Prior to our trip, the Pampers and UNICEF team heading off to Cameroon had met only once for a briefing meeting about our field trip. As we began our journey to Africa, we quickly discovered that the best way of getting to know a group of people you have only just met is to experience a stressful situation together and live to tell the tale. That was the situation we found ourselves in minutes after taking off from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport, travelling at 400 mph, at around 20,000 feet.
We were still gaining height when the alarms sounded signalling a problem with the aircraft. Minutes later the pilot made an announcement, only part of which I could understand, but it contained, without doubt, the word ‘fire’. It is really not a word you want to hear under such circumstances. As I looked out of the window I could see what appeared to be smoke billowing out of the left wing and I was engulfed with the overwhelming disappointment that, after all the excitement, we would never make it to Cameroon.
For what felt like an eternity, but can only have been about three minutes, I was acutely aware of our distance from the ground and my urgent need to be anywhere in the world apart from on board a plane. We were then informed, a little reassuringly, that it was not smoke we were seeing but fuel. The pilot was dumping his fuel to make an emergency landing back in Paris.
He landed the plane minutes later to a round of applause and we were greeted on the tarmac by a team of fire engines. Never in my life had I been more relieved to step off an aeroplane. I made a mental note of the plane’s serial number and made the decision never to get back on that particular plane. In fact, for about half an hour I wasn’t certain I was prepared to get back on any plane.
The ten-hour delay in Paris which followed gave me a chance to relax and calmed my nerves. The rest of the group did not seem overly anxious so I took my cue from them and decided to continue, more determined than ever that I would make it to Cameroon.
The delay provided the perfect opportunity to catch up on some sleep and to get to know the rest of the team a little better. By the time we arrived in Yaoundé, Cameroon, over 24 hours after that early morning alarm call, it felt like we had completed an epic journey.
Yet that was only the beginning.
Sometimes we are more capable than we realise. Sometimes we need a challenge to help ourselves discover that. This was my challenge. Over the next few days I would witness levels of poverty I could never have imagined, view delivery suites that would horrify me, see emergency food supplies for malnourished children that would move me to tears, and meet the villagers who have benefitted from the Pampers and UNICEF MNT campaign and those who still need our support.
I would document every detail of the trip and would home return feeling positive, energised and determined to do my bit to help raise awareness and support the Pampers and UNICEF campaign.
And it would change my life.