Tag Archives: Africa

Daily frustrations…


If there is one word to describe this trip so far it is frustrating.

Things that frustrate me (disclaimer: this is potentially a moany venting post):

  • The slow pace of negotiating something that should be straight forward.
  • The failure of leaders to overcome their differences
  • The inability to see how dragging of feet means more suffering for the people
  • The total waste of resources that should be used to help not hinder
  • Flies
  • The truths, half-truths and outright lies that people tell (and trying to figure out which is which)
  • ‘Somali time’ aka if we say we leave at 4am we might leave anytime between 4 and 10. But be ready, just in case
  • The constant reminder of the worlds inequities
  • The fact that my ‘shower’ (rusty pipe dripping cold water hanging precariously from the wall) doesn’t work
  • Having to wear a headscarf all the time but not knowing how to prevent it blowing into my face and having to totally rearrange it following a gust of wind

Camp A…

There are two IDP camps near the hospital. We went to the one a little further away, found a tree (a difficult job in itself) and set up our mobile clinic. 

Women and children first was the request, but men would still try to sneak to the fromt of the line. Most complaints were simple to sort out, and worsened by chronic dehydration. It feels awful to tell people they should try to drink more water when the country faces drought. Most children have small round scars or fresh burns made by traditional healers. Diarrhoea, constipation, headache and fever are common. Plus the chronic diseases plaguing all societies. The double burden of disease is truly manifested here. 

We work through each patient via the translators, treating as necessary, giving public health advice and any medicine we can. Follow up is arranged for those who need it. A few very sick patients are taken in the truck back to the hospital. 

And by 11am the sun is so strong we have to leave, apologising to those still waiting and promising to try return in few days..

Setting the base…

At 7am, after steaming hot somali tea and a bowl of oats, one team headed to the hospital and one to the closest IDP (internally displaced persons) camp. I was part of the hospital team. Our job: to set up the hospital. Piece of cake…

We started by organising the space. Choice was limited, but we found two desks and put them in the rooms with least sun, in the hope of not melting whilst seeing patients. Creating a physiological systems-based system the cupboards were stacked with medicine. One shelf cardiac, one shelf Gastro. Three shelves antibiotics and rehydration solution. Etc. 

We called the engineer to fix the lack of running water in the toilets. The lab, full of never used analysers and a capable technician has no reagents, these go on the list to be ordered. In the female ward we find babies with measles. The males is a mix. Later on we open a third ward for mother and child to prevent measles cross-infection.

A few hours after we started, we were ready to see patients. Just as soon as the interpretors arrived…

What (not) to wear, in Somaliland…

Whilst waiting for the aforementioned permission to work I decided I should find some Somaliland-appropriate clothes. The fashion rules are pretty simple here, expose nothing higher than mid upper arm or ankle and cover the head. Women dont wear trousers so long skirts or dresses are the mainstay. If you think this leaves no room for individuality or glamour you’d be wrong. Headscarves can be worn in a number of ways, wrists are often adorned with gold, eyes may be heavily kohled, colours are bright and in the evening the dresses are embroidered or beaded and quite beautiful. 

I asked Fahima, the lovely operations manager at The Institute of Public Health to help me in my quest. Somaliland born but European raised she moved back recently to expose her children to her culture and help develop the country. So, along with friends we got a driver to take us to the local market after early breakfast. But not before she made me change from my UK clothes in to a traditional dress she had bought from home. ‘Its a traditional area’ she said. Translation: even thought you arent showing skin you still look too foreign.

The first task was negotiating entrance to the market. A labyrinth of sellers and stands and woman on the floor fanning flies away from wonderfully scented morsels of food, all piled under canvases slung between buildings. The matt of sellers spilled  into the street and we picked our way carefully to the shady market core. Once inside we had to choose materials, based on colour, pattern and textile. When all you wear is a large sack and a headscarf these details gain heightened importance. Cloth procured, we headed to the seamtress to get the dress, aka dirac, made up. Finally, the finishing touches – headscarves in complementing colours. 

And then came the fun bit, as we sat on plastic chairs the girls asked for the household items they needed. One by one, items were brought by young men eager to make a sale. A lady came round and we picked through her handmade jewellery. An old man wandered past with hot cups of somali tea. After deciding on the purchases to be made a man arrived, piled them into a wheelbarrow and off we went. Navigating our way out the shadowy market and in to the singing sunlight.

That should’ve been the end of the trip, but as we bumped our way down the chaotic streets towards home one of the girls spotted a fan she wanted. Immediately, the driver stopped, on a roundabout I should add, and shouted at the shopkeeper to bring it over. Hanging out the window, holding up a hooting line of traffic behind (with not an eyelid batted) the fan was examined and plugged in to demonstrate its power. It was paid for by saad, a kind of text payment sent phone to phone. And off we went, allowing the roundabout to function once again..

Transient happiness…

Last week I was struck down with illness. A vertigo so heady I couldn’t make a step, a nausea that threw my guts to the slaughter and a pressure inside my head hammering, relentlessly, to get out.

I thought I was done for. I can only recall feeling so hopelessly wretched twice before in my life. Both times I was travelling on the remote road and the isolation of being many planes and many trains away from home played a significant part I’m sure

But I am back. I’ve been reborn. Renewed. Revamped. And all the other words prefixed with re- that could lend weight to this transformation. There’s an electric storm of serotonin coursing its way through my veins at the moment and I’m surfing its crimson wave.

The proof in the pudding is that I have woken up at 7am every day this week. And not gone to sleep before 3am. Not because Ive been out partying (not entirely anyway), but because I have felt a thirst for life. A desire to read, and learn, and listen, and cook, and dance, and sometimes in multiples.

I’m sure it cant last long, but I’ll enjoy it while it does..

(These completely unrelated pictures are ones I took in Naivasha, Kenya, and Zanzibar, Tanzania respectively. I hope they also bring you some happiness today)

Dregs of summer




I put the heating on today. This means Summer is officially over. I’m not sure how I’ll cope, I left England in March when a thick layer of snow cloaked the landscape in white. And since this point I’ve been balmy, save for a few journeys through the Ecuadorian Andes. To add insult to injury I’m spending my first winter in the North of England, and everyone knows how cold it gets in the North. Wish me luck.

Sights of the Sinai


There is a fantastic majesty in this place. My third trip to Egypt was less cultural than the first two, and more relaxing for sure. But a short walk away from the tourist traps full of soggy salads, overpriced milkshakes and roasting red Brits is the desert, and the mountains, and the nothingness beyond. Somewhere in here (you may even be able to see it in these pictures) is Mount Sinai, common feature in the worlds most prominent religious texts.  I’m not religious, or at least I’m not a follower of a particular faith, but there is something holy about this land. Wanting to leave something behind I pulled out a hair, we held it and made a wish or a prayer or an affirmation or whatever, and let the hair be whipped away dancing in the wind, carrying our thoughts through the endless desert sands.