I arrived in Pakistan one month ago – hard to believe! So much has happened but at the moment I’m stuck in Islamabad waiting for my passport to be released from the passport office and I think that it speaks volumes that I really want to get back to Timurgara.
Timurgara is definitely the biggest culture shock that I’ve ever experienced. As a young woman who lives away from my family and is very much used to doing my own thing, it’s an adjustment to live in a society where I must be completely covered—with only my eyes showing—when I’m outside of our expat house and the MSF office. Although, to be honest, I prefer to be completely covered. I think I would feel incredibly uncomfortable going around uncovered, not only because I would be the only one doing it, but because it would make everyone else uncomfortable. Even though it’s worlds away from what I’m used to, I have to remember that it’s just as normal for these people as it is for me to wear jeans and a t-shirt. It has led to some funny situations, most often when I am examining a baby in the emergency room but can’t use my stethoscope for about ten minutes because I can’t find my ears under all the layers.
I happily spend most of my time outside the house in the mother and child health unit—the maternity unit run and staffed by MSF, where men are not permitted. This means that as soon as we’re in the door all scarves, face covers and burquas are removed and suddenly the atmosphere is like any other hospital I have worked in with chatting, laughter and of course gossip. All the women working there are amazed that I have had a boyfriend for four years and have not yet become engaged or been married. I have had plenty of well-intentioned, but concerned warnings that he might escape if I don’t tie the knot. Every person I have met here has been so polite, friendly and welcoming, it's very hard to reconcile with the view of Pakistan in the media.
In terms of expat life, thankfully our house is big enough to accommodate everyone. The walls are very high, but we can see the peaks of the mountains that run along the border with Afghanistan about 30km away, and it’s absolutely beautiful, especially when the sun sets. So far, my favourite part of the local scenery (glimpsed through our scarves on our brief drives to and from the hospital) are the goats wearing coats. Yes, in the cold, rainy winter season the majority of goats are dressed in sweatshirts (or coats as I call them because it rhymes). I don’t think that will fail to bring a smile to my face in the six months that I’m here.
Fortunately I am living with a lovely group of people. Being here has made me appreciate the importance of team dynamics, particularly when you can’t leave the house. So far it has been great fun, with birthday celebrations, people happy to make cakes and also cook lots of their national food. We have had dinners of mixed Afghan, Chinese and Filipino dishes. MSF is above all an international organisation.
As for the main reason that I’m here: the babies. That will need a whole other blog post. What I have encountered in my short time here has made me so sad but has also given me hope that the care of babies and small infants is something MSF can have a big impact on, here in Timurgara. At present there is little—if any—basic quality healthcare for the smallest and most vulnerable patients.