the train, my head full of music and thoughts. I close my eyes and think about my veranda in Bangui and the rain. I smell the last book I just bought and instantly miss all the others. As I’m focusing on my breathing, my mind starts shifting and suddenly, I want to be swimming in a cold fjord, listening to my heartbeat.
I am ready now.
In Motion pt. 1 by The Cinematic Orchestra
10 April 2012: Switzerland [Click on the picture to enlarge it].
The sky is filled with stars and the night absolutely silent. Just a small, soft music, in my head.
Lots of meetings and discussions with interlocutors. Some sms. And a memory card in my pocket, containing some first official pictures to be processed.
The music gets lounder. 48 heartbeats/min.
Another night in Africa.
11 February 2013: Thanks to Alyona, for posing despite the bad light and lack of chair. Bangui, Central African Republic. [Click on the picture to enlarge it].
A new episode of “Life is tough”:
Having meetings with local representatives, including high rank officers, is sometimes a bit tricky and intimidating. Although I am now getting used to it and even started enjoying it, it can suddenly be very complicated to keep your nerves when you interlocutor welcomes you wearing his official pants, part of his uniform, and a… lady top (cartoon style).
Neither is it easy not to laugh when you get an official, but unexpected visit on Sunday, while watching an episode of the (excellent) series “New Girl” and still having the last joke in mind.
03 December 2012: Barthelemy, Zemio, Central African Republic. [Click on the picture to enlarge it]
And for those still wondering, here is a new definition of love:
– My ex-girlfriend, the model, we had sex and it was just like… I was happy. You know? We were connected, I wasn’t thinking about anything! What is that?
– That is love, you idiot!
– [Whispering] That’s love!!
– … Yeuuuuurk!!
– Yeah, it sucks!
– So do I have to be in love now, to have good sex?
Schmidt and his boss, while in bed. New Girl Season 2, Episode 9
On the way back from the airport, I can not prevent myself from smiling, listening to Alpha Blondy’s singing “You don’t have the right to shoot the children”. At the back of the land cruiser, a father and his daughter are trying to get used to each other again. Few minutes earlier, they embraced for the first time in two years, result of an incursion of the LRA in their house one night.
Later, watching a movie under a sky filled with stars, I feel relaxed and in peace. That was before I decided to apply some mosquito-repellant on my arms and hands and then went to the toilets, unfortunately in that order.
Life is tough… sometime.
01 December 2012: A group of local taxi drivers performing during the 54th anniversary of the independence of the Central African Republic, in Zemio, close to the border with Congo. [Click on the picture to enlarge it].
5 years ago, I had made official my decision to stop working as an engineer and was preparing a 5 weeks trip to China. Nobody would have been able to make me believe that I could be the person I am today. And I cannot imagine who and where I am going to be in 5 years.
11 November 2012: Cow market at Mboki, South East of CAR (Central African Republic). For the first time in years, the persons present there asked me to take pictures but then did not try to pose in front of my camera [Click on the picture to enlarge it].
5 years ago, I was struggling to add new functionalities to a user interface. This week, I’m going to reunite a young girl, former child soldier, with her parents. Life is full of surprises…
P.S: I just put online a series of portraits I took in Peru