(I've changed the name from "Rants" given that I can't really rant about many things that frustrate me here, at least not without getting into some sort of trouble. As such, you'll have to wait for the book.)

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Passing of a Friend

I’m in Addis Ababa. I’m on my way to Rome for some meetings and I have a few moments to type before my next flight. I won’t be leaving the airport which is a bit of a shame. I was just trying to remember the last time I was here. I think it was 2008. I was here for meetings and didn’t see much except the capital. There is a lot to see and I need to come back when I have more time. 

So to catch up, a few weeks ago I went through one of the most difficult periods I’ve experienced since I moved to Burundi. It was a Friday and I was in my office. I’d been receiving visitors and trying to squeeze in some emails here and there. For some reason Friday is a big day for people dropping in for various discussions, questions, signatures, etc. It must be people trying to get stuff in before the weekend. In any case, it was a busy Friday like most others.

a toast with Dorothee in May 2011
At one point our HR Coordinator, Dorothee, popped in to say hello and tell me about her week in Nairobi. She’d been attending a regional conference and she seemed in rather high spirits. After some exchanges about her meetings, I couldn’t help but to ask her about a couple of issues that had come up while she was away. I assured her that these were not time critical but just things she should know. I was taking advantage of the fact that she was in my office to simply make sure she was aware.
She bid her farewell and she walked out into the hallway, greeting people as she went. It was the last time I would ever see her.

one of her eloquent speeches
About 15 minutes later, a colleague came in and told me that Dorothee had collapsed in her office while talking to him and a couple of others and was unconscious. I was shocked but I didn’t want to overreact. It would not have been the first time that a staff had fainted and I was thinking that it had been particularly warm. To be honest, I didn’t know what was wrong but my colleague assured me that they were getting her to a vehicle and taking her to the hospital as quickly as possible.
A few minutes later a different colleague came in to say that she was on the way, but that her collapse was an ugly scene. He looked dazed and I was now starting to get more worried. And rightly so. Only a couple of minutes after that the first colleague came back to say that Dorothee had died before arriving at the hospital. There is no autopsy of course and given that she apparently had some heart issues, the assumption was that it was a heart attack.

in January of this year
It was like a slug in the stomach. I had known this woman for nearly 4 years and she had become a good friend and confidant. Now, in retrospect, I had no idea how hard it was going to hit me. Her passing has affected me on so many levels, both personal and professional. Over time had had grown very reliant on her support and wisdom. We would discuss a wide range of things in our weekly meetings and other ad hoc conversations from family, to work, to life in Burundi. Just a few minutes after seeming so full of life, she disappears.

If you would have asked me a month ago, of the entire organization, which staff’s death would have the most profound impact on the organization, I would have probably said Dorothee. She will be missed.

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