French-french

We have arrived at the end of my three assignments, the last completed yesterday and celebrated at a cupcakes place in Addis with spicy chicken sandwiches and macchiato. The participants in our senior leadership program, conducted jointly with Yale University’s School of Public Health, have quickly become our new French and Swiss ICRC friends. Two we met last November when I was in Addis as well. They manage ICRC’s assistance to rehabilitation programs in Madagascar, Niger, Tchad, the DRC and Burundi.

On Thursday morning they presented the current landscape of physical rehabilitation in their respective countries. All of them are pretty bleak, with Tchad and Niger at the top of the list. These managers are not shying away from difficult places and most have lived a good part of their professional lives in hardship posts: Iraq, Pakistan, North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan, etc.  They are after all the kind of clinicians and technicians that help civilians who have stepped on mines or are otherwise physically injured in such places of conflict. It is a remarkable group of professionals who care deeply about the people who have become or were born disabled yet work in places where such people are shunned, put away and generally neglected. And if there are any services at all, these are poorly staffed, poorly equipped or entirely non-functioning. Their tolerance for frustration is tested every day.

For two days we sat around a table and talked about the senior leadership program we are about to embark on over the next 11 months. We will meet again in April when they return with a team of, hopefully influential or motivated, peopl, feom their countries to advance the agenda and implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities (UNCRPD).

Although all are English speakers and some of the sessions were done in English, their default language is French. And not African French, which is what I have been exposed to for the last 30+ years but French French, spoken rapidly and with all the wonderful gestures and facial expressions that the French use when they speak.  When we next meet the language will be French only, the singsongy French from Madagascar, the staccato-ed French from West African and Congolese French. It will be a French linguistic feast.

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