Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Celebrate good times!

As most of you know, I am a pharmacist and part of my role here at Guinebor II Hospital is to oversee the pharmacy.  I work most closely with a Chadian pharmacist called Audrey.   Audrey (pronounced Aud-ray) is actually a guy and not a girl…..I know, confusing, ask me about my ‘funny story’ about that from when I interviewed him for his job back when I was here short term in 2013.  Audrey is great.  We get on really well and I can basically leave the everyday running of the pharmacy to him.  Alongside Audrey, there are three other members of the team: Elisabeth who is the ‘mama’ of the pharmacy, Cleopas and Missi.  These three are pharmacy assistants and have worked at the hospital for many years, they were all here when I was here short-term in 2013/14.  Missi is a fairly recent addition to the pharmacy though, having been redeployed from elsewhere in the hospital when we needed an extra staff member.  She was trained mainly by Audrey and the others.  These four are effectively my 'Chadian family' in a lot of ways.  We get on well, work well together and often eat together on the floor of the pharmacy at lunchtime (off a tray, not the floor!).  We know a lot of what’s going on in each other’s families.

It was a joy to learn at the end of last year that Audrey was getting married!  His fiancée lived in the south of Chad at the time (where Audrey’s originally from) and so he got married down there.  This meant that unfortunately the rest of us couldn’t go because of the distance and some security issues (for me).  Cleopas went to represent us at Audrey’s wedding and took a typed greeting from the rest of us in the pharmacy – which he told me I needed to type for him to take about 10 minutes before he was leaving.  Those who know me well know I like lots of notice of things, but you just have to roll with these things here!

Ever since Audrey got married to Priscilla at the end of November 2017, we’ve been saying in the pharmacy that we needed to meet her and have a small celebration here in N’Djamena.  Priscilla and their daughter Angela moved to N’Djamena at the end of January 2018 once things were arranged for them to move.  Cue another four months of staff holidays, sickness, travel and we found ourselves at the start of May still not having done our celebration!  Finally though, last Friday afternoon after work (work on a Friday finishes early afternoon here in Chad), we made it! 

Elisabeth, Missi and I had bought Audrey’s ‘wedding fabric’ – the couple choose a fabric for their friends to wear and once made into clothes at the tailor’s, those clothes are then known as the clothes from that couple’s wedding.  We’d had the fabric turned into skirts and tops and headscarves but hadn’t yet had opportunity to wear them!  Now was our chance.

We piled into my car and headed across N’Djamena to Audrey and Priscilla’s house.  We were greeted by Priscilla and took photos of the team together.  Audrey and Priscilla also showed us their wedding photos which were lovely to see. 

Pharmacy team (L-R):
Me - if you'd not guessed ;) Cleopas,
Missi, Audrey, Elisabeth
With Missi (L) and Elisabeth (R)

With Cleopas (L) and Audrey (R)

The pharmacy team had all clubbed together to buy them a wedding gift, which was presented to Priscilla by Elisabeth and Missi.

Handing over our wedding gift
of thermal food storage containers, tray and fabric cover

While we were all busy at work, Priscilla had been busy cooking up a storm for us!  She served us fish, plantains and vegetables, washed down by the obligatory coca cola.  It was so good!

Yummy Chadian food :)
I kindly left the head of my fish for my colleagues,
cos I'm nice like that ;)  The Chadians consider the
fish's head the best, most nutritious part.  I'm always
very happy to leave them that part!

It was good to finally meet Audrey’s wife and daughter who we’d heard so much about but who we’d never met!  It was also good to celebrate their marriage as a team and hang out together outside of the pharmacy as this is a rarity!  I’m so grateful to work alongside these four hard-working, kind and hospitable people.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Who did I find on the children’s ward?

I thought a lot of people may be interested to hear the types of illnesses that some of our patients are hospitalised for.  So here’s a snapshot of some of the children on our children’s ward one day this past week.  All names have been changed to preserve anonymity.  Warning: there is some medical talk in this blog, so don’t read on if you’re squeamish or prudish!

Ward round on the children's ward -
Dr Augustin one of our local doctors in the white coat,
Emilie a short-term French nurse
and Moussa one of our local nurses

Child 1
Mariam, aged 3, had been admitted two days previously for malaria.  It’s not really peak season for malaria at the moment (it’s not rained since October and so there’s very little standing water around, which mosquitoes need to breed in).  However it’s still possible to get malaria.  Unfortunately Mariam’s malaria had not been properly treated in the recent past.  Often, before ‘resorting’ to coming to the hospital, people try and treat illnesses either at a local health centre, or by traditional medicine, or they buy products from street medicine sellers.  All of these methods are much cheaper than coming to the hospital but they’re not always successful.  After admission to us, Mariam received injections to treat her malaria.  She was much improved and was being discharged on oral medicines to complete her treatment.

Child 2
Hassan, aged 7, had been admitted a few days earlier with trauma to his abdomen after falling from a camel.  He is from a nomad family and they all own camels to transport their belongings and families.  After undergoing an x-ray and an ultrasound, it was proven that he’d not done any major damage internally which was good news.  He had blood in his urine though, which showed that he had done a bit of damage inside.  So he had been catheterised and monitored to make sure that he wasn’t losing lots of blood.  A few days previous to this ward round I’d seen Hassan very sleepy on the bed and not alert at all.  But this ward round he was sat up, smiling and alert which was good to see.  His urine was flowing clear and so his catheter was removed.  His father was told that as soon as he passed urine normally, he could go home.  Smiles all round :)

Child 3
Ali, aged 9, had been admitted a few days earlier with an abscess on his outer left thigh.  It is unclear how he got the abscess.  Maybe he’d been given an injection in another health facility and it wasn’t done in a clean way?  Maybe he’d cut himself somehow and the wound just didn’t heal properly or quickly?  We end up working with a lot of unknowns!  Ali was two days post-op, having been to the operating theatre to have the abscess opened, drained, cleaned out and dressed.  He was now on painkillers and antibiotics.  The dressing was due to be changed on this ward round and so he was given a small dose of sedative to help with the pain of that, as the wound he’s left with is pretty deep.

Child 4
Abakar, aged 5, was hospitalised for osteomyelitis (bone infection) in a bone on the side of his left foot near his big toe.  I asked how he could’ve ended up with osteomyelitis, as this is a deep-seated infection that takes a while to develop.  The doctor said he’d probably injured his foot maybe playing football or kicking a stone.  The wound may’ve appeared to heal over but actually inside the ‘healed’ wound, it wasn’t clean and infection kicked in.  Abakar had also already been to theatre and had the wound and the infected bit of bone cleaned out.  He was on antibiotics and painkillers.  He had his dressing changed after having been given a bit of sedative too.  He needed ongoing dressing changes but he was discharged, to come in as an out-patient to the dressing clinic to have these done.  This is fine but ideally he should’ve stayed on the ward a while longer to ensure adequate pain relief and antibiotic dosing, but his family didn’t have any more money to pay for his inpatient care.  So the doctor had no choice but to discharge him.  Despite not being ideal, as long as he comes to dressing clinic, he should be ok and heal up well.

Child 5
Saleh, aged 10, had been admitted the previous night after having been bitten by a snake.  This is a pretty unusual occurrence here in N’Djamena, there a fewer snakes than you may imagine.  He’d been given ‘anti-snake bite’ treatment and painkillers and was being discharged as he was doing well.

This is just a snapshot of some of the patients we’ve had as in-patients at Guinebor Hospital in the last week.  Watch out for another blog in the future where I’ll describe some other cases we’ve seen here.

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

We're all in this together

You may or may not know that BMS currently only has three mission workers here in Chad – myself at Guinebor II Hospital in N’Djamena and my colleagues Mark and Andrea Hotchkin, who are Doctors at a hospital in the north of Chad.  So we’re a small BMS team, geographically divided by a huge land mass called the Sahara desert!  It takes three days to travel by land between our respective Chadian homes.

It was a joy and privilege to go and visit the Hotchkins last week for a quick two-day trip.  Two days (?!)  I hear you cry.  How does that compute, when it takes 3 days to travel up by road and 3 days to travel back?!  A-ha.  That’s where the title of this blog comes in.
We may presently only be a small BMS team-of-three, but we’re part of a much bigger team of mission workers in Chad, from various organisations and from various countries around the world.  We’re also part of an even bigger team of local Chadian believers who have a heart for reaching their fellow Chadians with our faith. 

It was a real treat to be able to fly up north on a MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) plane.  MAF have two planes here in Chad and do a fantastic work in transporting various people doing various vital roles around the country, often to places difficult to access by road.  It was my first time on a MAF plane and the first time I’ve ever known, and been on first name terms with, the pilot flying a plane I’m travelling on!  A journey that takes three days by road (that should be ‘road’ because it’s mostly desert) takes just 5.5 hours in the marvellous MAF plane.  Hurrah for MAF!

I wasn’t alone on the MAF plane.  On the way up there were 7 of us on board from 5 different organisations and 4 different nations.  On the way back there were 9 of us on board from 5 different organisations and 5 different nations.  The nations represented were the UK, Switzerland, Chad, The Netherlands and the USA.  The people travelling were all travelling for a reason, not just tourism!  Some were there to see the hospital up north and give professional insight (this included the Chadian guy who came with us who’s a biomedical engineer), others were returning to/from living up north, others were on a visit from their organisation’s main office in Europe, to see where their mission workers are currently living and working.  It was good to connect with these people, some of whom I already knew and others who I previously didn’t.  We instantly bonded on our little trip up north. 

The one thing that’s striking living and working here, and for which I am grateful, is that despite being far from my UK home, with only two colleagues from ‘my’ organisation in country, I have a massive support network of like-minded individuals around me.  They come from all over the world, including Chad, and we all have the same objective.  We all support each other and help each other in a way that I think is probably only found when you’re away from ‘normal’ life in your passport country.  Everyone’s in the same (foreign) boat and you instantly have the bond that you’re ‘not from here’, ‘stand out a mile’, ‘struggle with the heat’, ‘struggle with the language’ and so on.  We’re all in this together!

Here are some of the many photos I took from the plane and on the ground up north.  Chad is such a varied country in terms of scenery, especially up north!  It was amazing to be able to see a different part of this amazing country.

Taking off from N'Djamena at 6.30am

Coming in to land at Faya, three hours into the journey, 
for a refuelling stop.
Faya is quite literally an oasis in the desert

Circling around Emi Koussi, Chad's highest mountain
(Google it*, it's fascinating!)
*other search engines are available
The landing strip at our final destination in the north
Andrew the fab MAF pilot unloading the plane
Fun drawings on the nearby rocks of the town up north. 
They're thought to be at least 4000 years old. 
Anywhere else they'd be behind railings with a fee charged to see them, but not here! 
You're free to look around as you wish. 
The downside is that some have been defaced with graffiti :(
With my BMS colleagues Mark and Andrea,
on the way down to the hospital from their house.
Look at that scenery! 
And it was cold too.
I'm wearing a cardigan, but that didn't last long!
Circling the 'Trou au natron' in northern Chad,
on the way back to N'Djamena.
Another fascinating sight of Chad
Coming back in to land at N'Djamena
- one plus of knowing the pilot is you can ask if he can fly
by your house on the way back to the airport!
(Guinebor is not geographically that far from N'Djamena airport). 
I guess you need to know where to look,
but centre (ish) of this photo is the compound of Guinebor II Hospital :)

Ok, I'll help you out ;)  Here's a helpful arrow pointing out
the Hospital compound

Monday, 19 February 2018

The parents' perspective on life in Chad

The first week in February my parents came to visit!  Along with two friends from my home church in Torquay.  It was great to have them here.  Visitors always have a fresh perspective on things that have become 'normal' to me, so I asked my Mum and Dad to document some thoughts on their time here in Chad at Guinebor II Hospital.  Below is their account.  Enjoy reading about life here from a different perspective!

We are Steve and Marilyn, Claire’s parents, and we have just returned from an amazing week at the hospital at Guinebor ll (G2).  We went as part of a team of four – Rachel and Ailsa, who are from Claire’s home Church in Torquay, went too.  What follows are our impressions of the country, the people and the hospital itself.

Upon landing we were met by Claire and Kalbassou (a Cameroonian mission worker surgeon at G2 – it is unsafe for Claire to travel alone at night) outside the airport building, as non-travellers aren’t allowed inside.  The heat at this point was not too bad as it was 10.30pm, but it was quite warm.  We travelled in the BMS 4x4 to G2 and were shown into the hospital guest house, a very nice two bed building on the site.  Getting under a mosquito net to get into bed was a new occurrence for us, but necessary, and having windows open and curtains open at night seemed the ‘wrong way around’ to us Westerners!  Sleep was a bit more of a difficult commodity than at home, what with the heat and a call to prayer from the local mosques at 4.30am.

We were up at 6 am each morning to join some of the hospital team who gather for prayer.  This was interesting as it was in French, which neither of us speak.  Claire and Rachel kindly interpreted for us. 

On our first morning - Monday, we were taken to the police station as apparently we needed to get our passports stamped and ourselves registered.  Claire seemed to know a lot of the people there!

Travelling around was a unique experience – lots of motorbikes, and folks just seemed to appear from nowhere!  The horn is used a lot in Chad!!  Drinking lots of water – at least 3 litres per day was impressed upon us by Claire, or we would soon become dehydrated.  With this heat it was easy to do, and carrying around a bottle of water soon became the new norm for us.  A tour of the hospital site followed.

After Tuesday morning prayers, Pastor Djibrine, the hospital Chaplain, invited Steve to go around the wards with him, praying with the patients – very few declined.  He also heard Pastor Djibrine’s story of becoming a Christian, which is so different to our Western one.  Marilyn was invited to go into the operating theatre and found this experience very different from in the UK.  Many of the operations were the same as at home, but the equipment and treatment seemed very out-dated.  However, the care, expertise, respect and dignity afforded to each individual patient was to be admired.  What this hospital does with its resources is absolutely AMAZING, they do a fantastic job with such limited resources. Rachel and Ailsa went to the dressing clinic.

In the afternoon we went to a ladies meeting. It was a social event and we met with ladies who had come from many different countries to either work as mission workers themselves, or to support their husbands in their jobs in Chad.  One of these ladies was the head teacher of a school for mission workers’ children, others worked for MAF and AIM among other organisations.  Steve stayed outside with other men and kept an eye on the children. 

Wednesday morning is different – no prayer meeting as such, but prayers on the wards with all the patients instead.  This was a very interesting experience, and no one refused prayer.  A litter pick outside the hospital then followed – there is minimal refuse collection in Chad, so there is a lot of litter around everywhere.

In the afternoon we were taken to the Acacia project, where Claire’s friend Naomi works with vulnerable women.  This project offers a Christian rehab programme for the women and once they’ve successful completed it (it takes around 3 months), they become part of a group that makes goods to sell – soap, bangles and bags mainly.  What they produce, to a very high standard, from a rented room is remarkable.

On Thursday morning Steve had been asked to speak at the morning prayer meeting.  Claire had to do the interpreting for her Dad.  There was a strike in Chad by the public sector workers on this day, as they had not been paid for 5 months.  The temperature hit 41 degrees today – seriously hot! In the evening we were invited to supper at the home of Elisabeth, who works in pharmacy and lives in Guinebor II.  We caused quite a local stir as there were five white people walking about in the evening!  This was an interesting evening, as we had not visited a Chadian home before.  It was a concrete construction, with a tin roof, so very, very hot.  After washing our hands Chadian style with soap and cold water poured from a kettle, we were given a typical meal of boule, okra sauce and goat meat, sat on a rug on the floor and eaten with the right hand.  When we had finished our meal the remaining food was given to her children, who were outside.  This appears to be part of the reason that children are sometimes malnourished, as sometimes they only get to eat what the adults leave.  The older female children also clear up and wash up afterwards – in preparation for being married in later life. 

Eating boule and sauce at Elisabeth's house

Friday, after prayers, Steve went with Pastor Djibrine to the wards, and Marilyn went on the ward round with the Chadian Doctor.  We saw children with malaria (and it’s not the season for it yet), and fractures from falling from a tree.  Adults and children had many of the same problems as we have at home, but because of the local cooking facilities, burns from stoves as well.

Steve with Pastor Djibrine

We went to arguably the best coffee shop in town for lunch, followed by a visit to the artisan market, where all manner of things are sold – art work, jewellery, key rings, furniture, and various crafts.  All stall holders wanted you to see their wares, so we had to visit them all so as not to cause offence.

On Saturday Claire took us to the local golf course for a camel ride – yes, a golf course!   Complete with golfers and at one point, a flock of sheep!  This is very different to what we are used to, and a wonderful, if uncomfortable, experience.  After this we went to the mission school and met the head teacher again, and were shown around the premises.  It appeared that the children of mission workers were getting an excellent education at this facility.  After this we went to visit one of Claire’s Chadian friends in the town.  It was interesting to see another Chadian home – this one was a little more salubrious, with carpeting, a fridge and television.  They were eating when we arrived and we were invited to join them in having bread, okra sauce and fish.

Camel riding on the golf course!

Sunday was our last day in this hot, dusty country.  We attended the International Church in the morning, where Steve had been invited to speak.  Thankfully it was all in English!  What an experience that was, with so many nationalities represented, doing so many different things.

Our overall impression of this visit?  We were told before we left about the value put on family life, but to see it in practice is something else.  We often noticed a shift in attitudes when we were introduced as Papa Claire and Mama Claire.  We were held in high regard and a few times given gifts just for being Claire’s parents.  I wondered if the kind people doing this could afford to do it, but it would have been classed as rude to refuse.  What a friendly, family orientated people they are and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

Most of all it was a pleasure to see Claire in her now ‘home’ environment, to savour a piece of the culture of the country and its people, and to see Claire in her role at G2.

Friday, 19 January 2018

All in a day’s work at Guinebor II Hospital

Monday 8th January 2018.  Just another standard day here at Guinebor II Hospital.  I thought I’d paint a picture of my day in words, so that you can glimpse a little bit more into my world here at the mission hospital in the desert!

5.30am – my alarm goes off and I dozily press snooze.  The temperature is currently ‘cold’ for Chad, around 15C in the mornings, and it’s so nice to be under my blankets at this time of year and I want a few more minutes under the covers.

6am – I finally drag myself out of bed, eat a bowl of muesli (imported from France by a supermarket in N’Djamena) and drink a strong cup of coffee (imported from America by friends!).  I read my Bible and commit the day to God.

6.45am – I walk the 200 metres from my house to the staff room where we hold our morning devotions.  Pastor Djibrine the hospital chaplain leads some (slow and out of tune) singing and gives a short talk.  We share prayer requests and one person is allocated to pray for the prayer requests/praise points and someone else is requested to pray for the day ahead.

7am – all the staff working that day congregate for our weekly staff meeting.  It’s here that we share information together and hear important news.  Information about patient charges is discussed.  The hospital director reminds staff that two important meetings regarding the running of the hospital are planned for Friday and Saturday and that the heads of department need to pass their reports for 2017 to him as soon as possible. Christophe (nurse) sadly informs us that his uncle, who he’s been responsible for caring for during illness, had passed away.  Stephane (accountant) announces that his wife had their first child the previous Friday, a boy.  ‘Now I’m a Dad like the rest of you’ Stephane proudly says.

7.30am – I head back to my house to grab a bottle of water to carry around with me during the day.  I still drink a lot of water even though it’s colder.  Just not the 6-7 litres that I drink in hot season.  Tabitha, my house helper, has arrived and has started running the water into the big laundry bowls.  Monday is laundry day at my house and Tabitha meticulously washes all my week’s laundry, by hand.  I point out a pair of thin cotton trousers that I’ve been wearing in the house in the evenings and ask Tabitha to wash them carefully and not with too much exuberance, because else the elastic will break (Chadian-made clothes tend to be from tougher fabric and with little or no elastic involved, so can withstand the rough hand-washing that’s common here).

8am – I spot Eric (one of our regular visitors from the USA) in the distance and I walk over to him to ask him a maintenance question.  One of the wholesalers we buy medicines from has recently given us a gift of some signage for the pharmacy (a nice black sign adorned with ‘Pharmacie’ and the green pharmacy symbol).  I ask Eric whether he could please attach it to the wall outside the pharmacy.  Eric enthusiastically agrees to do so later that day.

8.30am – Audrey (our Chadian head of pharmacy) and I discuss what stock is running low.  I ask him to order some more iron syrup from one of the wholesalers in town, as we’ve run out.

9am – I pop into the administration office to say hello.  Dieudonné (Chadian administrator) is busy typing up his report for our annual board meeting planned for Friday.  He asks me to remind him of the names of the visiting doctors we’ve welcomed to the hospital in 2017.

10am – it’s time to drive into town (N’Djamena) to run a few errands on behalf of the hospital.  Steve (from BMS in the UK) arrived a few days ago and one of his suitcases didn’t arrive.  We’re expecting it to have arrived on the flight that came in last night.  So first stop is the airport.  After being security-scanned, I enter the baggage reclaim area.  I speak with a few airport officials about the missing bag and then wait in line behind a local Chadian soldier, who is still waiting for his suitcase to arrive from when he travelled on 23rd December (poor guy).  Eventually it’s my turn and after searching through the bags stored under the stairs (the storage room is literally ‘under the stairs’ – mind your head!) we find the suitcase and the guy tells me that my boss will be pleased that I’ve done a good job today!  

Next stop is the Post Office, to see whether there’s any mail for us.  We chat with the staff there about the possible strike they’ll go on soon if they’re not paid (apparently it’s been 4 months).  We come away with a Christmas card and a medical journal but alas, not the parcel we were expecting to have arrived.  

Next job is to buy local mobile phone SIM cards for Eric, so that he can access the internet and speak more easily with his family.  This involves speaking to the guy we regularly buy mobile top-up credit from (Abakar) who eagerly helps us out.  

Next up is a quick stop at the biggest supermarket in town.  The reason being that it’s currently the cheapest place to buy hydrogen peroxide from, for use at the hospital.  I buy 10 bottles, ensuring I get the necessary receipt for reimbursement.  We hop back in the car and head back to the hospital.

On the dirt-track portion of the road back to the hospital, we think we spot the nomad family who we befriended last year, but who had moved on during rainy season.  Is it them?  We’re not sure.  We stop and get out to see if it is.  It is!  With my limited Arabic and their limited French we ascertain that they arrived last night but that the rest of the family is coming to join them at some point.

1pm – after a quick bite to eat, I pop back to the hospital to see how things are going in the pharmacy.  A member of staff from the operating theatre comes to the pharmacy with an order for supplies, ready for a busy day in the theatre tomorrow.  I get together all the things he’s requested and then ensure that I document it down on our manual stock records.
On seeing that I’ve returned from town, Elisabeth (Chadian pharmacy assistant) calls me over.  She’s succeeded in repairing a 500 CFA note that was given as change to Debbie (my team mate from USA) by a shop in town, but that was basically in two halves.  Elisabeth is a pro at gluing the money back together with the aid of a glue stick!  Voila, the note is usable again.

I pop into the administration room to hand over the receipt for the hydrogen peroxide I bought in town.  Dieudonné tells me that he had a call this morning from the ministry of health – our partnership document was finally signed and ready for collection!  Great news (we’ve waited since February 2017 for this document).

2.30pm – I head back to my house to check my work emails and respond to anything urgent.

3.30pm – I head out to the washing line to pick in the last few bits of laundry that Tabitha did this morning.  Most of it was dry before she left at midday and was already off the line, but the towels take a bit longer to dry.

4pm – I hear the noise of goats close by.  Teammates bought some goats in the rainy season to eat some of the grass that grows up in the area of the hospital where we’ve not yet built.  Someone had left the gate open and they were roaming our gardens!  I quickly shoo them back to where they’re supposed to be.

5pm – I go and visit my teammates at their house across the way.  On coming back to my house I hear another teammate’s voice outside and then some light gunshots!  He’s got a BB gun and is try to reduce the pigeon population around our houses (they make a right noise).  I later hear that he’s successfully reduced the pigeon population by one – that’s tonight’s dinner sorted for him then!

6.30pm – all the visitors and us long-termers at the hospital eat together.  It’s good to all be together and chat at the end of another long and busy day.

Thank goodness it’s only a maximum of 30C at the moment!

9pm – I fall into bed and sleep, in preparation for another 5.30am alarm

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Questions (and answers) of my life, 2017 edition, part two

Here’s part two of my Q&A blog entries.  Thanks again to those who asked questions and I hope the answers help to give you a bit more insight into life and work here.

What could any of us in UK actually ‘do’ for you… addition to prayer and parcels and emails! Would you find a visit positive or would all the arrangements etc. be too much?

Receiving emails and parcels is always a highlight for me!  Prayers are always needed too.  Visitors are always welcome!  There are very few people willing and/or able to come and visit Chad so I’d never turn an offer of a visit down.  Yes, there’s a lot of work on both sides to arrange a visit but it’s so encouraging to me to see people from home (plus they bring lots of treats!!).  Also, if people actually come, it gives them a much better insight into my life here.  There’s only so much I can portray in words and photos.  It was great to have a team of six, from two churches in South Wales, here for a week at the end of October.  In February 2018, two people from my home church in Torquay, along with my parents, are visiting for a week, which I’m really looking forward to.

I know that a few people are visiting you in Chad early next year - what would you REALLY LOVE us to give them to bring out to you?  Obviously nothing too heavy!!

This is going to sound really bad, but from experience, it’s always a bit dangerous answering a question like this!  Not in a bad way, I’m obviously really grateful for treats and gifts from home :) I’ve learned to give a range of things rather than just one, else I end up with 20 packets of cheese sauce mix!!!  Not that that’s a bad thing.  It’s just that it takes me a while to get through it all and I’ve a limited repertoire of recipes calling for cheese sauce mix! (Feel free to send me some simple ones by email).  For the record, I’ve enough cheese sauce mix and fajita mix to last a while!  Hmmm, ideas of things to send:
·         those really small concentrated fruit squash bottles (Robinson’s squash’d is one brand) as when you’re drinking many litres of water, it’s nice to have something to flavour it with
·         a packet of jammie dodgers
·         some face wipes
·         a pot of chilli powder
·         handwritten letters or cards
·         a magazine
·         cheddar cheese (strong)
·         any Cadbury’s chocolate (Cadbury’s is my favourite!)
·         bacon
·         car air fresheners
·         DVDs of recently released films (I’m mainly into mindless chick flicks as a form of escapism!)

Thank you :) 

Do they celebrate Christmas in Chad and if so what does a typical Christmas dinner look like?

Yes, Christmas is celebrated here.  December 25th is a public holiday (but 26th isn’t, so it’s back to work!).  In Chad, both Christian and Muslim holidays are celebrated through the year and they’re all public holidays.  On the Muslim holidays, the Christians just have a day off at home and rest (some may visit their Muslim neighbours).  On the Christian holidays, the Muslims just have a day off at home and rest (some may visit their Christian neighbours).  Christmas is extremely low-key here.  No commercialism means you can really focus on what’s being celebrated.  I’m typing this at the start of December and there is one supermarket intermittently playing Christmas songs, there are no decorations up and in the shops there’s very little for sale that’s Christmas-related.  Christmas will arrive and go the next day and life will carry on as normal.  It never ‘feels’ like Christmas here to me.  It’s hot for a start which is bizarre.  But as I say, it does mean you can focus on the ‘reason for the season (day)’.  For a Chadian, Christmas dinner will depend on how much money the family has.  Those who can afford it will get a sheep or a goat and kill that to eat with the wider family and neighbours.  Others will just eat standard Chadian food.  For us missionaries we try and do something a bit different than the rest of the year.  Last year we had cheese fondue on Christmas Eve for example!

The selection of Christmas merchandise
in one of the bigger supermarkets in N'Djamena

How do you keep your spiritual side fresh?

To be honest, often with difficulty.  I attend a Bible study in English most weeks and international (English speaking) church every-other week.  I go to a local Chadian church the other Sundays.  I'm glad to have now found a good, sound, solely French-speaking Chadian church to attend.  A lot of Chadian church services can be a mix of French and a local tribal language, so I've no hope of understanding anything in those services.  As English is my 'heart language' I feel I can engage with God better when the worship and teaching is in English as opposed to French.  A lot of the time in French services I'm too busy concentrating on understanding what's being said for it to properly permeate, if that makes sense?  I have sermons in English downloaded that I can listen to on my computer.  I have good Christian friends here who I can chat to if needed, and thanks to the wonders of technology, I can chat via WhatsApp with friends and family back in the UK too.

What specific things can we pray for you at the moment?

This leads me nicely to let you know that I recently published a prayer letter!  If you've not seen it, click here to find it on my page on the BMS website.  You can sign up to receive my future prayer letters by email, by clicking this link and filling in the form.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and new year!

Friday, 1 December 2017

Questions (and answers) of my life, 2017 edition, part one

Thanks to those who sent me questions about life and work here in Chad.  I was sent too many questions to answer in one blog post, so here’s part one.  Part two will follow in a while.  Hope my answers give you a bit more of a flavour and idea of life here :)

Can you give us an update on your solar fridge?

Indeed I can!  Wednesday 8th November 2017 was a big day for me here.  I was able to decommission my (semi) trusty gas-powered fridge and plug in an electric fridge!  The gas-powered one worked of a fashion but never got really cold and in hot season, hardly worked at all, meaning that at the time of year when I’m drinking 6-7 litres of water a day, I was having to drink tepid water.  Yuk!  We’ve not got mains electricity here in Guinebor and so, thanks to generous people at my home church, I was able to buy solar panels and associated kit in order to generate electricity via the sun (we’ve an endless supply) to power an electric fridge.  I was literally jumping up and down with excitement when I plugged it in and I am still grateful every day for a fridge that works well.

Posing next to my new fridge

How’s the French and Chadian Arabic going?

The French is going well, I’d say I’m probably almost fluent now.  I definitely speak a more basic French than a French person would and I have a very anglicised accent.  However I can communicate well in French now and only have to consciously think about what I’m saying when I’m trying to say a grammatically complicated phrase such as ‘if he’d have done that, it would’ve have been much easier’.  That kind of thing.  The Arabic on the other hand has kind-of stalled for the moment, which I’m frustrated about.  I’ve only had one lesson since coming back from home assignment, for a variety of reasons.  I’ve been out to the village of Guinebor II twice, with a member of staff, to visit someone in their home so that I could hear Arabic being spoken.  I understand more than I can speak myself but it’s still something I’d love to get a better grasp of.  Ciyya ciyya (little by little).

Do you feel the lack of Arabic is an issue?  You are, no doubt, very comfortable in French now, but do you often feel limited, perhaps particularly in being able to communicate more deeply with patients?

Every. Single. Day.  I can communicate with about 5% of patients in French.  That’s it.  So yes, it can get really frustrating not being able to communicate in Chadian Arabic with people.  But I remind myself that I used to feel like that with French.  So one day, hopefully I’ll get there with the Arabic!

What is the most difficult thing about your daily work?

There’s no one thing to be honest.  Often the thing I find most difficult changes from day-to-day.  In hot season (March to June) it’s the heat that’s the most difficult thing.  Other times it’s my lack of Arabic.  Other times it is frustrations linked with differences in culture.

What is the best thing about being back in Chad – what is fun/who is special?

The perpetual blue sky (now that rainy season is over) is always a delight.  It’s great to be back with my Chadian hospital colleagues and work alongside them and hear about their lives.  My Chadian pharmacist colleague got married last Saturday and it’s been interesting to hear all about his wedding plans and associated stresses (it all falls on the guy and his family here).  Unfortunately he got married in a town a long way away and a lot of us couldn’t attend, but he’s probably going to have another celebration in N’Djamena in a couple of months’ time that we can go to.  We’re currently in the process of all buying his ‘wedding fabric’ so that when we go to the celebration, we’re all identified as being part of the wedding, as we’re all wearing the same fabric!  It’s interesting that at a wedding here, you’re expected to wear the same fabric as everyone else.  In the UK, women especially are mortified if someone else turns up at a wedding in the same dress as them!

What's the hardest thing about life during the wet season (July to October)?
The mud and all the swamps and lakes that suddenly appear on the road into town, making the drive ‘interesting’.  Also, the risk of malaria.
How many people live in the vicinity of the hospital and how do they provide a living for themselves?

There are a lot of people living in the vicinity of the hospital.  It’s hard to quantify but probably 200 – 300 people.  They provide a living by one of the following means:
- Running a small shop selling basic staples
- Selling cooked meat from a little stall
- Selling sandwiches and tea from a little stall
- Selling vegetables at the local market
- Rearing goats and/or sheep
- Operating a motorbike taxi or car taxi
- Working at the hospital

What do you have against Ziploc bags?

Haha!  Those of you who read my blogs will know that I've joked about my American friends just loving Ziploc bags and it amuses me!  They store just about anything that will fit, in a Ziploc bag.  I can kind-of understand if they travel and it's a liquid.  It's a good idea to store your bottle-of-whatever-liquid in a plastic bag in case of spillage.  However my American friends seem (to me) to take it a tad too far.  See picture below.  Why would you need to store packets of tissues, where the tissues are already in plastic wrappers, in a Ziploc bag?!

Tissues safely stored!! ;)

What do you think God is doing in Chad today and where have you seen visible expressions of God's Kingdom in your work?

God is definitely working here in Chad in a variety of ways.  We often hear of one or two people in different areas of the country, from the majority faith, becoming Christians.  It's often through friendships built up, that people come to a realisation of who Jesus really is and what He has done for them.

At the hospital, we see people being healed when the situation looks dire.  We've seen a lady healed from mental disturbance as a result of prayer.  We see the expression of God's love played out in the way our staff welcome and treat patients.  Some relatives get irate at the hospital gate, if they want to visit their sick relative in hospital and it's not yet visiting hours.  The guards have to show immeasurable patience with these people.  We try and instil in our staff that we're here to be different than other hospitals, to work well together as a staff team, to give the best care possible in a clean and tidy hospital and to treat people with dignity and respect.

That's the end of part one.  Watch out for part two of this blog coming soon :)