Monday, 25 February 2019

A patient update and something quite unbelievable (but true)

I thought people who heard me speak on my last home assignment would be interested in an update on Abderamane, the man who had a fractured leg and arm after a motorbike accident and who had sought 7 months of treatment with a traditional healer (which didn’t work) before coming to be treated at Guinebor.  When I returned to Chad last November, Abderamane had already left the hospital after receiving surgery on his leg and subsequently his arm.  Apparently, all had gone well.  It wasn’t until the start of February that I saw a guy on crutches at the entrance to the hospital and I thought to myself ‘I recognise that guy’…..It was Abderamane!  Full of smiles and walking adeptly on his crutches, he told me he had come for a check-up with the surgeon.  He welcomed me back to Chad (well, he wasn’t to know I’d already been back 3 months!) and asked if I’d had a good time in the UK.  A few days later, a Wednesday, we were going around the inpatient wards praying for patients as is our habit on a Wednesday morning.  We go around in twos or threes offering to pray for patients and I was with one of the male Chadian staff members.  There in one of the beds was Abderamane.  Turns out that he needed further surgery on his leg.  He was happy for me to pray for him and I did so.  The guy is amazing, always smiling despite his ongoing health issues with his leg (he broke it back in September 2017, so 18 months ago now).  Fast forward to today and I bumped into Abderamane in outpatients!  Zipping along nicely on his crutches, he told me he had come for a dressing change.  He thanked me for all we’d done for him and I told him it was no problem, it’s what we’re here for.  I’m so glad to have had these further brief catch-ups with Abderamane and to hear that he is on his way to recovery and is extremely grateful for the care he received here at Guinebor.

Early the other morning, I called across to Christophe, one of our nurses working in the emergency room, asking if he’d seen Kalbassou (my Cameroonian nurse-surgeon colleague).  ‘No’ he replied, ‘but I need him in the ER, we’ve got a young girl here who has been bitten by a panther!’ ‘Really?!’ I exclaimed.  Christophe shrugged his shoulders ‘I’m not sure if it’s exactly true but she’s been bitten by something’.  I continue on my way, find Kalbassou and ask him to go to the ER.  I then get busy in the pharmacy for a while.  A few hours later, I leave the pharmacy and am stopped by one of the guards ‘the local mayor and his team are here and want to see the girl who was bitten by a panther, can we let them in?’ I’m not sure that this is really a wise idea, that a hospital is not an entertainment theatre.  So, I do what I always do in these situations – I went to ask Kalbassou!  ‘Of course, they should come in’ he says and so I pass that message to the guard.  Fifteen minutes later I see a gaggle of our staff around the entrance to one of the wards, an unusual sight.  I ask one of them what’s going on ‘oh, the mayor was here because there’s a girl in there who was bitten by a panther’ (visiting officials always attract a crowd).  At this point, I’m starting to suspect that there’s some truth in the ‘bitten by a panther’ saga.  I ask one of the nurses if it really was a panther ‘oh yes’ he replied ‘the military killed it and brought it by the front of the hospital earlier in the back of a pickup and lots of people have photos of it.  Ask Allamine (another nurse) to show you’.  I find Allamine but he says he doesn’t have his phone on him.  I’m still inquisitive and curious and I think it showed on my face!  Bamon (another nurse) says ‘I’ll take you to the patient’s bed, her father has a video of the dead panther’.  Bamon asks the father to get his phone out and show me.  Sure enough, he has video footage of a soldier in the back of a pickup with a dead leopard.  I now believed the story!  I’ve been living here long enough now that I should’ve realised that it was probably true.  Stories that seem too far-fetched rarely are here!  News filtered out on Chadian online news outlets about the leopard attack.  It apparently hurt 10 different people in the next-door village to Guinebor.  I’m not sure why only one person ended up with us.  The rest all ended up in another hospital in N’Djamena.  The girl we took care of was taken to theatre to have her wounds (mainly on the back of the head) cleaned and packed and dressed.  As well as having a visit from the local mayor, she was also visited a few days later by the Minister of the environment, water and fishing (cue another crowd of staff around the ward entrance).  She left hospital a few days later.  I saw her this afternoon; her Dad had brought her back in to have her stiches out and all the wounds seemed clean and well healed.  None of those the leopard attacked died I don’t think.  This story could easily have had a worse outcome.

I know the question everyone will be thinking: why was there a leopard on the loose on the outskirts of N’Djamena?  There are two different stories circulating.  I will leave you to decide which (if any) is true.  I’ve got my suspicions as to the real answer!  One story is that an army general kept it in his compound and it escaped.  The other is that it came over the border from Cameroon.

For those of you who read French (or who want to take the time to put it through Google translate), here are a few of the online news articles about the leopard attack.  Don’t read them unless you’re happy seeing a photo of a dead leopard……

There’s rarely a dull moment here at Guinebor II Hospital!

Thursday, 21 February 2019

More questions about life (in Chad)

Welcome to my latest blog where I’m going to answer the questions that people have sent me about life and work in Chad.

How long do you see yourself working in Chad?

No idea!  I’m now into my fourth year of working at Guinebor II Hospital and in many ways, I feel like I’m only just getting to grips with life and work here.  There’s so much to learn in terms of language, cultural practices and hospital management (to name a few things).  To leave now would in some ways feel like a waste of all that I’ve learned over the last three years, as it’s now that I’m really putting that learning into practice – and obviously I’m continuing to learn.    As I type, I’ve no plans to leave but who knows what God will want me to do in the future?  It’s in His hands at the end of the day!

If you need help/advice, where do you go/who do you go to?

That depends on what it is I need help or advice on.  If it’s something related to cultural practices I will ask a trusted Chadian colleague like Audrey (the pharmacist I work with) or Allain (our administrator).  If it’s how to manage a sensitive personnel issue, where I need human resources advice and cultural advice all wrapped into one, I’ll ask my Cameroonian missionary colleague Kalbassou.  If it’s something personal to me that I need help or advice on I will ask either my parents or one of my close female friends (many of whom are not in Chad, praise God for WhatsApp!).

Have you seen many people come to faith since you have been at G2?  If so, do new Chri$tians get problems having become Chri$tian in a predominately Mu$lim society?

I obviously can’t write too much about this on a public website, but the short answer is yes and yes.

Do you think Manchester United will win the Premier League?

Haha!!  I have absolutely no idea, I don’t follow football apart from World Cups and I don’t want to risk saying the wrong thing on this subject, given that I’ve friends who support many different Premier League teams 😉.  I will say though that football is a universal sport and there are many Chadians who love playing and watching football.  They enjoy watching football matches from different European leagues (mainly Italian, Spanish and English).  The other day Allain, who I mentioned above, was looking a bit bleary eyed first thing in the morning (we start work at 7am).  I asked him if his 6-month old son was keeping him awake at night.  He replied ‘no, I was up late last night watching the Barcelona v Real Madrid match!’

How do you go about spreading the good news of Je$us in your everyday work?

My work is very practical – essentially helping to run a hospital that provides high quality, low cost healthcare to the local population.  When I was training with BMS to become a long-term mission worker, we were taught the principle of ‘integral mission’.  The Micah Network defines integral mission as ‘the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel’ and more on this can be discovered here.  What integral mission essentially means is that we can’t just tell people about Je$us but we must demonstrate our faith too.  You can’t have one without the other.  So my hope and prayer is that through my interactions with staff and patients in my day to day, very practical work, the love of Je$us will shine through.  This will, I hope, tie in with the work that our Chaplains do.  It’s a team effort!

How do your Chadian doctors, nurses and other professional staff gain their qualifications? Do they have to go outside the country for training or are there places at University within the country where staff are trained?

Great question!  It is possible to train as a doctor, nurse or midwife in Chad.  Medicine can be studied at the University of N’Djamena and it takes a minimum of 7 years to qualify as a junior doctor.  Nurses and midwives train at specialist nursing and midwifery schools.  The training for nurses and midwives is essentially the same and the only thing that defines whether you end up as a nurse or midwife are the practical ‘stages’ (internships) that you do while you’re training.  People can also train to be pharmacy technicians, lab technicians and physiotherapy technicians within Chad.  Other than that, it’s training outside of the country (e.g. to be a ultrasonographer or radiographer).  Our ultrasonographer at Guinebor II has been trained ‘on the job’ by visiting specialists from outside of Chad.  There’s always a hunger for learning here and in an ideal world, we would love Guinebor II Hospital to be a teaching hospital, to train local people in certain specialities, but that’s a bit down the line yet.

Those are all the questions I received, hope they give some more insight into my life and work here!

Here are some photos to brighten the blog and show you some of what I’ve been up to and helping with in the last few weeks and months:

At the wedding of one of our nurses

Enjoying a sunset over the River Chari

Helping to oversee the remodelling of the lab

Pharmacy remodel all finished :)

Remodel of old operating theatre into a new dressings room
and a new emergency room

Inside the new ER
(5 beds now, old one had 2 beds)

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

A blog about a dot

‘Really?!’  I hear you say.  ‘Why is she writing a post about a small circle?!’  A-ha.  Well, you need to know that in French, the word dot translates as ‘dowry’.  Here in Chad the dowry system is still alive and well in all households whether Christian or Muslim.  Once a dowry has been paid, the couple are legally together, and the man has many more rights over any children the couple already have than the woman.  Sometimes the dowry is paid on the same day as the couple marry at the mairie (town hall), other times it’s paid years in advance of the wedding.  It often depends on how much money the two families have.  

At the end of November Nemerci, the house-helper of my American colleagues Bert and Debbie, announced that her dot ceremony was going to be on 8th December and that we were all invited.  Unfortunately, Bert and Debbie were going to be away, but I decided I would go as I’ve known Nemerci since I was here back in 2013. 

A week later Nemerci told us the date had changed to 15th December as her family needed a bit more time to prepare.

Nemerci said she would bring in the fabric that she had chosen for us ladies from the hospital to wear.  So I duly paid up and bought the fabric so that I could match everyone else going.  I gave it to one of our lab technicians who’s also a tailor and asked him to make anything he liked, as long as I had a skirt, top and head wrap.  I knew that this was a bit risky, as he could literally do *anything*.  And they love flamboyant frilly clothes!  Here’s the end result, I look a bit like a ruffled marshmallow but lots of Chadian ladies exclaimed how good I looked (!)

In my ruffled outfit....

A few days before the event, I asked Nemerci what time the dot ceremony was to start.  ‘Oh, between 8am and 8.30am’ she said.  I was dubious.  Nothing starts on time here.  I asked one of our nurses, who lives near Nemerci and was going to meet me to show me the way, what time I should get there ‘oh about 9am or 9.30am should be fine’.  I then asked another nurse what time she was aiming to get there. ‘Oh about 10am’.  I decided to aim for 9.30am and leave the hospital around 9am for the half-hour drive.

9am arrives and I go to get in the car.  One of our female guards is waiting (in her dress made from the same fabric as mine, naturally).  She asks if she can travel with me as she’s no money for the bus.  I tell her of course she can.  She then asks if a lady who lives near her can come with us too.  ‘Sure’ I say.  She goes to get her neighbour while I start the car and open the internal compound gate.  We all get in the car and I’m starting to drive out of the hospital when another female hospital member rushes up ‘please can I come with you too?’.  ‘Sure’ I reply.  ‘I just need to go and get in my dot outfit’ she says as she turns to walk quickly to her house.  Fortunately, she lives in Guinebor!  We wait for 10 minutes outside her house while she gets changed into outfit made from the same fabric as the outfits me and the female guard are wearing.  Finally we leave Guinebor.  It’s already 9.30am.   Oops.  The best laid plans!  We travel to the other side of town and I park up next to the main road and ring the nurse who says she’ll come and meet us and guide us to Nemerci’s house.  We wait by the side of the road for a while. 

In the car with my passengers :)

Waiting by the side of the road 

Confusion ensues as she can’t figure out where exactly we are, plus someone in my car spots another one of our nurses on the back of a motorbike, wearing the same fabric as the rest of us and obviously heading to the dot ceremony too.  We call her, and she says she’ll wait further up the road for us.  Cue another 5 minutes of phone calls and confusion and others sounding their car horns at me because I’m driving at a snail’s pace trying to find at least one of the nurses we’re looking for.  We then spot both of them at once and we are guided to the house where the dot ceremony is taking place. 

There are lots of people.  I’m not totally sure where in proceedings they are (it’s now 10.30am, oops) but we’re ushered into a room where we find a very smiley Nemerci surrounded by female family and friends.  We all give her a hug and sit down on the mats on the floor.

We’re presented with a plate of snacks and then a load of yoy-yoyying starts (it’s a weird sound that Chadian ladies make when they’re celebrating something!).  The man’s female relatives start entering the room to greet Nemerci.  One of them is his sister, Missi, who I work with in pharmacy at the hospital.

Snacks on arrival

About 50 ladies file in, hug Nemerci, lift her up off the ground, yoy-yoy a lot and leave the room.  I ask someone next to me if the dowry has already been paid. ‘Yes’ they said.  So yep, we managed to miss the main event.  Oops.  I was consoled by the fact that some people from the hospital arrived even later than us.  Plus Nemerci didn’t seem at all bothered that we could’ve turned up a tad earlier.  The man’s family then all left to go to their house for food.  Turns out that once the dowry has been paid and accepted, the two families celebrate separately.

We were then given more food and a fizzy drink full of e-numbers that are common fare at any party worldwide.

More food

Once we’d eaten, there was a move among the people I’d arrived with to leave.  Turns out that because we know the man’s sister, we need to go to their house too to say hello and congratulate them.  So we say goodbye to Nemerci, I greet her Mum and Dad, we take some photos and then we pile into the car to drive another 20 minutes to the man’s house. 

Selfie with Nemerci

Again, none of us know where the house is so we drive to the vague vicinity and call someone we know who’s already there.  Twenty minutes later a random guy on a motorbike taps on the car door, saying he’s from the house we’re looking for and that he’s been sent to show us the way.

View while we waited

On arrival we greet Nemerci’s fiancé and sister (our colleague) and are shown some seats.  Twenty minutes later we’re presented with even more food.

Even more food,
we couldn't eat all this despite it being yummy

We washed the food we managed to eat (we couldn’t finish it) down with a coke and then just hung around chatting for a while and enjoying that fact that it wasn't hot (yay for cold season).

Food prep area, look at all the washing up!

Once we’d spent ample time at this house, we left and made our way home across town. 
It was great to be able to celebrate with Nemerci and also be part of a ‘dot’, something I’ve not previously done.  Hopefully I’ll get invited to another one at some point, so that I can turn up on time and actually see the handing over of the dowry (oops again).

Monday, 12 November 2018

Return to Guinebor: dust, patients and ‘cold’ season

Greetings from Guinebor!  I arrived safely back on the evening of 2nd November, with, surprisingly, both my suitcases on the same plane as me.  I was astounded but grateful!  As I shuffled along the plane aisle towards to exit, I took off my hoody and my cardigan, leaving just a t-shirt.  I was preparing myself physically and mentally for the wall of heat to hit me as I left the plane to go down the steps to the bus.  I was surprised to feel nothing but a bit of warm air around me.  Hooray, cold season had arrived!  This girl, fresh from almost-freezing Britain, was relieved.  It was ‘only’ 30C at the time we landed (9.30pm). 

I hadn’t even left the airport building before a Chadian porter, helping me with my luggage, had exclaimed his surprise and disapproval at the fact that I wasn’t yet married and had no children.  Nothing like a swift welcome back to the culture…….

The rains have long since finished and already all the green I left behind in August has disappeared.  The hospital lawnmower has been packed away for another year.  The dust has returned.  The last rains were late October and it won’t rain again now until next May/June. 

I joined the ward round with the Chadian doctor on Thursday morning.  That was a shock, as it hit me once again what the Chadian people go through that would almost never happen in the UK.  Malnourished children.  A possible attempted murder of a teenager with a poisoned drink.  Psychosis triggered by a night-time household burglary.  Just three of the 40-plus inpatients in our hospital that morning. 

Women's ward at Guinebor Hospital

Another patient was a young girl of 17, in the bed at the top left of the photo above.  She and her father had been travelling in the back of a vehicle (probably a hilux) with their legs hanging out over the side of the vehicle.  We see this so often here, as people make the most of any form of transportation to get them from A to B.  Unfortunately, on this occasion their vehicle was hit by another and the legs of the girl and her father were crushed.  They both underwent surgery at Guinebor.  One of the father’s legs was so smashed up it had to be amputated.  The other was fixed.  The girl had her broken leg fixed too.  Sadly, the father had post-operative complications and passed away :(

The lady in the next bed looked a lot older than her family said she was.  According to them she is 48, but she looked nearer 60.  To prove how old she is, they told us that her oldest child is 23.  Given that most women have children young here, that’s considered enough proof of a lady's age.  This lady was stick-thin, vomiting and couldn’t get much food or drink down, so was also dehydrated.  On symptoms alone, the Chadian doctors had diagnosed some sort of oesophageal or gastric tumour.  She may possibly be able to have a camera down her throat (at a clinic in N’Djamena) to see if that diagnosis is correct.  But she’s not well enough to tolerate it at the moment and can the family even afford to have it done?  To be honest, it would only be to have a more definitive diagnosis.  There’s no cancer treatment here in Chad so whether it’s confirmed as a tumour or not, treatment will remain the same: treat symptoms, ensure hydration and keep the patient as comfortable as possible.

These are just a few of the hundreds of patients that Guinebor Hospital will treat this month, doing the best we can for the Chadian people with the resources we have available.  The fact that patients keep coming to us is hopefully a sign that we’re considered reputable and that we treat people with dignity and respect.  Something that anyone can do, even with minimal resources.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Heading back to the desert

After having spent a lovely two months in the UK, my thoughts are now turning to returning to Chad on Friday 2nd November.  I am looking forward to getting back to my 'normal', despite that not actually being too 'normal' for a girl from Devon!  

It's been great to see parts of the UK I've never been to before, while doing my home assignment Church visits and talking about the work of Guinebor II Hospital.  Thank you so much to the Churches, groups and individuals who have welcomed me, given me a meal and/or a bed for the night, and overwhelmingly told me of your ongoing support of both me and the hospital.  It's been great to meet so many people who are interested in the work of the hospital.

It's also been great to see family and friends while I've been here, as well as experiencing my first autumn for three years.  I really miss the changing seasons and it's been good to see the beauty of the leaves changing colour:

So, as the weather here in the UK is getting increasingly colder, I am now preparing both practically and mentally for returning to the heat and dust of Chad.  As of next January, I will have been in Chad as a long-term mission worker for 3 years.  The culture shock has largely worn off but I read a really good article recently that a friend shared on Facebook about culture stress.  It's a slightly different phenomenon than culture shock and is constantly part of my life.  If you'd like to read this short article on culture stress and learn another angle of my life in Chad, click here

Thanks for following my life and work in Chad.  My next blog will be sent from Chad, so keep an eye out for it!

Friday, 7 September 2018

A change of scene

The air is relatively dust-free.  There's very little mud on the ground.  I am wearing multiple layers of clothing.  I am eating exciting things like bacon, cheese and berries. This can only mean one thing:  I am no longer in Chad!  

I landed back in the UK a little under two weeks ago to start a two-month period of home assignment.  I am enjoying not sweating and catching up with friends and family who I've not seen in over a year.  Tomorrow I start my home assignment Church visits.  Below is a list of all my speaking engagements over the next two months, should you wish to hear more about the work of Guinebor II Hospital from me in person.

Saturday 8th September, 7pm, Upton Vale Baptist Church, Torquay

Saturday 15th September, 10am, Ampthill Baptist Church, nr Bedford

Sunday 16th September, 10.15am, Union Baptist Church, High Wycombe

Sunday 23rd September, 10.30am, Prince's Drive Baptist Church, Colwyn Bay

Tuesday 25th September, 7pm, Griffithstown Baptist Church, nr Cwmbran

Thursday 27th September, 7.30pm, South Molton Baptist Church, North Devon

Sunday 30th September, 10.30am, Mansfield Baptist Church

Sunday 7th October, 10.30am, Brighton Road Baptist Church, Horsham

Saturday 13th October, 9.30am, BMS cafe event at Bethesda Baptist Church, Rogerstone, Newport (click here for more information about this event)

Sunday 14th October, 6.30pm, Barnstaple Baptist Church

I look forward to seeing you!

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

The day sixty military and two government ministers came to Guinebor II Hospital

Last weekend started out like any other.  I relaxed at home on Saturday morning after a busy week at the hospital.  Then I went to a friend’s house to have lunch and watch a film.  Lunch included some bacon that I’d stored in my freezer since February.  Yes, you read that right!  Bacon isn’t available here, so I’d squirreled it away when my Mum and Dad brought it out when they visited in February!  I returned to my house on the hospital site around 6pm before it got dark.

I was just thinking about what I was going to eat that evening and how I was going to continue my relaxed weekend, when my phone rang.  It was Allain, our hospital administrator. 

‘Claire, I just received a phone call from the (network cut out and I didn’t hear title of person) at the ministry of health.  (Network cut out) is coming to the hospital tomorrow at (network cut out)’

I go next door to my Cameroonian colleague Kalbassou’s house and together we call Allain back.  Turns out an inspector at the ministry of health had called Allain, at 7.30pm on a Saturday evening, to say that the first lady of Chad was going to visit the hospital at 7am tomorrow (yes, Sunday!) morning.  It was all part of ‘citizenship week’ that ran from 13 – 19 August here in Chad.

We ask Allain to ensure he’s at the hospital before 7am the following morning and then go up to the hospital to make sure things are as clean and tidy as possible.  We all knew *something* was going to happen on Sunday morning, but we weren’t totally sure what.  Or exactly when.  Or even if the first lady *really was* going to turn up.

Sunday arrives and I must admit, I had to drag myself out of bed to go up to the hospital for 7am.  Allain, Kalbassou and I continue cleaning.  I’m looking slightly overdressed for the task, having decided to already wear my ‘special clothes’.  Kalbassou, being more culturally aware than I’ll ever be, knew that nothing would actually happen at 7am and turned up in house clothes to do the cleaning and then went home and got changed!  As the first lady was supposedly visiting, I decided to wear my ‘women’s day 2018’ outfit.  It was nice to wear it to a special occasion, because I was ill on women’s day itself (8th March) and didn’t get to wear it then.  I thought it would look good to wear this as I heard that the first lady helps design the women’s day fabric each year.  I may be wrong on that.  But hey, I thought it would show female solidarity with the first lady, in a male-dominated society.

8am arrives and Allain comes looking for Kalbassou and I who’ve returned to our homes, somewhat dubious as to whether anything was actually going to happen.  ‘Come, quick, the military have arrived’ he says.  Kalbassou, in his freshly pressed smart outfit, emerges from his house as I pass by and the three of us go to greet the military.  There were *loads* of them.  We shake hands with the more senior looking ones and they tell us that, as part of citizenship week, they’ve come to ‘clean the hospital’.  What they actually meant by this was that they wanted to pull up all the grass and anything else green they could see.  Because, according to them, it’s not good to have grass around the hospital as it attracts mosquitoes.  We white people quite like the grass to be honest, as it’s only here for 3-4 months in rainy season and then it dies and the ground is brown again.  I thought it was a bit ironic though, that 30 minutes after the army general told us it wasn’t good for the hospital to have grass as it attracts mosquitoes, about 10 soldiers are discreetly smoking cigarettes……

Some of the military vehicles outside the hospital

There must’ve been at least 60 military in the hospital grounds, armed with shovels, wheelbarrows and rakes.  They set to work ‘cleaning’ the hospital and making it look tidy and brown again.  At this point, I must interject and tell you that our hospital groundsmen mow the grass that appears in rainy season and generally attempt to keep the place looking tidy.  It’s not like the grass was 6 feet tall and looking a mess!

The soldiers starting work

More soldiers starting work

After finishing the first part of the work they did

Selfie with military in the background.
Decided there's unlikely ever to be another time when I can
take this kind of picture without having a gun
pointed at me or my phone confiscated!

Allain is told by one of the generals that he’s waiting on a call and maybe the first lady *and* president are coming.  I’m thinking that that’s a bit far-fetched but, this is Chad, anything can happen.

After the military have ‘cleaned’ the main area in the hospital, they decide it’s time to plant a commemorative neem tree.  Where should they put it?  All eyes are on me.  I remember that we had to uproot a small dead tree next to the men’s ward a month or so ago and so decide we can plant the new tree there.  They all want the nasara (white person) in the photo of the planting of the commemorative neem tree, so I oblige, under some duress, to show willing.

Planting the neem tree (photo taken after I'd already
posed near it, pretending to help plant it)

Selfie with Allain (left) and Kalbassou (middle) while
the soldiers took a break

After a snack and water break, the generals then get wind of the fact that we have a caregiver village and so decide they want to go and ‘clean’ out there too.  To be honest, this was actually a great thing they did because the grass does get a bit unruly out there.  The military get started and around 11am the call comes in to one of the generals.  The minister of health and minister of defence are on their way (so no sign of the president or first lady, after all).  The military continue to work hard clearing the grass and weeds, watched by some bemused caregivers, who are there preparing food for their family members who are inpatients at the hospital.  Thirty minutes later the call comes in that the ministers are two minutes away.  The generals, Allain, Kalbassou and I all go to meet them at the main hospital gates.

Ministers' convoy arriving

We shake hands and are introduced to the two ministers.  The generals then give a whistle-stop tour, literally, of the hospital.  None of us who work there are actually asked anything about the hospital and the generals just lead the ministers around the buildings, showing off all the brown they’ve created, the rest of us trying to keep up. 

Start of the whistle-stop tour with the Minister of Health
(in the middle with white t-shirt) and the Minister of Defence
(almost out of shot on the left next to Kalbassou)

We arrive out in the caregiver village.  The rest of the military are still there finishing off.  The generals and ministers punch the air in solitude with the soldiers and as a way of demonstrating their appreciation.  The ministers are then photographed wheeling a wheelbarrow of pulled-up weeds, which they promptly empty outside the hospital gates, in a puddle, to try and ‘dry it up’.

Minster of Health helping with the tidy-up

We then pose for a photo with the ministers before they drive off again, no more than 15 minutes after arriving.

Allain, Kalbassou and I with the
Minister of Health (in white t-shirt next to me)
and the Minister of Defence (next to Minister of Health)

The military, who by now have been at the hospital for four hours, are still going for it and are in good spirits.  After another thirty minutes they decide they’ve thoroughly ‘cleaned’ the hospital and are ready to take off.  Not before, however, we pose for yet more photos.  Then a small group of military form a circle around yours truly and ask for a speech.  One of them is pointing a mobile phone in my face, ready to film.  I look at Kalbassou, who knows I’ll be slightly panicking inside (I was a tiny bit, but not as much as I would have been when I first arrived in Chad 2.5 years ago.  I guess I’m learning to expect the unexpected).  He tells me to just say thank you and that we’re grateful that they came.  I did just that, even saying some words in Arabic (it didn’t seem to impress them though).  The military all seemed happy with my short speech.  As we waited for them to load up in the back of their Toyota pick-ups, I quietly asked Allain if what I’d said was ok.  ‘It was ok’, he said, ‘but a bit short’.  Thanks for the encouragement Allain!  I say to him that I’m not great at giving impromptu speeches.  He told me that I need to always be ready to give a speech.  Great.  I’ll bear that in mind for the next time……

We stand at the hospital gates and cheer and wave the military off as they drive away, swerving around the puddles of water that are a feature of the roads here right now.

A crazy but kind-of fun morning.  In all honesty, overall, it was a privilege to have the Chadian military and government officials here at the hospital.