I think it’s funny that I am returning from a surgical mission overseas and my biggest problem is that I might run out of money before I get home! Never before have I had the opportunity to SPEND money on mission – nothing to buy, nowhere to go and not allowed to go even if there was. Amman was different. Between shopping excursions for food and drink to entertain my room-mates and neighbors; last minute expenses for taxis, Visa extensions and dinner in Paris; and a whirlwind tour of Aqaba…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I’m writing this, the last Blog Installment of my MSF-France Mission for Iraq in Amman in the boarding lounge at Charles de Gaulle Airport. It’s just before 6 a.m. and my day is already three hours old. I had a bit of a “Senior Moment” when I set my alarm clock and failed to take into account the change in time-zones between Amman and Paris. So, I had an extra hour on-line waiting for my taxi to arrive at 04:30 <sigh>. It probably wouldn’t have mattered – I woke up an hour before my alarm was set anyway, but this explains why I never got the 4 a.m. wakeup call from the hotel desk…
I cheated a bit on my arrival time at the airport. I know the printout says, “…three hours in advance…” but I was certain there would be few flights this early in the day. Even the subway doesn’t start running until after 5:30 (thus one of the taxi charges – luckily he accepted VISA, otherwise I was going to have to pay him with a combination of US dollars, Euros and coins). Traffic was light (as expected) and we got to the airport at precisely 5 a.m. I did the electronic check-in and bag drop-off and was on my way to the gate at 05:10. I do love European airports. The long walk to the gate and security screening still took under 15 minutes. Charmed life, I keep saying!
My final week of work was fairly calm. The first Iraqi Anesthesiologist came back from vacation and the second left for his week off. Work was light again – MSF was putting on an Exhibition at the Cultural Centre, and the Queen came for a photo shoot with our surgeons (so all surgery was put on hold for the day).
Since, understandably, I wasn’t on the invitation list to meet the Queen, I filled my day giving lectures to various groups of nursing staff on acute and chronic pain management. No surprise that a large percentage of the patients in our program have persistent or chronic pain after being blown up. I stopped by the Exhibition the next day – it was a smaller version of the Refugee Camp in the City program which has been so successful touring Europe, the US and last summer, Western Canada. I found a photo in the display showing my Anesthesia Technician from Gaza last January, wearing the scrub hat I gave him on my departure – like I said before, it’s a small world! They are bringing the RCIC to Eastern Canada this spring, so if you happen to be in Waterloo or Montreal…
There are several Expats with experience in diving (or interest in traveling around Jordan on their weekends off). Unfortunately, due to a combination of weekend commitments and upcoming flights, no-one was able to join me on my last weekend traveling around Jordan. Grabbing the bull by the horns, I booked a bus ticket, hotel room and series of dives in Aqaba, and headed south out of Amman on Thursday evening. Thanks to my remaining travel companions (red wine and Gravol) I had a lovely sleep on the 5 hour trip and woke up refreshed and ready to party. The feeling wore off quickly, but I did have a chance to stroll the streets and experience some of the nightlife in Aqaba late Thursday. I found a great store selling fresh roasted & seasoned cashews, pistachios and a variety of other munchies so I loaded up for the weekend. As usual, I woke up before my alarm the next morning and after a huge “Jordanian Continental Breakfast” at the hotel, I wandered around the neighborhood again. By chance, I stumbled upon the dive shop I had booked with and arranged for two dives with all the equipment and trimmings – 25 JD per dive (ludicrously affordable after $100+US dives in the Caribbean and Mexico).
One bonus of diving in the Gulf of Aqaba is that transport to and from the dive site is by road instead of open skiff. I never have problems with motion sickness WHILE diving, but trips to and from in high chop make me regret (and on occasion, relive) breakfast. This time both dives were off the shore at the same public beach so I could spend my surface interval basking in the sun. Dive #1 was on the planned wreck (for reef development) of the “Cedar Pride” now covered in a variety of corals and filled with fish. We saw at least a dozen frilly Lion fish and half a dozen eels (two of which were in the open – a very uncommon experience on my previous dives). I was a bit disappointed…well actually, JEALOUS when we came up and heard another group hadseen a large Whale Shark swimming near the wreck. We must have missed it by just a few minutes! We made up for it on the second dive coming across a large sea-turtle which hovered nearby peacefully ignoring us.
It is common for surgeons and anesthesiologists to complete shorter missions than other MSF volunteers. Nevertheless, goodbyes were a bit sad for me. It’s always bitter-sweet leaving for home…I know I’ll miss the friends I met in the field, but I do look forward to my friends and (especially) family back home! Getting away from the noise is a benefit too – I probably won’t hear another car horn until the rodeo comes to town for the next Calgary Stampede. Unlike Gaza and Somalia, loud noises here have had innocent causes (mostly fireworks celebrating weddings and birthdays). I DID get a bit of a flashback walking home on my last day – the contrail might still have been made by an F-16, but at least it wasn’t going to strafe me as I lay soaking up the sun on the roof!
I certainly won’t miss the electrical connections, intermittent baseboard heating or maimed children – humans WILL continue being nasty to each other, I’m afraid…
Best wishes to my team members, especially the “Self-Professed Serial Monogomist”, the “Vegetarian Hiking Yoga Instructor” and the “Oklahoma Cheerleader”!