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I hate goodbyes!! I hate them!! I am leaving from Greece and my heart is heavy. Mixed feelings of homesickness, of the fear of the unknown, for the new adventure that is coming, stressed for the new job and tired of moving constantly. However, deeper in my heart I knew that this is what I’ve ever wanted, and I know that I still want to do it. I took a deep breath, looked up at the sky and I said: “So, let’s do it”. Welcome to Nigeria.


In general, I was prepared that I would live in a house with poor facilities. I knew that there are missions where people live in a tent or with a lack of warm water. Well, I was pretty lucky. This is my room. And the first thing I did when I entered in is to close the door and imagine it as my “safe place” or as my comfort zone for the following 6 months. *the white net over my bed protects me from the mosquitos as in Nigeria I need to take pills daily for the prevention of malaria.


After my experience in Myanmar and the several food poisons I had, my priority when I move to a new place is to visit the supermarket. It is very important to find out what kind of food supplies I can find in the country. I arrived in the market with the MSF driver. The supermarket has lots of stuff and I could find even feta cheese! A big smile takes place on my face…


In this house, we live more or less 8 people. Here is the coordination of the mission, hence several people pass from here only for a few days or a couple of hours as a transit either in order to get to the project field which is in other states or either because their mission is finished and they are going back home. People from France, Japan, Italy, Canada… almost every day you meet someone new. Living with people is not always easy. You share your space. Your personal space. In this case, I have my own room, my personal toilet (very happy for that) so we share the kitchen, the yard and the living room. Most of the people here speak French. I don’t speak but at least they respect that and whenever I am around they switch to English.


Well, maybe some of you know what is my biggest fear. What I cannot even name and I use the sound “bimb” in order to describe that awful, disgusting insect. Yes, this brown thing that runs that fast and can hide everywhere… yuck! Today, one of this was in my room. I opened the door and it was up on the wall. I could not even get there… what should I do “Think!!”. I run out trying to keep myself cool but still like there was an emergency and I asked from the guard to help me. “Pleaseeeee can you help me, there is an insect in my room!” He walks slowly as I am running back to my room not to give time to that thing to go into hiding somewhere in my stuff. The guard takes a tissue, grabs it and throw it out of my room. Phew! The first and I hope the last…


It is Saturday and all these days I am walking only between the house and the office. That takes only at most 30 seconds… Today is time to explore some parts from Abuja. There are certain areas that we are allowed to visit. And we are not allowed to go in some “red” areas regarding the security level. So today we visited the local market. Fruits, vegetables, tools, fresh meat and fish (under the hot sun) and fabrics… Wow! Amazing African designs and colourful patterns. For Nigerian women, this is a thing. They make them pencil skirts, long body shaped dresses, jackets to bring out their silhouette and their hips.


The Corner Shop is a local restaurant where you can have barbeque fish and chicken. The cost for each dish is up to the mood of the waiter. Sometimes the cost can be 2.000₦ (Nigerian Naira), some others to 2.500. This amount is more or less $7 -8. The place is dark, the only light comes out from the TV screen that usually has a football match. There are no forks to use or tissues. They provide that only upon request. However, they will bring you a tub with water which they will put it on the floor next to you and you can clean your hands. The fish is spicy and is served with a side dish of french fries. To my surprise, I can find my favourite alcohol drink (and maybe the only one I drink) which I hardly can find it back in Greece. Yeaaaaa!


Last week I was working in other colleagues’ offices since mine was not ready yet. The part of the offices is being currently renovated. However, today I am in the new office which is fresh and bright. Here, with my 2 laptops and my 3 screens next to Rahina, my colleague from Nigeria.


It is the second week and I start to get used of that place. I speak more with my flatmates and things get easier. However, I feel that the most difficult thing that I find it hard to adapt are the restrictions. In Myanmar, let alone in Greece, I was used to walking around anytime or even coming back late in the night by taxi. This is not the case here. Whenever I want to go out from the house, I have to check if this area is in the green zone in which we are allowed to go. Then I have to inform the guard that I am leaving and to write down on a blackboard my destination, the time on my departure and the approximate duration. Then I request the MSF car and then a car driver will get me to that place from where he will pick me up later, when I will call him. Hmmm… safe but not easy to get yourself adapted into that daily routine. However, I suppose at the end it becomes part of your life…


… but this time was my turn! This time I was prepared. Next, to my bed, I keep a repellent. Still difficult for me to do it and spray on it but I HAVE TO DO IT!!! I don’t want to be that spoiled girl that cannot face… an insect and she asks for help for men. I am very proud but let’s be honest I am also scared… so I think I spent the half of the spray on it but finally it worked… By the way this is my toilet…


People in Nigeria love music. And as in most countries in Africa, they are also good dancers. Here, they love Afrobeat. So tonight we are going out to the Caramelo local restaurant bar. Live music, dancers on a small stage, in an old-fashioned decorated restaurant where people enjoy their drink or the bbq fish. Basically, women are accompanied by a male, boyfriend, husband or whatever… they drink light cocktails and men drink beer or whisky. Around 10 pm we went to the club where everybody dances to the Afrobeat rhythm. It is amazing how women can move their hips and shake their body and for sure you cannot resist starting dancing. Suddenly a young girl holds my hand and she starts dancing with me. I am smiling and I am trying to follow her. The night turns to be really nice with my new friends dancing to the r&b rhythm too. A young Nigerian lady got upset because my Japanese colleague didn’t respond to her hips move. I am trying to calm the fire and I explain to her that he is a nice guy but usually people from Japan are not very expressive. “Oh! Ok! I can see that!!!” she says while she gazes at him…Oops!


iNFO by Wikipedia: The Harmattan is a season in the West African subcontinent, which occurs between the end of November and the middle of March. It is characterized by dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind, of the same name, which blows from the Sahara Desert over West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea. iNFO by Me: I just cannot breathe… I am staying in my room almost the whole day but even in my room the smell of the burning rubbish that comes from the neighbouring house doesn’t help.


Abuja 7am-Jahun around 4pm. Jahun is in Jigawa State and it takes around 8 hours to get there by car. I am in the MSF van in between boxes, medicines and luggage, me and 4 more colleagues. MSF calls that “kiss movement” which means that in the middle of our way we will meet another MSF car that comes from Jahun with staff that goes to Abuja. That makes the trip easier for the drivers. Leaving back Abuja you meet the industrial area with many tank trucks parked in the sideways and petrol stations. There are local markets and crowded places where people of any age sell stuff such as mobile phone chargers, sunglasses, hats, soft drinks and many others at traffic lights or in between the cars where there is traffic. They mainly target motorists and open tracks. A bunch of people that run alongside the moving car in order to sell some of their products. As we approach Jahun, this changes. Is where you realise that you are in Africa. Typical African villages in a desert scenery where people live in mud shelters, some goats around and mainly men hanging out in the streets. The main street is paved but all the other streets are just dirt roads. Me, I am in the front seat as after so many hours in the back I feel dizzy…

#DAY15 – IN THE HOSPITAL December 13, 2017 #Day15 – in the hospital One of the

One of the projects that MSF runs in Nigeria is in Jahun in Jigawa State. It is a vesico-vaginal fistula and emergency obstetric programme at Jahun general hospital. Only for 2016, 70 percent of the 10,531 women admitted to the maternity unit had complicated pregnancies and deliveries. The team performed 2,660 obstetrics-related surgical procedures, treated 400 women with fistulas, and assisted 7,365 births. A total of 1,293 babies and 1,141 women were admitted for intensive care. The hospital has mainly four area parts. The area for the caretakers; they are mainly women that they come with the patients in the hospital and in most cases, they have to spend days until the patients will be discharged. There are not many husbands to escort their wives to the hospital…in this area most of the people are Muslims and it is clearly a patriarchal society. The second part of the hospital is the delivery ward. It is constantly crowded and in some cases, there are 4 women for each bed due to the lack of facilities and limited capacity. The last one is the ward for the vesicovaginal fistula operations. An obstetric fistula is a hole between the vagina and the bladder or rectum, through which urine or stool leaks continuously. They are devastating injuries resulting from complicated childbirths, affecting more than two million women worldwide. The team works with pregnant women to prevent the occurrence of obstetric fistulas, while at the same time treating those with the condition and providing psychological support to fistula sufferers to help rebuild their lives. Every Wednesday they dance in the yard and this is a big weekly event for the staff and the patients. For these women who had suffered rejection by their families and their husbands, this event is the way to gain back their confidence.


Usually, the story goes like this. The family is waiting in the waiting room of a hospital and the mother is screaming while she is giving birth. Then the nurse comes in the fancy waiting room to announce that “It’s a girl” or “It’s a boy”! The family is happy and the husband is looking forward to seeing the newborn child. This is not the case in that particular hospital. Mothers, even at the age of 12 years old, give birth on a metal bed, without screaming as it seems that they have become very tolerant of the pain. When the delivery is finished and the baby is being taken care by the nurse, the mother is getting up off the bed and she is that calm that she puts her clothes on by herself and she is moving to the next room. Of course, this is not the case where things are not going very well… I am speechless…


Yeap… three doctors prepare the room for the surgery and two nurses are around to support the process. The mother is coming, and the surgery starts. I AM INSIDE THE ROOM!!! I am sure that my parents wish to be in that bed but anyway!!! This is another story… Wow! I mean… WOW!!! The process takes only a few minutes until the baby comes out and the nurse takes care of the newborn. In some cases, they need to spank softly or just tickle the babies’ feet in order to stimulate the baby to take the first breath and to make it cry. In this particular case, the baby was weak and must be cared in an incubator. However, the previous night, the baby was born… dead.


Remember the room that I had when I arrived. The small one, the cruppy, with the broken toilet… well my new bedroom is bigger, bride, clean, and spacious to practice my yoga! It’s been almost 3 weeks since the day I arrived in Abuja and finally, I put out my stuff from my luggage and I settle into my new room! I am happy, happy, happy! I was cleaning and washing for the whole day and besides the disinfectant smell now everything is clear and tied up! For now and for the following months this is my home and my comfort zone!


In Nigeria, the first rainy season begins around March and last to the end of July which is followed by a short dry break in August known as the August break which is a short dry season lasting for two to three weeks in August. This break is broken by the short rainy season starting around early September and lasting to Mid October. The ending of the short rainy season in October is followed by a long dry season with peak dry conditions between early December and late February. Rahina, my colleague, said that she had never seen rain during December. Well, today I woke up with the sound of the rain on the roof. It is Christmas, it is cloudy and I love rain! And with the aircon on there is that kind of feeling like there is autumn in Nigeria… well, almost!


When I arrived at Nigeria’s airport there was the MSF car driver waiting for me to pick me up. On our way, he welcomed me by sharing information about Nigeria. I am telling you. I hardly understood what he said. Nothing, nothing, nothing! But they do speak English… “Yes, but we speak pidgin English”, he said. “Pidgin? like the bird?” I asked. “Well, almost!” Pidgin English is an English-based language spoken as a lingua franca across Nigeria. It is like broken English (pronounced “Brokin”). It is distinguished from other creole languages since most speakers are not true native speakers although many children learn it at an early age. It can be spoken as a pidgin, a creole, or a decreolised acrolect by different speakers, who may switch between these forms depending on the social setting. I am telling you when I speak with Nigerians I can see their face struggling to understand my accent and me trying to slow down and speak slower and repeat what they say in order to assure that I understood what we are talking about…


“Ok we need to do something”, I said to Philip. “Yeap, let’s cook and invite some colleagues and their families”, he said. We bought what we needed, we even found a turkey, I baked the bread, Andriy made a traditional Ukrainian salad, people brought deserts, French cheese, wine and whisky and almost 14 people with their kids enjoyed the Christmas lunch. When I said to my grandmother that the turkey was a big success I could see her proudness on the skype line. Well… indeed it was a big success! hehehe!


Filix, our cooker, had a big smile n his face when he met me this morning. “Yesterday, it was great! I really enjoyed it! Thank you so much! I was telling to my friends that a Greek lady cooked turkey and it was delicious. I want the recipe. I saw you put lemons, mustard, olive oil… I enjoy cooking with you! And it was nice to have guests!” “Thank you so much Filix! I like it too!” Filix comes from very far only for these days to replace our main cooker. His village is almost 13 hours far and he cooks very well! We have a cooker because otherwise with 8-9 people cooking in one small kitchen it would be a nightmare. We have the food-box and every month we offer an amount in order to buy stuff from the supermarket and fruits and vegetables from the local market. During the first weeks, we were running out of fruits. I took the initiative to coordinate grocery shopping. We almost doubled the amount we spend on vegetables and fruits and I think this is something that my flatmates will use to tease me though they prefer it that way. To my defence, we don’t need to buy bread anymore….


It’s Christmas and I haven’t realised at all. Abuja has many Catholics. However, Abuja is an artificial city and most of the people that live here are coming from the other states only to work. So during holidays, they go back to their families. The city is almost empty and no Christmas decoration is in the streets. A Greek guy arrived yesterday for his mission in the field. I knew about his arrival because we have a common friend and she had told me. GREEKS ARE EVERYWHERE!!! However, that friend, Vicky, grabbed the opportunity and she sent me my Christmas gift. What!!?? I was a good child this year, I absolutely deserve it!!!! No?????? Well, Vicky knows better!!! So, from Nigeria, my ANANA TREE and I wish you Merry Christmas and a HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!


There are some big supermarkets in Abuja. Products are quite expensive but you can find a lot of basic products. Every Saturday we go shopping to get our weekly groceries and it takes at least three hours! You need to be well prepared with the shopping list as you have to take into consideration several things; the different nationalities of the people that live in the house, the things that the cooker will need, the products that are available in the supermarket and the cost. The total budget is collected by all of us every month and at the end is more than sufficient. This time it wasn’t my turn to go shopping but lately, I have taken the initiative to organise the kitchen so I decided to go. Furthermore, for me, it is an opportunity to go out as in Abuja there are not a lot of choices. Although I enjoy shopping what is really tiring is the queuing in the cash counter. I don’t know why but here every time the queue is long and the waiting time can take up to 45 minutes! One by one… lots of products are checked one by one by dialling the product’s code and the smiley cashier works at a slow pace, that you really feel the inner need to go and do her job…God… it takes long!!!!


I’ ve never expected to write this in a post but yes, today I made Greek traditional pita bread and I cut Ian’s (flatmate) hair. Just to clarify, none of those is in a comm’s job description neither in the main skills in order to participate in the MSF mission. But ok, you need to be creative and develop your skills in general! At least it was fun and oh! God, souvlaki (Greek pita with meat and tzatziki paste) was DELICIOUS and Ian was happy with his new hairstyle!


There are always two ways to think when you are not in home with your family during Christmas. One is “Lucky me” and the other is… “Lucky me”. Well, it’s the last day of that year. To tell you the truth I believe that Christmas celebrations are very nice but still, you can get depressed easily. The contrast of the real-life with the fancy shops, Christmas lights, fairytales and the idea that everyone enjoys Christmas in a cosy and warm place makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. So, yeap from that aspect “Lucky me”. However, there are moments where you cannot cope with the fact that your family is back there. Usually, I would spend time with my grandma baking some cookies, watching TV shows and I would enjoy the 1st day of the year when I weak up and my parents are in the home and not in their shop as usual. No this is not “lucky me”. But you have to fight that feeling and then you realise that you celebrate Christmas in Nigeria, you share thoughts and feelings with people that you’ve just met, under a wooden canopy, drinking cheap wine and eating chips and some sort of cheese. “Lucky me” as this is a life experience and my parents support my choice. Lucky me…


In general, I don’t have any fear of airplanes. I remember once when I was travelling to Thailand by with Air Asia… It was during monsoon and there were rain and turbulences almost during the whole flight. The plane was going up and down and I was really scared. Since then I said to myself that I would never fly with a small plane especially if the weather makes the flight worse. But never say never. And here I am flying with the ICRC plane. ICRC provides an aeroplane for the cases where the humanitarian aid access to remote areas is not possible or safety standards could not be met in any other way. NGO staff uses this option in order to arrive in Borno state, in Maiduguri which is in north-eastern Nigeria. The plane has more or less 10 seats. During Harmattan the flight might be postponed or cancelled due to the dust. Never say never. It is almost a two-hour flight.


The conflict between Boko Haram and the Nigerian military, which began in 2009, has displaced an estimated 1.8 million* people across the northeast of the country. In 2016, the armed conflict resulted in a catastrophic humanitarian emergency in several areas of Borno state, with high mortality rates linked to severe malnutrition and preventable diseases. Although security within Maiduguri, the state capital, improved slightly, allowing for an increase in aid, active conflict, mass displacement and disease outbreaks continued outside the city. During the last weeks, there are some military operations. In the nights you can hear the airplanes and during the day, you can see the army around and several checkpoints. There is also a curfew in force that starts at 7.30 pm. After that, you are not allowed to be out of your home.


I arrived in Borno in order to attend an MSF training which is called KESAKO. We were almost 25 people, national and international staff arrived from the other states of Nigeria and the objective was to attend the training and after 2 days some of us would offer the training to the following participants that would arrive on Monday. It was very exhausting but absolutely interesting to participate in discussions with people that are coming from a different background. The presentation was really successful besides the limited time. And besides the two rats that I met in the kitchen, the accommodation was quite ok.


… but as we said, never say never! On Monday I am flying to Monguno, in one of the villages where MSF provides medical and nutritional support to the displaced people in the camps. It has been most efficient in the treatment of severe acute malnutrition in children and infants, thereby saving hundreds of children that were on the verge of death due to hunger. Practically speaking, these are people that had to flee their homes in Borno villages after warnings for their life due to the conflict in that area. The posting is only for African people. When you arrive in Monguno, only 3 cars are allowed to get in the area where helicopter arrives. On our way to the office, there are military transport vehicles, checkpoints and sandbags that are used as barriers on the roads. MSF driver gets me to the office where I meet the project coordinator. His posting is for one year. The fridge has some fruits, tuna, yoghurt and some vegetables.


There are many camps in the area and there are some humanitarian actors that run projects in Monguno. ICRC, MSF, UNHCR, WFP, DRC, NRC and the IOM are some of them. The situation though remains critical. People that have been there for months under the plastic sheeting that UNHCR provides and considers as shelter. “Yesterday, we had 15o new arrivals. There is no space in the camp and the situation is getting worse”, says the coordinator of the camp. It’s one of these moments that I am going back to my room thinking of what humanitarian aid is. Is sustainability ever possible in these types of crisis or it is just a way to maintain a crisis situation?


Lagos is the city where everyone Nigerian wants to visit or wishes to live there. It is Nigeria’s largest city, crowded and… more polluted. Victoria Island is the financial centre of the metropolis and it is known for its beach resorts, boutiques and nightlife. However, Lagos Lagoon faces a number of serious environmental and ecological challenges. Uncontrolled discharge of untreated wastewater and sewage into the lagoon has degraded the quality of the water beyond the acceptable limits. We arrived there early in the morning and we had the following 3 days to spend in meetings with journalists and media representatives. As soon as you arrive in Lagos you can feel the intense humidity, the hot weather and the pollution. Lagos traffic is one of the worst in the world and sometimes you may spend hours in the car only for a short distance. But above all I’ve noticed, what was the most fascinating is that Lagos is always busy. There are still people around even during the late hours where many parts of the city are with no street light and electricity. People scuffling in the streets, jumping on the bus while it is on the move, local street traders negotiating with clients, workers being in street constructions, people changing the flat tire… I mean, literally, this city never sleeps.

#DAY63 – “30+4 YEARS OLD”

January 29, 2018. One day before my birthday. One day before the “30+4”. Today I am not in the mood. The weather here is like summer and reminds me of summer in Greece. But here the sea is far. If I want to go to the beach I have to change country… maybe continent. Today, I miss my home. I am trying to make some applications. The deadline is near…. “Applications are open to those up to 35 years old” … I have one more year to apply, I am thinking and I submit my application for this year. I have one more application to do. “Applications are open to those who have been born after 1995” Damn! Opportunities and dreams should not have an age limit! I close my computer and I am getting ready to go to bed. It’s around 11 pm a few minutes later I receive a notification on my mobile phone. I will check them tomorrow, today I am not in the mood. Around 8 am the phone starts to ring again… again and again and again… notifications and messages. The cooker has already arrived at the house. “Maro has her birthday today,” Ruichy says. I like Ruichy. He is from Japan but has Brazilian blood and I laugh very much with him. Veronika starts singing “Happy Birthday”. Her African beautiful lips move rhythmically along with her hips. Veronika is around 50 years old and she wants to cook moussaka one of the next days. In the office, my mobile continues to send notifications, phone calls… my godmother is calling me via her son’s Messenger, and only for that effort and her thought, I feel very happy. Andriy met me in the corridor. “I got you a gift.” When I arrived in Nigeria, in that house people were not that talkative and the house was very quiet! One night, Andriy told me he likes that I am talkative (not clarifying how much…), because now the atmosphere is lively. Andriy gave me a painting of a well-known Nigerian artist. I love its red. While I thank Andriy, Ian comes. “Where are you? I and Bush are looking for you. He wanted to sing to you! You have a box outside your door”. There is a box out of my room. It is like the ones you find in the supply department. Ian is from Switzerland and Bush is from Nigeria and they are work in Logistics. I open the box finding a teddy bear and a small bottle of vodka with a card made of an order document. I thank them and we make and we decide to meet in the living room around 8pm to go out for dinner. Ruichy looks at me while talking and arranging the route with our driver. “Shut up Lettuce (the meaning of my nickname in Greek)” today is your birthday you do nothing. I will make the arrangements!” Half an hour later we eat pizza in a restaurant. A beautiful open-air restaurant under the light of the upcoming full moon, blue and bloody. And as long as we throw ideas for our weekend’s plans, the waitress arrives with a big firework candle on a cake. “Happy Birthday Girl!!!” Mona had the idea. Mona is from Lebanon and we are officially the loudest persons in that house and this is why I like her! I came back to the room. I opened my mobile to check my messages, my notifications and some unanswered calls. I always prefer to do that on my birthday late in the night. It’s like opening my gift. Old colleagues, people that I met during my travelling, friends from Myanmar, friends from Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, Egypt … friends from my school and the university, friend of friends, friends from the past, close friends… There are many things that I want to do in the following year. And as none of what I’ve done so far would have been done without these friends, my friends and your positive energy are essential for all the things that are following. I leave my mobile aside. It’s about twelve. January 30, 2018, during the last minutes. I close my eyes. 30 + 4 years that I feel blessed for everything I’ve lived and for all the people I’ve met so far. One way or another each of them is part of my personal journey. Thank each one and everyone…

#DAY63 – “30+4 YEARS OLD”

29 Ιανουαρίου 2018. Μία μέρα πριν τα γενέθλια μου. Μία μέρα πριν τα 30+4. Σήμερα δεν έχω όρεξη πολύ. Ο καιρός εδώ είναι καλοκαιρινός και μου θυμίζει μέρες από Ελλάδα. Μόνο που εδώ δεν έχει κοντά θάλασσα. Αν θέλω να πάω σε παραλία πρέπει να αλλάξω χώρα… ίσως και ήπειρο. Με έχει πιάσει νοσταλγία ανάμεσα σε μουσικές καλοκαιρινές και στην σκονισμένη Νιγηρία. Είμαι στον υπολογιστή και κάνω κάποιες αιτήσεις. «Οι αιτήσεις είναι ανοιχτές για όσους είναι μέχρι 35 χρονών» …. έχω άλλον έναν χρόνο σκέφτομαι και πατάω το “apply”. Προχωράω στην επόμενη. «Οι αιτήσεις είναι ανοιχτές σε αυτούς που έχουν γεννηθεί μετά το 1995» Γαμώτο οι ευκαιρίες και τα όνειρα δεν θα έπρεπε να έχουν ηλικιακό όριο! Κλείνω τον υπολογιστή και ετοιμάζομαι να πάω για ύπνο. Είναι γύρω στις 11 το βράδυ. Λίγη ώρα μετά χτυπάει μια ειδοποίηση στο κινητό μου. Από αύριο θα το δω, σήμερα δεν έχω όρεξη. Κατά τις 8 το πρωί (ώρα 9 για την Ελλάδα). Το κινητό αρχίζει πάλι να χτυπάει… ξανά και ξανά και ξανά… ειδοποιήσεις και μηνύματα. Στην κουζίνα έχει έρθει η μαγείρισσα. «Σήμερα γιορτάζει η Μάρω» της λέει ο Ruichy. Τον συμπαθώ ιδιαίτερα τον Ruichy. Είναι από την Ιαπωνία αλλά έχει Βραζιλιάνικο αίμα μέσα του και γελάω πολύ μαζί του. Η Veronika αρχίζει να τραγουδάει το “Happy Birthday”. Τα αφρικάνικα όμορφα χείλη της κινούνται ρυθμικά μαζί με την μέση της. Η Veronika είναι γύρω στα 50 και θέλει να φτιάξει μουσακά μια από τις επόμενες μέρες. Στο γραφείο το κινητό συνεχίζει να στέλνει ειδοποιήσεις. Και τα τηλέφωνα χτυπάνε… η νονά μου με παίρνει τηλέφωνο από το Messenger του γιου της και για αυτή την προσπάθεια και την σκέψη νιώθω πολύ χαρούμενη. Σχολώντας ο Andriy με πετυχαίνει στον διάδρομο. «Σου έχω πάρει ένα δώρο». Όταν ήρθα στο σπίτι τα παιδιά που έμεναν εδώ δεν μιλούσαν πολύ μεταξύ τους. Το σπίτι ήταν πολύ ήσυχο, νεκρική σιγή το έλεγες! Ένα βράδυ ο Andriy μου είπε πως του αρέσει που μιλάω (πολύ?), γιατί πια έχει ζωή το σπίτι. Ο Andriy μου έχει πάρει ένα κάδρο από έναν γνωστό Νιγηριανό καλλιτέχνη. Το αγαπώ το κόκκινο. Όσο ευχαριστώ τον Andriy με πετυχαίνει ο Ian. «Μα που είσαι! Σε ψάχνουμε με τον Bush να σου τραγουδήσουμε, έξω από την πόρτα σου έχεις ένα κουτί». Έξω από το δωμάτιο μου με περιμένει μια κούτα από αυτές που βλέπεις στο τμήμα προμηθειών. O Ian από την Ελβετία και ο Bush από την Νιγηρία είναι υπεύθυνοι Logistics. Ανοίγω το κουτί και μέσα έχει ένα αρκουδάκι και ένα μικρό μπουκάλι βότκα με μια κάρτα από το έγγραφο κάποιας παραγγελίας. Τους ευχαριστώ και δίνουμε ραντεβού να συναντηθούμε στο σαλόνι κατά τις 8 να πάμε για φαγητό έξω. O Ruichy με κοιτάει που μιλάω και κανονίζω το δρομολόγιο με τον οδηγό μας. «Κάνε στην άκρη «Lettuce (Μαρούλι)» σήμερα είναι τα γενέθλια σου δεν κάνεις τίποτα.» Λίγη ώρα μετά τρώμε πίτσα σε ένα εστιατόριο. Ένα όμορφο ανοιχτό εστιατόριο κάτω από το φως της επερχόμενης πανσελήνου, blue and bloody. Και όσο κατεβάζουμε ιδέες για το τι θα κάνουμε το Σαββατοκύριακο από τα αριστερά μου έρχεται ένα μεγάλο κερί πάνω σε μια τάρτα. “Happy Birthday girl!!!” Την ιδέα έβαλε η Mona από τον Λίβανο που είμαστε επίσημα οι πιο φασαριόζες σε αυτό το σπίτι αλλά για αυτό την πάω. Γύρισα στο δωμάτιο. Ανοίγω τις ευχές και τα μηνύματα που έχω, βλέπω και κάποιες αναπάντητες κλήσεις όσο δεν είχα ίντερνετ. Πάντα το αφήνω για το βράδυ. Είναι σαν να ανοίγω δώρο. Παλιοί συνάδελφοι, περαστικές γνωριμίες από ταξίδια, φίλοι από την Myanmar, φίλοι από την Ιρλανδία, την Ισπανία, την Ολλανδία, την Αίγυπτο… φίλοι από το σχολείο και το πανεπιστήμιο, πρώην, φίλοι φίλων, φίλοι τώρα… φίλοι για όσο… Είναι πολλά που θέλω να γίνουν και να κάνω μέσα στον επόμενο χρόνο. Και όπως τίποτα από όλα όσα έχω κάνει ως τώρα δεν θα γινόταν χωρίς αυτούς τους φίλους έτσι και για όλα τα επόμενα που έρχονται η θετική τους σκέψη είναι απαραίτητη. Κλείνω το κινητό και ξαπλώνω. Είναι περίπου 12 παρά. 30 Ιανουαρίου 2018, τελευταία λεπτά. Κλείνω τα μάτια. 30+4 χρόνια που νιώθω τυχερή για όλα όσα έχω ζήσει και για όσους συνάντησα κατά την διάρκεια αυτής της διαδρομής. Γιατί με τον έναν ή τον άλλον τρόπο ένα κομμάτι τους είναι μέρος αυτού του ταξιδιού. Ευχαριστώ πολύ και πιο πολύ για την σκέψη σας… 5942 χιλιόμετρα μακρυά από την Ελλάδα, δεν μπορείτε να φανταστείτε πόσο πολύτιμη είναι!


These are the major things that happened in Abuja during the last days: 1) A Nigerian colleague asked me “Why you don’t like Macedonia??!!” 2) The cooker made Briam, a Greek dish, with feta cheese… (ok Bulgarian cheese … But still!). I would never expect me to be that happy for having mpriam. 3) A colleague had this hairstyle this week (picture) 4) And on Saturday night I was not allowed to get in a club in Abuja… “You are too casual for that place… ” said the bouncer that was looking at me strictly while he was blocking the entrance… and with these guys, you really don’t want to mess! I explained that I just wanted to give something to my friend that he was already in and he let me pass. I came out 5 minutes later and I realized why he was considering my floral and modest dress (according to the Abuja standards) as casual… “Thanks! I didn’t like the place, good night! “I said haughtily PS1: He laughed! PS2: … luckily!


It is exactly 70 days since the day I left from Greece. During all these days I’ve been learning something new. Something that has to do either with my new job or about MSF or medical info about the projects we run. Above all, I had to adapt myself to living in a new country, in a new house, with new people, working in this office and under specific security regulations. I am telling you; lately, I was feeling my mind was that close to exploding and I couldn’t receive more information. I could see myself being tired and I couldn’t even watch a movie. Every three months we have to take our holidays. I didn’t want to go back to Greece only for few days. It would be emotionally difficult for me… Two years ago, when I was living in Myanmar, some very close friends moved to Zambia. I remember how difficult that day was. I was thinking that I would never see them again. So, never say never. The choice for my holidays would be Zambia. It took me 11 hours to arrive but it’s worth it. Marikaki for her warm personality, Psilos because he keeps teasing me and their son, Markusaki the smartest and the cutest ever! And all these days I realised that with your real friends, distance doesn’t matter. Cause the day you meet them again, it is like you’ve been drinking beers with them a couple of days ago…


Today I woke up at 6.50 and I went running. Some of my friends will probably think that I am crazy to wake up that early… Well, let me explain to you my everyday life here. I wake up around 7, I have my breakfast and I am leaving my home to go to the office. I leave at 8.00 am and I arrive at the office around 8.00.20’’ am. Then, I leave the office around 6.30 pm. I get back in the house around 6.30.20’’ pm. Yeap. This is the distance between the house and the office, only 30 meters. And if we want to walk around the city is not that convenient. According to security guidelines we are allowed to go in some specific parts of Abuja, we call the green zones, but only by MSF car. And from there MSF car will pick us up again. So I spend most of my time in the office, and in the house. Today, when I was back from running this bird visited me. It was knocking my window with its long, yellow beak. Have a nice day! Enjoy your day, enjoy your freedom!


MSF has almost 450 projects in 71 countries and most of them are in Africa and in Asia. I based in the Coordination office in the city of Abuja and I live with my colleagues in the ‘’Guest House’’. That means that everyone leaves from Nigeria or arrives in Nigeria has to pass from Abuja and probably they will need to stay some days in the Guest House. Practically speaking, every day there are guests in our house. There are days when I wake up and I will meet 4-5 new people in the kitchen that have arrived late in the night. Some others arrive during the weekend and whoever is in the living room at that moment welcome him by offering the house orientation. However, we are almost 8 people based in that house. Some of them have been in Nigeria for some months, some others will leave soon and some others arrived recently and they will leave in 6-7 months, as I will do. These are my flatmates and my colleagues. But more importantly, these people are now my friends. With these people I spent my Christmas, I had fun on the New Year Eve, I speak when I am frustrated with my job, I am sharing my feelings and my concerns… these are the people that when I go back home they are there to share our personal space and to make it comfortable for everyone and every different cultural background. So, It’s Sara, it will take some time to explain to you her origins, Andriy loves fish and he is the one who will take the initiative to have BBQ, Ryichy is from Japan. We are trying to find the word ‘’sex’’ in different languages and till now, we know almost 7 different phrases (including the Greek one ”fiki-fiki”)! Ian is our Super Hero. He is always smiley beside that he is still struggling to facilitate the house with electricity, water etc… and we are trying to convince him to quit smoking. Phillipe loves peanuts and I love teasing him for that! Thierry loves music and dancing and Mona… she is from Lebanon, and rumor says that we are the loudest persons in the house…(I wonder why!?) Soon some names on the whiteboard will change. That means that someone will finish the mission and another one will come to replace… and life goes on. Some people might take a break, some others will continue to another mission in another country and some others will meet in another project. Easy….? NOT AT ALL. PS: this table shows who has finished his/her lunch or dinner. This will help others to check if there is spare food, so they can have a second portion.


This is” MSF ABUJA”, the Dream Team of the Guest House. (From left to right) Ryuichi, the Admin Manager. He controls the movement and the flights in and out of Nigeria. Ian is the Capital Log and our Super Hero. When there is electricity cut in the city, or no water, or the generator doesn’t work, Ian is always there to find the solution. Mona, the Head of Mission Support for MSF Geneva. One woman shows in Abuja, she does everything! Our Doctor, Thierry. My sweet Sara, our pharmacist. She controls the medicines and the warehouse and our malaria pills! Andriy, the Supply Manager. He assures that we will have what we will need in time, not an easy task in Nigeria. Phillipe, our Financial Coordinator, he assures that the staff will receive the salary in time and that there is the budget for our projects. Is not very common to get along with 8 people (at least) in a house. You know, sometimes it’s not easy even with one more! Let alone, when you are on a mission with all the frustration and stress you might have from days to days. But I feel very lucky cause these people… are amazing! This is” MSF ABUJA”, the Dream Team of my heart.


I’ ve told you, I don’t like goodbyes! But this is how it goes… When I arrived the Admin Manager of Abuja office met me in the house. ”Here is your mobile and the contact list, ok? Cool”. Ryuichi is from Japan and all these months nobody pronounced his name correctly. But he has an understanding and never complains. Times that I was feeling stressed and tired he was keep saying with his soft and ”cool” tone ”Maro! Relax!”. He is calling me lettuce (as my nickname in Greek means ‘lettuce’) and moments where I was losing control, Ryuichi was there to bring me in calm ”Shut up lettuce”. Lately, he was responsible to build my six packs. ‘Lettuce, control yourself, how many calories have the french fries!!”. When we got to the point to negotiate for Nutella I gave up! Nutella is Nutella! You don’t mess with someone that wants to eat Nutella! But the most important achievement is that we found the word ”sex” in 8 different languages. See! ”fiki-fiki” for Greeks, ”pan-pan” in Japan, ”iz-miz” in Lebanon, ”boom-boom” in Thailand, ”crac-crac” in French, ”cutsi-cutsi” in Cuba, ”naka-naka” in Spanish and ”tsome-tsome” in Korean… well…Ryuichi finished his mission yesterday. He is moving back to Japan and soon he will get to another mission, in another country, in another house with other people. Yesterday, there were mixed feelings in the house and the atmosphere was quite weird. Ryuchi was leaving from Nigeria and apparently, Ryuichi was leaving from the house and the team. His replacement has already arrived… so newcomers, new relationships, new memories… and this is how it goes. With ”welcome” and ”goodbyes”…


This is the day to realise that either I made an impact on the Nigerian culture or I need a break from MSF. The day that my colleague, Rahina, told me while I was speaking with my laptop ‘Maro, stop saying ‘Malakas’! You say that at least 10 times per day!’ My dear non-Greek friends, MALAKAS is probably the most common word in Greece. it’s an interjection or a nickname that we use in order to call our friends or someone that we consider as… malakas. Depends on the mood and the sense of the one that calls you ‘malakas’ you can take it either cool or get upset. Apparently and in my case, for the last 3 months, I am the only non-French speaking in the house. I am a very well behaved person when it comes to French manners. But I am still Greek and I honour my origins. And when I am really excited or really upset, the usage of the word ‘malakas’ is the way to express it. Thanks!


This Sunday, Sarah and I could be part of a joke. She is Muslim, I am irreligious and we are in a Christian church in Abuja attending a Baptism. But you know, this is what is religion. Open mind, open heart. In that case for the baptism of Jane’s son.


In Nigeria, newspapers reach out mainly the upper class. The mediums with the highest penetration are TV, radio, Facebook (of course) and street ads painted on… the wall! Forget the big, fancy billboards of Coca-Cola and the print ads. You will see painted brand logos on walls and announcements for a job or religious quotes from… Jesus or medical messages warning of HIV everywhere! Well, low cost, fast, high reach audience and functional!


In Greece, there is a saying that goes like ‘if you walk around during the night, then you will step on mud and shit’. In my case, there were neither mud nor shit. It was a big hole on the road! Cause if you are walking in a dark street and you are texting then you are just… stupid! So I was that one… and I found myself in a hole almost deep like my height (imagine!) … well, I exaggerate (no comments) but still. Lucky me, ended up with a small injury and not with a broken leg. But these days I work to ‘Doctors without Doctors’ are all the medical staff is travelling to the field due to the cholera outbreak. But finally, our Medical coordinator is back today. He said that I will survive… (no comments).


In Greece, there is another saying that goes like ‘What you sow, that you will reap’. Well, we will not be in Abuja in the following months to drink mojito with our fresh mint from the Guest House garden, but it will be a gift for the next team. We keep postponing this for the last 4 weeks! But finally, today it was gardening day. Parsley, mint and beetroot. The only thing that we need to do is watering… challenge accepted!


Celebrating the Catholic Easter by having fish BBQ in the Guest House garden. A last-minute arrangement but quite successful. Particularly because of the beetroot salad that I had prepared. Ok, I exaggerate again… but you know, there is another Greek saying that goes like this ‘if you don’t praise your home, then it will fall down, and it will entomb you’. So… I need to follow the tradition! This is Mona, my Lebanese friend! Greece and Lebanon have many things in common, the question is who had them first! But with Mona, we made an agreement when she arrived. Doesn’t matter which country was the first, as long as the rest of the world now enjoys them. And so, now we are both happy! (kidding though…)


Port Harcourt, is a city in Rivers State, southern Nigeria where MSF runs a project to support victims of sexual violence. Airlines have low safety ratings and by road, there is the risk of an accident or a kidnapping. Two drivers, Jacob, the engineer mechanic and I left around 7 in the morning by MSF car. Almost 12 hours in the Land Rover jeep, crossing Nigerian roads and several car and truck accidents. In the villages when people realised that I was in the car, they were smiling and calling me ‘ocha’ which means ‘white person’ in the Igbo language. Around 4 pm we are in the middle of a small village. There is a car queue on the road, crowd around and a big truck that is inverted and is blocking the road. Petrol spill is all over the road. Some people try to assist with the car flow. When it’s our turn to pass the accident, someone stopped the car. ‘BLOCK THEM!’. They put a log as an obstacle and they started negotiations with the drivers. People surrounded the car are looking through the windows and some others are sitting on the bonnet. I don’t feel safe. Jacob, who is from Nigeria, explains to me that they ask for money to clean the road. In these cases, a ‘white person’ presence (sorry to use that term), doesn’t help. For them, it’s an opportunity to gain more money. After negotiations with the drivers, who handled the situation with calm, we are allowed to go… we deserved a big catfish for our dinner and some beers.


Her name is Hope, she is 5 years old and she was raped. Her name is Myriam, she is 14 years old and she was raped. His name is Stanley, he was 10 years old when he was raped. 7 victims of sexual violence, 7 stories to shock you, 7 people who try to forget and move forward. And these are only some few victims that they accepted to share their experience in order to encourage other survivors to ask for medical help. Above all, what makes me feel angry and disappointed is the fact that most of the victims that arrive in the MSF clinics had been victims at least for once. It seems that people in that part of Nigeria are that familiar with sexual violence incidents that they don’t consider them as a crime. Even if that happens from their father… The sign on the background wall of the building that I decided to do the filming was saying ‘no any of your plans will prosper on me’. And I feel angry for all these perpetrators who decided to ruin Hope’s, Myriam’s and Stanley’s life and they are still out there enjoying their life…


In the northern part of the country, in Jigawa state, MSF runs a fistula program in the Jahun General Hospital; Currently, it’s the only fistula program among MSF projects. But what is a fistula? With simple words, fistula is a hole between a woman’s vagina and rectum and the most direct consequence of an obstetric fistula is the constant leaking of urine, faeces, and blood. Practically speaking, it’s common for women here to give birth at a very early and young age under very poor conditions. Sometimes labour goes unattended, and it can last up to six or seven days. Women that suffer from fistula face the stigmatization and are rejected by society, sometimes by their husbands and even by their parents. But today, 120 women attended the discharge ceremony in MSF hospital. Most of them needed to stay in the hospital up to 2 months and after that to remain under a certain treatment that can last up to 6 months for the final discharge. It might sound easy but, in this society, where women supposed to take care of the house and the children, it’s very complicated. Today while I was attending the ceremony, I realised that I was surrounded by 120 women that came from very far to honour themselves, to celebrate their new life and to thank MSF staff.

MSF car approaches the village where a woman, patient of the hospital that received fistula treatment, invited me and a journalist to her house. Kids seem to be afraid of the big, fancy car with the antenna in front. You can see that in their eyes when they see the car and run to hide in the house. Houses here are huts made of mud and each house is one room. The walls in between are without a ceiling and they are mainly the space for the animals and for the toilet. As soon as I arrive most of the kids run away from me, some babies are crying… I am probably the only white-skin person that they have ever seen. I feel very uncomfortable and I choose to stay aside until we finish the interview. The woman gives an interview to the journalist and she started crying… Later the journo would explain to me that when she learned that she suffers from fistula she wanted to put an end to her life as she had seen other families’ reaction against fistula. Her husband supported her to attend the MSF program in the hospital and she wanted to thank MSF staff for the free treatment she has received. At the end and before we leave, her husband offered me a guinea fowl as a gesture of gratitude. A couple of hours later it was in Mercy’s fridge, the cook in the house of Jahun. Today I feel proud of being part of this organisation! (ps: I didn’t even try to eat the guinea fowl!!).

Bilkisu is the head nurse of the fistula ward. Not many things to say apart from that she is the ‘mama’ of the project. She is the sweetest and caring person I’ve ever met. Her only concern is how to protect better the women, the patients that are under the fistula treatment. Bilkisu supported my visit, spent the time to explain to me the context, the culture and what I should take care in order to visit the patient’s house. Bilkisu, is the staff that any organisation would like to have, is the nurse that every patient would like to have, is the mama that everyone respects! And I will never forget her passion and her kindness! (Benjamin, Thanks for the pic!)


On the 27th April, our team from Abuja played a football match organized by the MSF West Africa association. Once the ball was placed on the ground, 16 MSF players enjoyed the game with the support of the rest of the staff. Well, the opposite team scored at least twice while I was the goalkeeper… To my defence, after an hour match, the final score was not clear but as Innocent said, ‘what matters is that we played all together and it was fun!


160 on this land that only the people that I met here will ever know what Nigeria means for me. 160 days of challenges and obstacles, but also of knowledge and growth. 160 days of nostalgic moments and blues but also of friendships and moments of sharing with the most amazing people! 160 days of being part of one of the most efficient humanitarian organisation. 160 days of feeling blessed for this lifetime experience. (these stairs was the meeting point “for a cigarette” … with my Lebanese girl! The other 50% of the Mediterranean population in that house. Ian thanks for the great picture!) Take care people, thanks for being there…

Maro Verli letters