The Countdown Phase

Howdy Again Folks!

I’ll try to always put the basic important developments and updates up front, often as bullet points, in my blog entries, so if you’re real busy you can read that and skip or skim the balance. This’ll be my MO going forward. Think of it as the executive summary. 🙂

–I encourage and request folks to make any general and support comments and questions right on the blog. If it’s really for my eyes only, of course you’re welcome to e-mail. But 1) I’ll do a lot less e-mail once I’m on the road; 2) I’ve always liked to personally answer all e-mail notes, and am falling behind with all else to do, and feel bad about it; and 3) Above all, I’m hoping this blog can build community and connection with this great group of my friends and others to come.

–Thanks again to everyone for your support and encouragement. It’s amazing. Please keep in mind that I’ll need it even more once I get to China, especially about two to three months AFTER I get to China, when history tells me I’ll hit a real wall of personal and intercultural challenge. 🙂 Hint, hint. That’s when the blog comments will be GREAT!

–MSF has booked my flights to Paris. I leave 2/26 in the evening. They have my passport and are working on the one month visa for China. My posting for China will depend on my successfully completing the training course on administration, finance and logistics in Paris and Bordeaux, but I am trying to be confident. The course ends 3/10, and I’ve asked for ten days to visit family (exchange family) and friends in Germany and the U.K. (possibly Holland/Switzerland as well), and to debrief and integrate what I’ve learned before the hard, long flights to China and my need to hit the ground running.

End of executive summary, beginning of detail and backstory. I finished the rough draft of the 24-page Shansi history booklet very early (4:00) Wednesday morning (I’m not even bothering with schedules anymore: when I sleep, I sleep; when awake, I’m working on something), and presented the rough to our graphic designer and two committee members as well. Feedback positive, and I’m feeling GREAT about the work we’ve done. Many of you have seen this work, and I’ve put many of you on the mailing list. Those who’d like to see the booklet when it’s done, or the other publicity and P.R. documents from our committee (on all of which I was the lead writer, editor and conceptualizer), should feel free to go to http://www.oberlin.edu/shansi, and contact the office asking to be added to their mailing list.

Having cleared that big hurdle, Thursday I moved on to…vaccinations! Woo hoo! For China postings, MSF asks me to get vaccinated and/or boosted for: hepatitis A & B, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, and typhoid. The first four are multi-shot series, and mercifully I fought with insurance to get Hep. A & B three years ago, since the longest of that pair is a six-month series! I got rabies and Jap. Enceph. started Thursday…so I’ve got sore shoulders and those viruses floating in my bloodstream as I write…and will get shot #2 next Thursday. The final shot will be due 3/17, when I’ll be who knows where. Details, details.

In France, I’ll also have to be tested for HIV (an insurance thing for MSF France; if I seroconvert while on assignment, they provide coverage if I can document prior negative status), and TB. Once in China, I’ll need to be tested for HIV again to convert my tourist visa to a work and residence visa. So of course my current paranoid fear is I’ll somehow come up positive in China, not get my visa converted, and have to come home in disgrace having let my family, friends and MSF down.

I’ve got about a two-inch stack of briefing paperwork from MSF on the China projects and am VERY excited about the work. The Nanning AIDS treatment project has been open, it seems, since late 2003 — so is quite new. Site was chosen due to combination of high incidence of HIV infection, lower standard of available medical care than in several other parts of China, and Guangxi provincial government (it’s actually an autonomous region, which has some meaning on the ground) was interested in and supportive of the project. I’m not yet up to where I know how many patients are in treatment, but I’m excited to get in so early on an important project for both MSF and China, as I see it.

The project in Baoji, which I now know is in Shaanxi province, three hours’ drive from Xian (of terra cotta warrior fame, and not far from accessible portions of the great wall)(see map below), is also very interesting. It seems it’s a residential and educational facility for roughly 40 to 50 children in difficult circumstances (homeless, etc.; many developmentally challenged), which tries to prepare them for reintegration into main society. The kids range from 6 to 18 in age, and mirror the general gender demographic in China, which is to say many more boys than girls. The Baoji project, it seems, has been open since the late 1990s, and may have been MSF’s first project in China, though I don’t know enough to say that. I do know one other operational section, Brussels, is running a project or projects in China.

Once I get to France I’ll be taking some pictures and hoping to post them here. The course is in two parts — admin/finance in Paris, then around midpoint we travel to Bordeaux for the logistics part. I’ll try to get shots of MSF Ops Center in Paris, maybe the Logistics Center in Bordeaux, me drinking wine to wipe away my worries over my ability to pass the course in French and then pass the HIV test in China, etc. To do so, of course, I must first acquire a digital camera. So keep looking. And please post any questions you have or would like more info about on the blog — I’ll try to get answers posted when I can.

Expect me to go silent after next week, for at least two weeks or so. I’m sure I’ll post at least once from Europe after the course, before I go the China. But during the course I think I’ll be crazily boning up on the French business and logistical vocabulary.

Next posting will be this weekend or early next week, and its topic will be “Thanks.” You’ll have to tune in to find out what it all means. 🙂

Love you all. I’m closing with a picture of Kona, because I miss her. 😦

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