quarta-feira, 20 de julho de 2011

The Sweetest Eyes

Still about Congo….maybe the last story about Congo!

It has been more than a year , and I am still happy about writing about what I saw, what I lived, what I felt …. Why do I write ? I guess the main reason, is to help some who are in need…. Its also true, that I write because it makes feel good, and helps me to release some of the pressure, that from time to time tends to eat me inside…. Pressure caused by the fact that life really sucks for some, and we just don’t give a fuck!!! The world will never be perfect for all, and we all know that, but the fact that some are worried because they can not afford a BMW, and some others at the same time are worried about staying alive, its just too much…. The physical pain of being shot at, the psychological pain of being raped or watching your children dye of starvation…. And all that because we don’t know or don’t care or a bit of both… How selfish can we be?  My intention is not to give anybody a lecture about humanity, my intention is to share my thoughts and to tell you life stories about people whose lives, should make us think about what is really important…. and to motivate you to care about the human being, because we are all the same, and we all need each other…

This is a powerful story…. The one that I am about to tell you …. And its one of the many examples of the horrible things that happen in this horrible war !! Yes there is a war going on in Congo…. Did you know that ???? Maybe not, it has so many years of war that its not on the news anymore, if ever was... Just another stupid example…. did you know that more NATO soldiers dyed in Afghanistan in 2010, than the “official” years of the Afghanistan war…..and 10 times more than the ones killed in 9/11…. It makes you think…. and the Afghans that already died in that war are maybe 100 times more…… It makes you think….. Anyway, there is a war in Congo, and if every person that reads my blog, at least realizes that the worst war since Word War II was/is in Congo and nobody gives a shit, I feel that my goal was accomplished …. I guess , I am not asking to much… one step at a time !

The story now…..

Just another day at work…. And I am called by the radio with the information that some injured people are arriving…. A man, a woman and a baby, all with gunshot wounds from Kalashnikov…. A humble family, was attacked by the army, the Congolese army, the ones that were suppose to protect them, entered their hut, with the intention to rob them, and god knows why, started shooting, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang,…. Its hard to imagine, even for me after seeing the wounded family, how this men are able to do such a thing…. Its what war does to people, the same way that we all saw those American soldiers (a bit more educated than the Congolese) shooting those innocents, including children from the helicopter in Iraq (the famous video that was shown by wikileaks)…. Killing becomes normal I guess, for them….

Do you know the first thing that crosses my mind?!? The same thing that crossed my mind while receiving many others!?!? That they were very lucky! Lucky that the bullet didn’t kill them, many times just by a centimetre…. They were not only lucky, they were THE lucky ones, because many more are shot every day and are nobody’s story… just dead… And the ones that I treated all have amazing stories, because they were part of a small minority that were shot and didn’t dye!

Back to the “lucky” family that was robbed and shot…. The baby was no more than 3, very “lucky”, was shot in the Thorax, but “just” a flesh wound … Sometimes you can dye from it, because if not cleaned surgically it infects almost always, and then things can go really the wrong away… but that was not the case. We took him to the operation room, opened the wound , made sure that we removed every bit of flesh that was touched by the bullet, open the wound even more…like 10 times more than the original holes…. And clean and clean again, a couple of days after, you do it again and remove any signs of infection, and if everything goes well, after a few “trips” to the operation room, you start closing the wound as the final step to recovery…. Yeap…. Even a flesh wound caused by a bullet is very demanding to save a person’s life… in his case the 3 year old baby….. of course everything gets more complicated in this “lost world” hospital, where the hygienic conditions were very far from the ideal…

Then the “lucky” father, was also very “lucky”, not exactly a flesh wound , but the bullet went in and out of the upper part of the thigh, without touching the bone… If it touches, and breaks of course the bone everything gets 1000 times more complicated… if you are so lucky not to loose your leg or arm… But it was not the case, this “lucky” man had no bone fracture, but what looks like an entry and exit wound, turns into a completely open air anatomy show of structures of the upper thigh….( I will not show the pictures as they might be too impressive)!

(after 6 months , and in the middle a Pakistani experience yet to be told, I continue this story… Its all in my mind, so I guess that this continuation could be a lot different if written when it was started…)
So, the upper thigh of the “lucky” father, gave us many more hours in the operation room, every second day for a while, we took him to the OT for  cleaning and debridement, but I guess I can say that his life was never in danger…

The same I cant say for the “lucky” mother…. God knows how it was possible, she had 3 holes in her body of just one bullet…. The bullet entered the upper part of her breast, exit through the lower part of the breast, and went in again to the abdomen cavity….with no other exit hole… This is easy a situation that could be life threatening, a big challenge to the Surgeon, and quite a big challenge for me as an Anesthesiologist in those conditions…. The abdomen had to be opened in order to find the lost bullet and fix whatever damages have been made…. This “lucky” woman, was indeed quite “lucky” as the bullet didn’t damage any important organ or vessel, and was lodge behind the colon, in a tough place to find but not causing any irreversible destruction….
Until today I keep that rusty bullet with me…. Many times I look at it, and I get lost in my thoughts, remembering where that bullet came from, the small story behind that huge war, in the beautiful lost mountains of Eastern Congo, where life for many is a synonymous of WAR….

So they were all in the surgical ward, in the next days, with a crying baby, too young to understand why his family was suffering so much….. and next to him was his father, that besides the fact that his ass/thigh was destroyed but recovering quite well, probably is biggest problem was looking 24 hrs per day to his wife that despite being so “lucky” was struggling for her life for a few days , before passing to the "out of danger" side of my mind…. She gave me a lot of medical doubts that I tried to guess and solve the best I could  despite the lack of proper treatment conditions. This “lucky” family in general gave me many hours of work and worries, way beyond the medical issues…. But in my mind the cornerstone of this story will always be The Sweetest Eyes, I have ever seen….

It took me a while, as always to understand who was who in that overcrowded Surgical ward always full of patients and their family members….. But after a few days this 10 year old girl started to get my attention more and more…. As a sister, with a mother in a critical condition, and a father that couldn’t get out of the bed, she assumed full responsibility of the care her poor young brother that was shot in the thorax…. The only member of the family that wasn’t shot, as far as I know, spend as many hours in the hospital as her family members, and I guess living the drama of that family in a very hard way, specially for a 10 year old child…

Like always , communication was not possible due to the language barrier, so all I could take from her was what I saw in those eyes… She was tall , and slim, very independent and mature for her age….. I never saw her crying, even though life was not smiling at her for the moment…. She was quite shy, and many times observing me from a far distance…. Always caring her younger brother in her back, as any other woman is brought up to do in those areas….. And her eyes!!!, I got lost in her eyes, pictures can not tell, the clear beauty, the purity, the innocence ….of The Sweetest Eyes I have ever seen…. I think I never asked her name, but I will never forget her, looking at me when she was handling her brother to me, when he was about to be operated again, she felt much more mature than most of the adults, trusting me the responsibility of her brother, that she took care every minute of the day…. And after the surgery when I gave him back to her, she looked at me as she was telling me….” I am too young for all this pain, but I am tough, and I will handle it”…. I felt that it was easier to communicate with her just by looking in each others eyes, than with many by words….

Its amazing how mature can a kid be …. it shouldn´t be that way…. but life is a bitch for sooo many….. and the more I look around, the more I see the lack of values of our society…. how easy we accept the lost of millions of humans, just like us, caused by the ambition of some….

There is a part of me that is starting to hate this world…. where words mean nothing, values mean nothing, life means nothing….. its selfishness, ambition, money and power….. no matter the crimes that are being committed, and the blood that is being shed …..that rule our world!!!

And we are all guilty for that!! Just by saying nothing, doing nothing….we are guilty!!

I wish, I could tell those sweet eyes that we, that come from the part of the world that has education, money and power, where trying to do something to avoid, the horrible situations that her family has been through, would happen again….. But I am afraid I cant tell her that….. I cant tell her that while we all appreciate more an Iphone, a modern car, a luxury hotel,…. than we appreciate a simple gesture as giving food and medicine to the ones that are dying like the millions in Somalia while I write this.

Why not stop looking at our mirror, and start looking around ?

Its not always easy to control my anger, but for fore this sweet, brave young girl.... will help me to find some peace in my heart as I saw all the kindness and sweetness of the world concentrated in Those Sweetest Eyes....

domingo, 6 de março de 2011

On my way to Timergara

On my way to Timergara

I know that I will disappoint many , as I was really disappointed as well…. My first idea of starting to tell stories somehow based on pictures totally collapsed… As there is also a zero tolerance MSF policy in terms of pictures …why??....maybe later I will explain how things work….

….Finally I am on my way to do my job… and I am reaaaalllllyyyy looking forward to it…. First , for the trip, to see the country, the people , the rural areas, the mountains…. I am a bit tired (stupid jet lag doesn’t let me go)…. But I know that this is my first of 2 chances (the way back) to see the country and I complete refuse to close my eyes even for a second….to take as much as can with me , as my camera will not take much….

They love to decorate their vehicles…. The “tuq-tuqs”, and the small vans call my attention…. But when it cames to the big trucks…..uuuaaauuuu !!! Its like an open air exhibition, of colors, adornments, and artifacts, with a very high wooden top in something like a wave shape…..The coolest trucks I have ever seen..... I just wanted to take pictures , so much ;(….

The border of the NorthWest Provence or KPK, comes up …..and guess what ?? Huge check point !! All kinds of detectors, and devices that I cant really understand, search the cars, that stay in a long cue…. I am happy to be able to slow down and see the population, the street shops and markets and all of this new planet , that makes my craziest imagination feel very poor !! To the sound of Pastun music my mind travels very deeply…. I start opening my window…. but the driver stops me : “ You cant, MSF policy… some sectors of Islam believe that you cant listen to music , and it would be a sign of disrespect  to some , in the name of MSF, to listen to music from our car !!!” …. Surprises of this far, far away world, never seem to stop….. I turn of the music and lower the window , to try to feel closer to all that is around me …. The windows are bulletproof , but I guess I am still allowed to do that…

And then, the mountains start getting closer and the road doesn’t stop to amaze me …..I even see some Pakistani stopping the car to take pictures…. Rocky, but green….huge mountains, with very wide valleys, giving some immense panoramic views of some of the best places that I ever seen…the highest peaks starting show off in the back full of snow.....and I just thank to MSF to all that they have "gave" me , and I am only starting my mission...

Following a very wide, but quite dry river in between the hight and infinite mountains....  the driver tells me, pointing for a place few kms far : " That is Termergara!"  . 
I have kind of a repeated feeling of the same time, another driver  in the heart of Africa told me the same thing when I was arriving to Masisi, Congo... Sorry that the trip was about to finish, and that my eyes will be walled, I have the great feeling about the beauty of the place that will be home (prison) for a month...

Still stuck in Islamabad

I am already in Timergara, but there a few things to say more about my days in Islamabad….

On Thursday… after all my briefings , some of the expats from Timergara came to Islamabad to rest on the weekend, witch you can do once a month… They seem very nice people, and I can tell right away that they are so happy to have a bit more freedom, the women can uncover there faces, and men don’t need to avoid looking at a woman in the eyes or shaking hands , etc, etc…. They are so happy, like someone who has been release from prison…. The prison where I will go… But I am glad to meet them ….

We go in a big group to have dinner to a fancy restaurant (a french club)…. The military checkpoints are just one after the other….but thus time much more strict….as we were entering the diplomatic area….search….. passports…..more search….and more checkpoints…and to enter the restaurant was like passing the security of the airports in the US….. It’s a huge tension in air….

I still don’t have half of the basic story of the recent history of Pakistan, and I just came to realize that a Minister was killed 3 days ago…. And for every bomb they you would see on CNN , 50 others are exploding in many places…. Complicated…..very complicated….

Nice dinner, and the ones that just arrived from Timergara are enjoying wine and beer as if it was a supreme luxury…. Because there is a zero tolerance of alcohol, in Timergara…. So I kind of feel like I should enjoy even more every drink……before “prison”…. And still I almost cant sleep, as I start in my first text…. 

Stuck in Islamabad

5 March , 12.00

I am waiting to finally go to the field….I cant way to start working!

Picking up where I left …..

….leaving the airport of Islamabad by car, in a 30 mins drive….. My first impression…. Military checkpoints !! One after the other, at least 10 before I arrive to the house where I was going to sleep…. Once again, the military don’t seam very interested in me as we pass by the checkpoints…

The next day , I call for a car with the help of the guard, when I wake up in an empty house, to take me to the office of MSF…. I have a glimpse of the city, on the way….

Islamabad is a very strange city….created to be the capital, with barely any historical background, with avenues and streets designed geometrically, and the areas are defined as a computer game…A2, F6, G3, etc…. but it has a beautiful set of mountains right on the outskirts of the city that really look like they are walling the city on one side…. The Margalla Hills …

I thought I was going as soon as possible to my place of work, and I get a bit disappointed , when I realize that not on that day (Thursday), but just today (Saturday) ….my departure was planned…. Because it’s a 5 hrs tough drive, and besides the fact that I need to be briefed and prepared on many things (specially when I managed to skip my briefings on the MSF-Belgium headquarters in Brussels) …. and MSF cars don’t leave every day …. So I was kind of stuck in Islamabad…..

I spend a full day at briefings, and once again I realize how important day are… I am quite tired but try to assimilate as much info as I can…

Admin briefing: to understand the structure of the project, to get my per diem money, visas, papers…. Proof of Life document… in case of kidnapping…. It scares a bit ….but its just a formality (it happened before!)….

Medical Coordinator Briefing: to understand how does the hospital works, what has been done, what should be done…..and so many other things…. And I start to get really excited about the project… the population is in need….there is a lot of work to be done…..and that’s why I am here !

Cultural briefing: ohhh my god…. You have no idea , how strict the rules are…. Its one of the most conservative, and fundamentalist Islamic regions of the world…. You cant touch a woman, you cannot talk to a woman, you cannot look to a woman…. (even the expats that work with you)…. And million other details…. Witch make our work as a doctor quite more complicated….there is so much to say about it !!

Security briefing: simple…. Home prison ! House, Car (with covered windows sometimes ), Hospital …..and back the same way…. No contact what so ever with the community… frustrating ;( …. But that’s the way it is !

Head of Mission of Pakistan briefing: Very interesting…to understand all the complexity of the political/military issues of Pakistan…. These region, where I will go ….border of Afghanistan, close to Peshawar… its just to hard to explain…. Once a very hot zone of the “cold war”…. Nowadays ….I guess you all know…. Taliban… The more I know the less I understand…. Afghan-Pakistan-US….ufff…There are some things that I think I should write about ….(at the moment)…. But believe me when I tell you its complex !!! The situation is very tense at the moment (shouldn’t write about it as well at the moment)….but we have no reason to believe that we can be a target…our networking with the community , in loco, is very good and the acceptance of MSF, as a purely medical organization, that offers great quality medical care free of charge, by the local community is good and getting better by the day…

sexta-feira, 4 de março de 2011

Pakistan now...

I had to write, my head was just about to explode with so much thinking….. I hardly had any sleep….which would be normal considering that I have almost 12 hours of jet lag in the last 2 days…. but considering that I went to bed a bit drunk, it’s a bit more difficult  to explain…. But thoughts were flying through my mind and there are so many things that I would like to write about, that the only thing I am sure off is that I will get lost while writing, and 90% will be left unsaid…. The loud speakers at 5am for the morning prayers didn’t help….

Let´s try to put some sense in this text then…. 

The reason why I started with my blog was the huge desire to make people know about horrible things that happen while we live our “normal” lives, that 99,9% of the world population hardly ever heard about, like is the case of the war in Congo that has so many years and so many victims , that shocks me why the world media insists on forgetting …. Telling real life stories that I experienced so close seemed the best to make my insignificant voice somehow, heard….. and pictures for obvious reasons…. No matter how much you write, nothing replaces the impact of seeing the colorful display of a world that most have seen just on Hollywood movies…. By that, I mean that Congo will never be forgotten by me, and in a way it hurts my feelings that so much was still left untold…. But I have a life and a work to do…. besides writing! I left one story in the middle few weeks ago, and at least that one for sure I will finish and post on my blog as soon as I have the time …. And the inspiration that the end of that story deserves. (The Sweetest Eyes)

English or Português ? Well…. That questions was responsible for at least 20 or 30 turns around on my bed will trying to sleep…. Proud as they come of my country and my mother language, writing in English creates a huge conflict on my mind…. In Portuguese it would be much easier to flow and make my words richer…. But English gives me the feeling that I can reach further, its my teenager idealism side, that I wish I would never lose…. Some people that became import in my life, are not Portuguese speakers, besides the fact that here in Pakistan, English will be my main language, my written English could use a lot of practice and I have an important oral exam in English coming up in April, to finally get my European Diploma of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care…. Humbly but ambitiously, I would like that my words about reporting what is going on with the ones that were not born on the lucky part of the world, would reach as much people as possible…. So, English it is ! Unless, somebody offers to translate, so I dont have to betray, Luis de Camões J ….

I don’t intend to do something like “my dear diary….” , but will be sharing my thoughts and try to answer the great amount of questions that people ask and are interested in….

Where it all starts and finishes …. The airport!! It was much harder the first time…. But still, when you leave your loved ones behind, and left alone “against” the world ….. the journey starts….. Not much cloths in my bag (and how stupid I am as it is freezing cold in the area where I will go), some medical books, some books about Pakistan, a small book to try to learn some words of Urdu (most spoken language in Pakistan) and Pashtu (the language that they speak in the area that I will be) lots of reports and documents about my mission ….and guess what else is outside my bag?? Showing it of as much as I can, representing all that I would like to carry with me but I cant, my city, my culture, my friends, my family,…… my world ! My FC Porto scarf ! When I get a chance to stop to think…. I hold it tight…. I squeeze it…. And I kiss it …. And tears fall from my eyes, while I start to immediately miss, all that I just left behind…. Oh god…. Do I love my world ???!!!  Probably the business men that are also going on my airplane to Frankfurt start to wonder, what is wrong with me …. Nothing ! Actually these are tears of joy … Tears of “saudades” , that make me extremely happy to be alive, and are the proof that I am a very lucky person !!

And I continue my reading of the autobiography of Benazir Bhutto, anxious to see many of the things that she describes….
1 stopover night in Frankfurt… probably the cheapest Hotel, nearby the airport….but way to good for my usual standards…. Cant say that I don’t like the very soft sheets, great shower, and all you can eat diverse breakfast….

On my way to Abu Dhabi… Where in the map is Abu Dhabi??? Ah ah ! It looks nice! Flying with ETIHAD, from the EAU…. 2 words for the Asian airlines: Ohhhhh Yeaaahhhh!!! The stewardess are good looking, friendly and speak many languages, one of them (male) from Lebanon, becomes my friend and was planning to visit Portugal, so stays with my email…. Between all, but really all the most recent movies, video games, good food, and my hunger to read about Pakistan and my future job…. I wish that this 8 hrs flight would last forever !!

At night Abu Dhabi looks nice from above….and I get quite curious to visit it or Dubai one day….

But now things start to get messy…. What a different world of people while I cross the airport to my next gate…. And then…what I have already suspected, Islamabad/Pakistan is not a very touristic place , I am the only non-Arab looking on the plane , most of the women have burqas , and the paranoia that I read before, of being considered an offense just to look at them, starts involving my mind !! Need to get used to it …. It will be much worst where I am heading…. Time to reset my mind about some of this issues….it takes time! Another great but shorter flight with ETIHAB…. And there it is Benazir Bhutto International Airport, Islamabad…. Get my picture taken, by the police, show my passport and visa, get my bag.... and wonder what´s on the other side of the doors… Somebody is expecting me, which makes me feel quite important to have somebody with my name on a paper to pick me up :) ! ….. Another security check, but they don’t care so much about me, I guess I don’t look the explosive type of guy….and there are the exit doors! ….. I take a deep breath and think to myself  “Vamo lá embora, car…..”! The doors open… Mummyyy, take me home !!! No, I am joking ! But it´s an huge shock, hundreds of Pakistani pilling just outside the doors (I read that they love a big crowd)… but who cares?!? if I have my FC Porto scarf to protect me, right ;) ? I find my way through the crowd towards to 4 or 5 guys that have papers with names on it …. I never wished before that my name was Yang or Smith or whatever…..any name that took me somewhere….because my name was not on any paper (there goes my thoughts of feeling important ;) )….  cross the same crowd again, and to the other side again…. and there is nobody with my name or MSF written anywhere…… hmmm….. it seems like I have a small problem! Its 3 am, cold and rainy, I am in Islamabad, I have no numbers to call , no address to go to ….. and I am in f….. Islamabad !! Many guys start to approach me …. but not aggressively….  Proposing a taxi (I would love to take one, but I have no idea where to!), and proposing to make a phone call on these strange portable/land telephones that I have seen in Rwanda before ( I have phones too…..but I have no numbers to call !!)…. Stay calm Gustavo, you still have your FC Porto scarf to protect you ….. and my Lonelyplanet guide of Pakistan (that I bought not to travel but because I find it is a good way to know more about the country), that could point me an hotel to go to ….. 20, 30 mins of dilemma, rejecting taxis and phone calls…. And a guy comes to me with a paper with my name and the MSF logo on it….. If I saw him in Portugal at night he looked like he was going to rob me…. There, at that moment, was I happy to see him !?!?!?

(Will pick up the story from this point) ….. Need to leave to buy my locals cloths, to wear in the field….. the Shawad Kameez  ! Its Friday, their holly day and shops close at 12.00 !

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