“Terrence [Houlahan] and I were working together during what’s probably the most remarkable and extraordinary period in both our careers. While isolated in one of the most challenging parts of Africa, Terrence and I were supporting health projects by building solutions using the latest technology. The knowledge of Terrence has been an incredible asset while building eHealth projects. His drive made sure that each task would not end until everyone was contented. It has been a real pleasure working with Terrence and we can be proud of what we have achieved, all the more when taking into account the circumstances we worked in. Hopefully we will meet again one day, for example at the Four Days Marches in Nijmegen. Wish you all the best!“
– Frank Salet, GIS Team Manager, eHealth Africa (2014)
Operating in Areas Contested by Terrorists:
eHealth is the prime contractor for the Gates Foundation in Northern Nigeria. The challenges with this work- there is a lot of technology involved in the fight against Polio- were not merely technical; the region was plagued by terrorism.
eHealth’s director was upfront with me: there’s no security here, nor would he purport to offer an guarantees of any. Before Skyping with him, I did some Googling and found a YouTube video- since removed- showing women wailing in a courtyard filled with bodies. These were the National Police massacred by Boko Harem at their Kano HQ located about 5 minutes from where I’d be living. When I made my way to the flight, I did so with eyes wide open as to the challenging security situation.
Shortly after arriving in Kano, Boko Harem murdered 30 people in (2) car bombings not far from where I was. The risk being no longer theoretical nor distant, one of the eHealth staff flew back to Atlanta after that. And it wasn’t long before I learned Boko Harem were sawing people’s heads of- with tree saws.
And when you’re the only white person around for a gazillion miles working 100 feet up a mast, it’s pretty difficult to be discrete. And of course falling from the mast is not impossible: step on a part with a brittle weld and you can be in freefall if you don’t have a sufficient grip on the laterals.
When planning and executing work, I never asked my Nigerian colleagues to go anywhere I would not go, not to do anything I myself would not do. I always considered and placed their safety above my own. I was acutely aware that whatever happened to me were we caught, my colleagues being Muslims in the company of a white Infidel that their fate would be much more grim than my own.
Having said all that, the Northern Nigerians are just the most decent, moral and kind folks one could ever hope to meet and I felt privileged to work and live amongst them.