Welcome to part two of my questions and answers blog. Below are the remaining questions that I’ve been asked. Hopefully they will enable you to have a greater insight into my work and life here.
What jobs do you do in the hospital other than pharmacy stuff?
Many! I work on the cash desk that takes money for lab tests. This helps me practice my Arabic. It goes ok as long as the patient doesn’t go off script!! I can tell them the price, take the money and direct them to where they need to go next. If they ask me something else then I get a bit stuck and need to ask a Chadian colleague to bail me out. The patients love the fact that the ‘nasara’ (white person in Arabic) is attempting to speak something other than French. I take meeting notes at our monthly management team meetings. I help organise work rotas for the hospital guards. I supervise the lab. I have some input into organising the nurse rotas and their holidays. Another job on the current ‘to-do’ list is to try and figure out what’s gone wrong with the computer software for our new digital x-ray machine (anyone who knows anything about medical imaging please, please get in touch!). I’ve also written a project funding proposal to support the work of Pastor Djibrine, the hospital chaplain.
Can you give a breakdown of staff numbers at the hospital – ex-pats and Chadian?
There are 67 Chadian staff here and 6 ex-pat staff.
What hours do you work?
The working day starts at 7am and we have a short worship time for staff before this at 6.45am. The working day ends at 3pm but often extends due to the volume of patients coming to the hospital. I work these hours Monday to Friday. Once a month I work part-time on the weekend to make sure that the wards are topped up with medical supplies whilst the pharmacy is shut.
Spare time – how much do you get, what do you do and are there opportunities to make meaningful relationships?
I have every weekend apart from one a month completely work-free which is great. I’ve previously mentioned that I’m involved in a weekly English-speaking Bible study and so that helps me meet people and through this I’ve got to know some great people. There are limited entertainment options in Chad! There’s a cinema here in the capital which shows some English films with French subtitles. I have now finally been there and it was amazing – a huge room with proper cinema seats, screen and….most importantly…air conditioning! That alone was worth the £3 entrance fee!! There are some nice French-style cafes where I’ll meet friends for a snack. If I’m feeling suitably robust I’ll go to one of the markets and do some bartering. You need to be in the right frame of mind to do this, but it’s amazing what you can find in the markets. Other than that, I’ll go to friend’s house, watch a film, watch part of a box set, read. That sort of thing.
What contact do you have with the local, indigenous Church?
Our hospital Chaplain is a Chadian from one of the many evangelical denominations here. So through him, the hospital has strong links with the indigenous Church. We also have links with the Chadian version of the Evangelical Alliance. When I’m not at the English-speaking service (see below), I try and attend a local Chadian Church. There are various evangelical denominations here which have various styles. I’ve been drawn to one in particular because of its size (relatively small at around 100 people) and friendliness. However the drawback is that it’s in Arabic and not French, so I don’t understand a great deal (yet)!
What is Church life like for you - where do you worship and what is the service like?
Twice a month an English service is held at one of the other mission compounds in town, so I attend that as it’s refreshing to worship in my mother-tongue. The service is fairly similar to a service in the UK. On the other Sundays I try and attend a Chadian Church service as I described above. The service consists of a lot of singing (mostly from memory, which can be a bit tricky for me as I don’t know most of the songs!). The singing is led by a small choir. Then there are the announcements. Lots of announcements. They often go on for around ten minutes! Then prayers of intercession, the sermon and a blessing. At the end of the service everyone stands up, files into the courtyard and shakes hands with everyone else.
Do you have contact with any Chadian people other than those you meet through the hospital?
I’ve a Chadian friend and her family who I met whilst here in 2013 through Rebecca (previous BMS worker here). I try and see them as often as I can. I meet some Chadians at the English Church service and obviously at Chadian Church too. I also get to meet the people who run the small businesses outside of the hospital.
What sort of things are you learning that you would not have the opportunity of learning at home?
How to operate in a completely different culture. The ‘way’ things are done here is so completely different than in the UK. That can both be interesting and very tiring at the same time. This culture is an honour-shame culture as opposed to the guilt-justice culture in the West. It’s hard to explain but the culture here is much more indirect, so as not to bring shame on anyone. I’ve been trying to think of a specific example to explain what I mean, but it’s so subtle it’s hard to think of a specific example. I’m also learning Chadian Arabic. Definitely wouldn’t have had that opportunity in the UK! I’m also learning how to drive Chad-style. On first look it would appear that there are no rules of the road and everyone just does what they like. However there are many unwritten rules, such as ‘pull out at the crazy T junction when the oncoming traffic is a reasonable distance from you (but still quite close). Oncoming traffic must give way’. Another is that motorbikes can weave in and out of traffic, undertake and overtake, and drivers of 4-wheeled vehicles must utilise 360 degree vision to ensure they don’t hit one. I’m also getting the chance to learn a bit about surgery when I hear other expats talking about their day and I also learn a bit about tropical disease management.
What is your favourite thing about living in Chad?
The fact that the sky is blue for about 350 days a year! I also like getting to learn more about the culture and traditions and just simply getting to know local people.
What is a typical evening meal?
For a Chadian it would be boule (a stodgy white mass often made of maize flour, other African countries call it other things such as fufu or ugali). They would typically eat this with an okra-based sauce that may or may not have pieces of meat (usually goat) or smoked fish in it. For me, it’s similar to in the UK: spaghetti bolognaise, curry and so on.
What’s the most challenging thing you’ve had to do in Chad?
There are a few things! Doing staff disciplinaries was never easy when I was doing more HR earlier on. Thankfully we now have a Chadian administrator who does them! Seeing extremely ill children who should possibly have been brought into hospital earlier is disturbing. Hearing about locals refusing health interventions because of their beliefs about death is challenging, when you know the procedure would likely save or significantly prolong their life. My first (and thankfully only, so far) car accident was challenging. Fortunately no-one was harmed.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done in Chad?
This would have to be visiting Chadians in their homes, eating with them, drinking their sweet tea and generally getting to know them, their families and their culture.
What are your short term and long term goals for being over there?
Short term would be to function adequately in French, continue to work alongside my Chadian pharmacy colleagues to ensure good stock control of medical supplies and help where I can in the hospital. Long-term would be to be fluent in Chadian Arabic so that I can converse independently with the locals at the hospital, help them understand their medicines well, visit people in the community of Guinebor II and share my faith with them, get involved in pharmacy-related meetings in the capital and make links with other pharmacy workers in other hospitals.