Monday, 2 February 2015

'First' Impressions

I recently returned to Chad after a couple of months in the UK and though it was not a very long break, I was surprised at how strong some of my returning “first” impressions of Chad were. I say “first” impressions, because my true ‘first’ impressions happened over 3 years ago as I stepped off the plane for the first time. But elements of Chadian life that I have recently been sharing with friends and family at home, are easily dulled when not experiencing them everyday. Yet, on return, they hit me once more. And so here we go, my “first” impressions:

The green countryside that I left behind at the end of the wet season, has now returned to the parched, brown landscape that features throughout the majority of the year. Being on the edge of the Sahara desert, this really shouldn’t surprise me, but it is the rapidity of the change that strikes me each year. Just over 2 weeks into my return and the dryness has already led to dry, cracking and bleeding skin. However, I am well prepared and I have returned armed with moisturiser by the bucket load!

Lush and green for 3 months of the year...
... soon turns to a dry, dusty and barren landscape

Warm welcome
During much of the year, this phrase would take a double meaning, referring not only to the people, but to the sweaty, hot climate awaiting to embrace and envelope every person in its thick suffocating presence. However, I timed my return perfectly and found in contrast, the air to be cool and positively cold in the evenings. With the temperatures dipping to the low teens at night, I kept some of my jumpers and jeans to hand.

However, it was the warm welcome I received from friends and colleagues that was really encouraging and made the transition back into life here, away from family, much easier. I have found the Chadians to be quite reserved people and so it means even more to me when I am shown such an enthusiastic reception with hugs, hand slapping and cries of “Welcome back, how is the family? How is the cold weather?”

I find it oddly ironic that when I was younger, while other children would find the prospect of a picnic on the beach exciting, I found it a reasonably stressful experience; fighting against the encroaching sand on my towel, fruitlessly trying to flick sand out of my sandwiches, only for it to be replaced by yet more from my sandy fingers and the next gust of sand laden wind. This aversion to dust has not gone with age, but has been reinforced by the necessity to do my least favourite household chore. Yes, you’ve guessed it, dusting. And so here I am, in the Sahara desert where sand and dust permeate, quite literally, the everyday.

Having said all of this, from what I am hearing, I’ve managed to avoid a couple of highly unpleasant weeks, during which the dust was so thick, it hung in the air like a thick cloud, causing planes to be diverted and people to take on a distinctly orange/ grey complexion.

Time to celebrate
While in the UK, I visited and spoke with many people across the UK supporting the work here at Guinebor hospital through BMS. I always find meeting people for the first time telling me they’ve been following mine and the hospital’s progress a humbling and encouraging experience. It is also a good excuse for me to spend time looking back on what has been going on here on the ground over the past year or so. Very often the days and weeks pass in a blur of activity of hospital life and I find it easy to forget or not see when something good happens. On my return though, it suddenly struck me that January 2015 marks the first anniversary of the Vaccination clinic! In the first year around 1,150 children have been vaccinated against preventable childhood diseases. As I have previously written about, having seen children die of some of these diseases it’s a great joy to know that these children are protected.

Needing very little excuse or encouragement, I took this milestone as a reason to party and made 60 cupcakes to celebrate with the staff! In all honesty, I’m not sure what the Chadian staff thought of me, I think I confuse them at times. But they all humoured me singing along to “Joyeux anniversaire”, while Mariam, who works in the clinic, took her role of receiving the cakes and blowing out the candle very seriously! After, myself and Mariam went onto the Paediatric ward and used the occasion as an opportunity to promote vaccines and gave out some cakes to each inpatient child and their carer. The cakes certainly did not hang around long!

Mariam taking her role very seriously!
Now a few weeks in, it feels like I’ve never been away. My ‘first’ impressions of dust have become part of daily life, the warm welcome I received from the people has, in the last week, been caught up by the warmth of the climate, it is great to be working alongside the nurses again, and as I try to keep my eyes open for causes of celebration, I will continue to share some of these with you in the coming weeks and months.

Missie enjoying her cake!

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