En route to the ship.
Copyright: WFP/Jonathan Thompson
I live on a ship. It is a big ship. There are beds, staircases, a dining room and even a bit of levity in the few waking moments we are onboard.
We wake up at 5:30am every morning. After a quick breakfast we strap on our life vests and head for the door. We walk down the gang plank, grab on to the rails and lower ourselves into a waiting lifeboat.
The life vests tend to restrict the amount you can turn your head so conversation is kept to a minimum. As we motor away toward the shore we perspire, some sleep and catch glimpses of the fishermen in their small wooden canoes.
The barge where we disembark is as tall as the lifeboat so a bit of gymnastics is required to exit the boat. We clamber up side, across the top of the barge, over a wooden walkway and then load onto the awaiting buses.
Since we travel through an area which requires a military escort we are usually sandwiched between troops armored personnel carriers and trucks filled with troops from Chile, Brazil, Uruguay or whichever UN peacekeepers are on tap that day to provide the escort.
We arrive at camp and then disembark for what little piece of desk we've been able to carve out. I average no more than a couple days in each spot before I relocate. At time of writing I am sitting on a folding chair, computer in my lap watching the battery run down.
The evening is the exact opposite: we all pile on to buses, snake through town, descend into the lifeboats after donning our life vests, then sit silently, again some sleeping, as we make our way back to the ship. Thankfully, dinner is waiting and there is a bit of WiFi so that we can chat with our loved ones before turning in. A short while later the process repeats itself.
Through it all everyone is a good sport. Nerves are frayed, people are exhausted and tempers do flare but everyone does their best to keep them in check. The crew of the ship is fantastic and always in high spirits, the bus drivers are professional, the soldiers are accommodating and the ship is comfortable.
Some people may take umbrage with the fact that we live on a chartered vessel but in a place where a large number of people are without shelter, existing structures are suspect and the heat and humidity are brutal yet still climbing it makes complete sense to live on a ship. Those individuals who have worked in the field for any amount of time realize the importance of being able to get a good meal, a good night's sleep and shower in the morning. One's ability to power on through the tough times is contingent upon (amongst other things) food, sleep and good hygiene. In the short run you can survive almost anything, but if you plan on staying for any amount of time then you'd better be sure to take care of yourself. If you don't, The results could be disastrous for both you and your teammates.
I would like to take a moment to thank the team in Rome who chartered the vessel, the Captain and crew of the Sea Voyager, all those involved with getting us to and from the ship and my shipmates who all show incredible patience and who know just how important our floating home really is.