All by myself…

Well now, so much has gone on since I got here it feels impossible to give you an overview, so I will have to split it all up into random chunks. Firstly, I’ll give you a quick recap of my first few weeks in Kurdistan.

I arrived here in a flurry of activity, and spent two weeks working crazy hours down in the south – we barely had time to stop and eat once a day, and after two weeks we were all a bit frazzled and exhausted, and feeling under pressure! I was supposed to organise the distribution of 1000 “winterisation” kits (blankets, mattresses, heater, kerosene, jerry cans, plastic sheeting etc), but when I got here nothing had really been done (no suppliers identified, no list of beneficiaries, no idea where we’d be distributing etc).

We were under some serious pressure to deliver, but in the end the supplier couldn’t deliver the goods until just before Christmas and the decision was made to postpone the whole distribution to January as we wouldn’t have enough staff left to manage it.

The staffing situation was a bit unfortunate. When I was in the UK preparing to come here, I was told that they had previously only had 1 staff member here, but now they are urgently scaling up and hiring new staff. So they had already hired an HR Manager, a Logistics Manager, a Finance Manager, and so on. Everyone who arrived got a 2-week entry visa, and then had to apply for the longer-term visas. However, as we are such a multi-cultural organisation, the visas all got rejected because the staff in question were from the Philippines, Sudan, Uganda, Bangladesh and so on…. Except for me – apparently as a British National I have no problems at all staying here!

So when I was preparing to fly out from the UK, there was a team of around 7 or 8 staff already on the ground. By the time I got here, almost all of them had been sent home very suddenly and indefinitely, and the remaining staff were all about to go on leave for Christmas. Which is why we ended up postponing the distributions, as we just wouldn’t have enough staff on the ground to really do anything.

It became apparent within a few days of me arriving that I would be spending Christmas alone due to this unfortunate series of events, and there was a lot of debate about whether or not it was safe for me to stay in various different locations. It was decided that I could come back to Erbil, which is relatively safe, but no-one was happy with the idea of me staying in the guest house alone (it’s perfectly safe, but on the off-chance that I got hit by a bus or fell down the stairs, I might not be found for several days….).

So we were discussing the option of me going into a hotel over the Christmas period, but then a lovely colleague over at a prominent children’s NGO kindly offered to let me stay in their guesthouse over the holidays instead. They had around 12 international staff staying over the holidays, so it was really nice – I stayed with them and we had a lovely big dinner together on Christmas eve, and I spent Christmas day quietly being very lazy, speaking to my family all around the world and watching Disney movies!

There are all sorts of other challenges here to contend with, for example it’s taking forever to get a bank account set up, and we’re essentially starting from the beginning, setting up an entire country programme from scratch. So we’ve been busy trying to rent a guest house and office for staff to live and work in (in two different locations no less!) buy furniture such as beds, desks, chairs, pillows, cups, plates, etc, and rent a warehouse, select suppliers, and pay the drivers – all of which is very hard to manage without a bank account! Some serious cash flow issues there…

Also, in a bizarre and slightly scary moment, I realised that as the sole staff member representing my organisation in Kurdistan over the holidays everything would be handed over to me – I was responsible for HR, Finance, IT, Security, Logistics, and of course the actual programme! It was a bit daunting, and a lot of responsibility! However thankfully the visas finally came through, and I now have a small team again (there are 4 of us now, and 2 more coming in a few days). With a huge sigh of relief I have handed back all the paperwork, money and responsibility to their rightful owners and can get back to focusing on programme stuff instead.


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