Comfort Zones

All my life, writing has been a therapy for me. As soon as I feel uncomfortable or face a difficult decision, I grab a pen and write down my feelings and perceptions about the situation, it generally helps me clarify the issue and identify what should be the best course of action.

However, over the past few weeks, I was faced with the ‘’white page’’ syndrome.  Not that I have nothing to talk about or that nothing is happening. Quite the opposite:  I have too much to share and no clue where to start. Quite uncomfortable and unusual for me. It reminds me – years ago – of filling out my university applications: I wanted to learn so many different things, and I had set my mind on French literature –  to my father’s dismay, thinking I would combine my love for reading and writing – I was already a master at Bullet Journaling in my twenties!!! img_2249

Blogging was not even a concept, let alone a word, thirty years ago. I wonder if this is how writers sometimes feel, sitting in front of their computer, or holding a well sharpened pencil or their favorite pen and a brand new note book, and this huge void appears. Where do I start? What is my story line? How do I engage readers from the first few lines?  I hope you are still reading…

The first few weeks of my PULSE assignment were a mix of calm and rough seas – one faces that zone of turbulence when pushed out of the usual comfort zone and it was clearly my case, moving to a new country, working with a new team in a very different organization. But over the past couple of months I have sailed smoothly into a new comfort zone. I am now totally immersed in my new – too short – life in Senegal.

Over the weeks, I created a new routine: getting to work, buying fruits on the same street corner and vegetables from a small BIO farm, exploring Dakar to find the best coffee shop, the best place to buy real WAX – the colorful African fabric – so I can bring it to Aby who will transform it into pillow covers, napkins, place mats and a few colorful skirts that I will dare to wear back in Canada: these are wonderful, noisy, hot, surprising, tough and playful negotiating moments of life in Dakar.  The Holiday season is starting here as well, with joyful and colorful Christmas markets over the next couple of weeks. I am very much looking forward to this!fullsizerender

My work here at PATH is more and more fascinating each day:  from walking between PATH and the MOH offices to advance work on NCDs and bringing stakeholders together to mobilize expertise and resources, to acting as a catalyst and facilitator between partners for improved management of NCDs in Senegal, every day is an opportunity to expand and appreciate my knowledge of the African culture and of Senegal ways of working, and understand the differences and similarities between cultures and organizations.

My colleagues Ulrich, Ida and Rima – a GSK PULSE volunteer who arrived mid-October from GSK Lebanon, and I – are working as a team to develop a road map and a framework that will support and grow PATH’s NCD portfolio, knowledge and expertise, and build capacity.

Driving awareness on the burden of NCDs in a country still struggling with tropical and infectious diseases and growing engagement to empower primary care health resources remain important challenges for all stakeholders and a challenging responsibility for me. Nonetheless, it is now part of my “known” world and I feel completely at ease in this new environment.

At the same time, I am becoming more and more aware that there is very little time left in my PULSE assignment, and I am now struggling with mixed feelings of wanting to stay and looking forward to going home. Somehow my comfort zone has become “here and now”.

I have discovered – through conversations with a good friend, that practicing mindfulness daily is a good way to welcome and embrace change and to feel at ease stepping outside of one’s comfort zone.

Knowing that another zone of turbulence is likely on the horizon, heading back to Canada in January and leaving behind what has been my Senegalese comfort zone for the last 6 months – mindfulness allows me to appreciate every moment, every interaction, every warm and sunny day, and the smooth sailing in the current comfort zone while welcoming the changes to come.


  1. Chère Hélène,

    Un vrai plaisir de te lire et de sentir où tu en es après tous ces mois d’expériences uniques qui vont sûrement te transformer. Proites bien de ces derniers moments en sachant que tu ne quitteras pas le Sénégal, il demeurera en toi à jamais. Et toi, dans le coeur de tous ceux que tu as touchés.

    Merci de saluer Dagué pour moi et je te souhaite une fin d’assignation aussi merveilleuse qu’elle semble l’avoir été tout au long de ces derniers mois.

    Au plaisir de te revoir à ton retour!

    1. merci beaucoup ma chère Lucie, et merci surtout pour tes conseils et de m,avoir permis de rencontrer cette grande dame qu’est Dagué.

  2. It’s hard to believe that you are coming close to the end of your journey in Senegal. It sounds like it has been exhilarating. I am sure it has been life-altering. Enjoy the last part of the ride and take time to reflect on all that you have accomplished, seen and learned. When you come home and back in your “Canadian comfort zone”, and you reflect on your PULSE experience, you will likely be in awe of this time. Enjoy.

  3. What an amazing experience you have had! I just want to add, as you know my love of the Royal family, that Prince Harry and Prince William are very involved in Senegal and have a Trust they run with the Prince from there! ~ Barbara NBLA

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