For me there is no weekend or days off in Aweil. I am on call and go to work every day, and every day is much the same as the one before. This is how it goes:
I usually wake before six when its still not light, having had a horrible night on top of a sheet which is damp with sweat and all wrinkled from my tossing and turning in the heat. I may have been woken by a few cats on the wall behind my concrete cell, snarling and growling, or by the barking and howling and yelping of packs of dogs that fight and wander the streets at night, and aken for ever to get back to sleep. The heat makes me have vivid dreams, sometimes disturbing dreams of confrontations and conflict, I started dreaming about Sue again. I am always on call but have been woken to go into the hospital in the middle of the night only a couple of times so far, but its an eerie deserted scene except for the dogs in the unlit road. The stalls and streetside merchandise are all packed away there is no advertising or neon, no streetlamps, just the rubbish and the muddy potholes remain as we bounce and weave our way past, it all looks abandoned. The light on top of the Landcruiser flashes and illuminates everything momentarily as we pass with its orange beam. Outside the church an old man and a young boy sleep under a scruffy heavy old piece of plastic sheet, which they fold up and sit on once daylight comes, begging.
But in the morning, once I am awake, I go for my shower. It’s a cold one and I have to brace myself for the shock, stepping under it and shuddering at first, but then within a minute the cool water feels good. I then suffer as usual this awful itchiness on my legs and arms and back for half an hour, I dress in jeans and clean shirt and take the laptop over to the main compound where I have some horrible instant coffee and check my email and news on the internet. The connection is slow but we used to think dial-up speed was amazing so its not a problem. It just takes a bit longer. I usually then have some cereal and maybe some fresh locally made bread, a sort of Pita bread, round pockets which are very tasty with nutella or some of that French processed cheese brand “La Vache qui Ris” . The others all appear at intervals, mostly preoccupied with their own waking thoughts and breakfasts and emails, and then I go back to my room and brush my teeth, and head for the hospital. Usually I go with Maura , the ex-pat Midwife who has been here since February. By now, 8.30, the streets are busy again and all the stalls are opening up and the wheelbarrows of merchandise are back on the street.
At the hospital we have a quick look in Labour ward and then I do a round of all the patients. It is supposed to be a learning opportunity for the staff , but few seem to attend the round, and those that do often disappear and return at intervals. I am taking things slowly and not pushing the staff too much at he moment as I am still learning their names and their roles, but soon enough I shall start insisting on attendance because I am discovering how much they need to learn. The round usually takes a couple of hours. After that, there are usually particular people to sort out, scans to do, notes to sort out and a steady stream of new patients arriving to be sorted out, some for admission, some for sending back home. Most of this work is done by the local staff.
Eventually I return to the Compound for lunch - its usually really hot by now, our faces are all wet with perspiration just from walking, our MSF T-Shirts sticking to our backs. For lunch ? - well today we had barbequed chicken with rice and chopped up tomatoes and onion, chips and lots of cups of cold water – in other words Chicken and chips – and its apparently a regular on Wednesdays.
Afterwards I might check my email or read some of the news on the Sydney Morning Herald website – there’s been lots lately with the sad ending of Julia Gillards term as Prime Minister. She has been replaced by the man she replaced three years ago, the populist and treacherous Kevin Rudd for the purely pragmatic and sole reason that he is immensely popular with the Australian voters. She of course was not and the Labor party was headed for a massive thrashing at the election due in a few months. The fact that the same Labor party under Rudd, with the same history and more or less the same Policy platform has now made a huge gain in the opinion Polls demonstrates how much the Australian electoral environment has degenerated into a Popularity contest between personalities rather than a contest of ideas. How sad. The positive for me is the possibility that the very unpopular opposition leader who was sleep-walking to an electoral landslide win while Gillard was the PM may now remain Opposition Leader after the election. That result is not widely expected but it is at least a possibility now. I dread the day Australia is led by a man who thinks the science of climate change is “crap”.
At some time in the afternoon I walk back to the hospital and see whats happening and check to see that all the plans we made for the patients in the morning have been acted on. Surprisingly they often haven’t been – theres a degree of disorganization bordering on chaos at times in the ward which all the people preceding me have been attempting to improve but it still needs work. There may be new patients to sort out as well.
Around five I walk back again, the stall holders and merchants are packing up , everyone is heading home, the sun is close to setting by 6, the air is starting to cool down a little , and back at base I open a cold can of African beer, Tusker. A beer at the end of the day has never tasted so good.