On May 29th, 2022, I made my way to the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, for my first international trip since COVID-19. I was reminded of how much things have changed following the outbreak. I had undoubtedly missed international travel. Before COVID, I had made at least one trip outside of Nigeria almost every year, either on vacation or for international conferences. My anticipation was heightened because this was my first work-related international trip; I was traveling to DC to engage with external stakeholders and colleagues in the FHI 360 at the DC Main office and HQ in Durham, NC. On this 10-day trip, I will be engaging with the BMGF-funded LEAP Project to generate evidence that supports the scale-up and expansion of family planning method choices for women, especially the Hormonal Intrauterine Device. Working alongside team members from other family planning grants and projects that I have supported over the last two years.
Though it would be a very busy few days in Washington, nothing could dampen my excitement as I landed at the Dulles Airport in Virginia after 13 hours of flying with a 6-hour layover in Germany. The weather was reminiscent of Abuja I had left behind, and I felt right at home. In the drive from the Airport, the city emerged from the greenery that lined the freeway; downtown Washington DC looked like an eclectic mix of old and new. Sprawling classical-looking buildings mixed in with some newer-looking modern-style buildings. The hotel, a Victorian building situated in bustling Dupont Circle filled with restaurants and cafes. Thanks to COVID-19 precautions and the warm weather, the restaurants had more outdoor seating, reminiscent of Parisian sidewalks.
My time in Washington DC was a flurry of meetings, working lunches, and meet-ups; my first meeting was with a colleague with whom I had weekly virtual meetings since February 2020. As we met with other colleagues from our Zoom meetings– the recurring refrain was “I’m just so glad to see you outside your Zoom square/avatar” or “I can’t believe how tall you actually are.”. The funniest comment was, “you are a real person!” – Laughs
By the end of the third day of meetings, I appreciated the virtual meetings, which ensured continuity of work in a normal way during the months of lockdown.
But it could not replace the energy we drew from each other when we sit at a table, share opinions, brainstorm ideas, watch a colleague nod in agreement and finishing each other’s sentences. No awkward pauses, mute/unmute buttons and stilted politeness that are characteristics of virtual meetings.
Before I left for North Carolina, I took a walk around the President’s Park which encompasses the White House, the Eisenhower Building, and the Treasury Building. The White House looked exactly like it does on TV. What I did not expect to see were the tents dotting the park. DC residents explained that there had been a huge increase in the number of homeless people in the city; another fallout of the pandemic and growing economic instability.
The last lap of the trip was to Durham, NC, where FHI 360 HQ is located. The office building is part of the historic ATC Campus built in 1890. The building overlooks the Durham Bulls Athletic Park; you get a clear view of the imposing Durham Bull from the 3rd-floor conference room.
This trip for me was very enlightening; there are many moving parts in the world of international development. Sometimes, one can get a narrow viewpoint while pursuing project goals – this trip afforded me the opportunity to see positions from various angles. I have a better understanding of the machinery that drives programs.