Published on Nov. 26, 2023 at 7:02 a.m.
“In 2014, while the Ebola epidemic was in full swing in Guinea, I decided to stop my end-of-study internship as a veterinary epidemiologist in Paris to lend a hand to the health service of this country.
On site, I am a volunteer for GOARN (Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network), a WHO program which mobilizes professionals who come to the aid of countries fighting epidemics and managing health emergency crises. The mission is risky but exciting, I am in the field, where my job as an epidemiologist has the most meaning. I’m going to stay there for six months. One month as a volunteer, then as a consultant.
Before this trip, I studied veterinary medicine in Algeria where I grew up. I completed my training with a master’s degree in public health specializing in infectious diseases and epidemiology obtained at the Pasteur-CNAM school of public health in Paris and with a master’s degree in microbiology.
Objective: return to the field
The mission to Guinea is my first as a consultant on an international health project. I like it, but for personal reasons, I am forced to return to France. However, I keep in the back of my mind the desire to expatriate for a longer period.
Back in Paris, I accepted a position as an epidemiologist in an office within the Public Health France agency. This new experience is going well, I am working on the surveillance of arboviruses (dengue, Chikungunya and Zika), and the investigation of suspected cases of Ebola, but I feel that I have less impact. To fill this gap, I negotiate with my manager the possibility of taking my 45 days of vacation in one go to go to the field. I am going to Congo to help deal with the yellow fever epidemic then to Sao Tome and Principe to carry out research for the WHO (world health organization) on a new disease (Necrotizing fasciitis). These trips are part of my balance, they allow me to keep in touch with the field and to better support my work within the Public Health France agency.
In 2017, my new manager refused to grant me my leave in one go to deploy to Haiti for an istance mission after Hurricane Matthew. This refusal precipitated my departure from the public agency. I resigned and at the same time, I was hired by the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) for a one-year mission in Ghana as a veterinary epidemiologist. My first long-term expatriation. My mission: to help in the early detection of new illnesses.
Accra, Rome, Paris
I am moving to Accra, the capital of Ghana, without my partner, who remains in Paris. All alone, I work in an international environment and I work mostly with expatriates. After a year, the FAO asked me to join its office in Rome to work on the “Early warning system” project with a view to strengthening the surveillance of animal and zoonotic diseases. I accept !
In August 2018, I packed my bags in Rome and my husband, until then based in Paris, joined me there with all our belongings. I spent four pleasant years in this city, an open-air museum. I’m learning Italian and making friends with locals. The beach is not very far and every weekend, I go to discover Italy. I also thrive in my work, where I continue to travel for missions.
In 2022, after my separation and the pandemic, I am leaving FAO and joining WHO for a six-month teleworking consultant contract. I am taking advantage of this opportunity to telework from abroad (Ankara, Mykonos, Sardinia and Paris).
Cairo, my new home
Over time, this nomadic life far from the field tires me. So, I apply elsewhere. I have been selected for a two-year mission as a consultant in Cairo, Egypt, to work on the One Health project for the WHO. This brings together professionals from different sectors to detect and prevent epidemics of infectious diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. I am dreading this new expatriation more than the others. I had preconceptions about a woman living in a Muslim country. I was afraid I would have to change my habits.
I had to face some distressing situations, like the one where I had to move because my landlord forbade me from having a friend at my house because he wasn’t my husband when I hosted a colleague from another United Nations agency (IOM) coming from Sudan to take up a new position in Cairo! Despite some setbacks, my integration is going well; my mastery of Arabic has contributed a lot to this. In Egypt, I love the variety of activities you can do there: rowing on the Nile, horse riding in the Sahara or kitesurfing on the Red Sea!
During my nine-year career, I have had many experiences abroad. I love meeting new cultures and my job only takes on meaning when it is done in the field. The disadvantage of this life is that we do not belong to the country where we live and we no longer belong to the country where we come from. In France, my belongings are stored in a garage, I have no house, I no longer have a real anchor and for each mission, the prospect of departure makes the feeling of belonging difficult to create. I have one year of contract left in Egypt. After that ? The desire for motherhood makes me think about the idea of settling in a country for a long period of time. I am thinking of returning to live in Paris, where I feel at home. At the same time, I don’t know if I would be ready to return to the metro-work-sleep… The adrenaline of the field has become a drug for me. »