Sunday, 31 May 2015

What a ChAdventure!

I can’t quite believe it has arrived, but my time in Chad has come to an end! It has been an incredible four years with many highs and lows, surprises and challenges along the way. In a word, it’s been a ChAdventure! Here, in no particular order, are just some of my most memorable moments….

Guinebor II
Working at Guinebor hospital has been a real privilege. It’s been hard, challenging wonderful, frustrating, encouraging, sad, a joy… a whole mix of emotions and experiences. It’s been fantastic working alongside the Chadian staff, watching them develop in their skills and knowledge as nurses, but also to build up good relationships with them along the way. And at the same time, develop my own skills as a nurse too.

One of my little patients awaiting major
abdominal surgery
Neonatal resuscitation training with
 nurses and midwives

Due to the nature of the hospital, the clinical work has just been one part of everyday life here. Some of the more bizarre moments include finding myself giving gardening lessons to the guards who wanted to prune the trees, towing the ambulance out of the thick mud in which it got stuck while trying to pull out another vehicle, or chasing away various members of the animal kingdom from the wards, lizards, cats, spiders, birds, without a second thought. I also come away from this place, knowing far more about generators than I really think is necessary.
Rescuing the ambulance

Gardening lessons

Mariam vaccinating
It wasn’t something that I foresaw as being my role when I came to Chad, but other than working with the nurses, the majority of my time at Guinebor has been developing the malnutrition and child services the hospital offers. All children under the age of 5 are now measured and weighed to assess their nutritional status, there is new clinic, run by Mariam, devoted to following up malnourished children, providing health promotion, free nutritious food and vaccinations for all. While the inpatient treatment and care for children admitted with severe acute malnutrition has improved. This project has been a huge learning curve for me, but working with these children, their parents and especially Mariam has been my greatest joy here in Chad. To see such sick children become well is just incredible.
Here are just some of the children treated and helped through the malnutrition project....

Khadidja                                      Youssef                                          Moustapha
\Baby Rebecca                                                    Twins, Zakira and Zena

Friends and Family
The hardest thing for me to leave behind in the UK when I came to Chad were my family and friends. And yet, in coming here I have found my Chadian family and friends (cheesy but true!).

With Mama
In my first few weeks in Chad, living on my own in a noisy neighbourhood in town, I was determined not to be trapped within the four walls of my flat. So, each evening at 4pm, I forced myself to go for a walk around the block, and I hated it. It was hot and dusty, I fought with my newly acquired head scarf, trying to keep it in place, I passed men who hissed and whistled at me, all in the desperate hope that someone would speak to me and not just eye me with suspicion before turning away. Eventually I heard the words I’d been longing to hear “Bonsoir, ma fille”. That was all the encouragement I needed; off I went traversing the dusty rutted track, negotiating the thick green slime of the open sewer, to sit down with the round and kind faced old woman with swollen painful and immobile knees, who I now call “Mama”. Her daughter in law, Felicity and her three granddaughters, Mya, Joanna and Paulette are now my Chadian family.

Visiting Felicity, Mya, Jo and Paulette
During my time in Chad I've also met many people from around the world and have made some very close friendships. Just one of these friendships was with Claire who ended up sharing my house while she worked for 9 months as a Pharmacist in the hospital. Games nights, singing 90’s classics in the kitchen, doing gardening (well, a form of) in “sack” dresses and flip flops, escaping into town for ice-cream when it all became too much are just some of our memorable moments.

Creating culinary delights with Claire

But there have also been some incredibly significant and precious visits from the UK: my Mum and friend Louise. I didn’t realise until they came, Mum in my first year and Louise in my second, how much I missed having people who knew me so well and their presence highlighted to me how different my life had become, how what was now ‘normal’ to me, hadn’t always been. Both of their visits were highlights for me and I still can’t believe they actually came!

Fun with Louise

With Mum at Elephant Rock

Getting creative
Celebrating Thanksgiving with
American friends
With very little available here to offer any kind of distraction, to survive, it is essential to make your own entertainment. This may come in the form of the greatly exciting “Guess the 10 fruits in the 10 fruit cocktail juice” game that Claire and myself developed on one particularly exhilarating Saturday breakfast, or temporarily taking on another’s cultural identity for a few hours to celebrate their national holiday, such as Thanksgiving. Basically, recreating, or creating, any celebration with a Chadian twist, usually revolving around food where the hard work in searching and the excitement in finding or creating an alternative adds to the air of anticipation! Having said that, one of my best Christmas celebrations here didn’t involve food at all, but certainly did offer a very Chadian twist- camel riding on Christmas Eve! Across the dry, dusty golf course…. Like you do…..

Camel riding across the golf course

Celebrating Chad style
Celebrating with the staff wearing the hospital's official
fete materiel
One of the highlights of being in any different culture is to be a part of the fêtes, and with the Chadian tendency to take even the slightest excuse to celebrate, there have been many to be a part of here. Of course there have been the obvious celebrations; weddings, baby naming ceremonies, engagement parties, where bargaining in high spirits for the bride price provides great hollers of laughter and fun. But there have also been the ones that, at least to me initially, seemed a little more bizarre, such as the shipping container opening ceremonies.
While less jovial, being a part of funerals and offering condolences to people have offered a precious insight into the Chadian culture and provided a great opportunity to come alongside and identify with those I have lived and worked with.
Rose receiving her wedding presents

Time to Explore

Walking in the footsteps of elephants
Having said there is a limit on what is on offer in ways of distraction and tourist attractions, I have taken two holidays in Chad, which were fantastic. The first was flying across Chad to the far east side to a national park called Zakouma, which has to be the least visited national park in Africa. It was beautiful with most of the cast of the Lion King appearing, and yet, due to the lack of tourists and rules, frequent stops and going for a walk alongside crocodile infested waters, and lion roaming country added to the excitement!

At Zakouma Park
My second holiday was also to the east of Chad, but rather than a couple of hours flight I took the 12 hour bus option! Not nearly as comfortable or easy, but certainly more interesting! I went to visit some close friends and enjoyed a fantastic week of relaxation, visiting neighbours, going for walks and picnics along a dried wadi and excursions to the market.

Am Timan market

What’s in a name?
In the UK, I go by a number of different names; Rebecca, Becky, Becca, Bex. But here, I can add a few more to that list:
Nasara- It took me all of a day having arrived in Chad to realise that local children were pointing at me while shouting “Nasara, nasara”. This term meaning ‘white person’ in Arabic I didn’t particularly relish at first but was soon reassured that it was not meant as an insult, more one of recognition and description.
Rebecca Jolie- This is the latest one I can add having seen it just this week on Felicity’s phone. Very sweet, if a little generous!
La mere des enfants- The Mother of the children. This was a name I was frequently given by the relatives of patients when I worked on the paediatric ward, especially with the malnourished children. Because many of these children would spend a long time on the ward, they often got over their initial terror of a white woman as I spent time helping the mothers give the milk and the other cares they needed. It was an honour as well as humbling to be given such a name.
But my favourite? Madam Guinebor- As I get out of my car at various places around town, this is frequently shouted to me, along with a greeting and questions on how the hospital was going, often from people I don’t recognise at all. I assumed this was simply in response to me driving a car with the hospital’s name on it, but there have been a few times when I’ve been in town in a plain car and the same thing has happened, “Madame Guinebor, Madame Guinebor”!!

Random acts of kindness- from free truck rides when stranded, assistance changing tyres or being pushed off the middle of a chaotic roundabout when the car has decided once again that this would be the perfect time and place to breakdown, invitations to join patients and relative in drinking tea on their mat, towing me out of mud when stuck (after standing laughing and pointing for a while first!), receiving a gift, I could go on… These are just example of some of the random acts of kindness that I have received here that have come at the least expected time and have brought me great pleasure.

Culinary delights- Grasshoppers, goat, camel, undistinguishable meat, gombo sauce (slimy boiled okra), boule (flour and water mixed to form a solid paste), quisa (big spongey pancakes), kakanje (flower used to make a sweet juice or I cooking), capitane (white fish), mangoes…. Just some of the delights I’ve eaten here, some more desirable than others!

Grasshoppers, a local delicacy(?)
Everyday life
With climbing temperatures, unpredictable driving, thick dust or oozing mud, or overheating fridges, the list could go on and on. But suffice to say, these are just a few of my highlights and significant aspects of life over the past four years, in what can only be called, a ChAdventure!

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