Mixed emotions

It's been a while since I last wrote. A lot has happened since then.

It's been a while since I last wrote. A lot has happened since then. Our clinic extension project was a success and our contractors did a brilliant job, but sadly about 2 days after we got enough office space to work properly things started to go wrong: At first the circuit breakers cut off our power occasionally, but within a few days the clinic was only able to get power if we turned off all the fridges and air conditioning units. Our clinic is quite nice when it is air conditioned. When it isn't, I quickly realised that our structures are essentially insulated metal boxes sitting in the sun. The temperature was somewhere between 40 and 50 and that's not a great environment to provide medical care, to counsel someone or to try and do any sort of work. So myself, my new logistical assistant, various drivers and some wonderful guys from the hospital spent the Easter holiday rewiring the clinic. I now appreciate air conditioning more than ever. Digging trenches in the sun to run the cables was hard work, but I made good friends.

I'm starting to feel a real bond with Papua New Guinea and the wonderful people I work with and live around. Before I left I was worried that by now I might be missing the home comforts (after 2 weeks in Sri Lanka all I wanted was a bath and a cheese burger) but now what worries me the most is that I won't want to leave. Talking to some visitors recently they made a comment about the frequent violence in Papua New Guinea. It's impossible to deny that violence is common here, but the same can also be said for London, England where I lived before. What is also impossible to deny is the warmth of the people. I was worried before I came to a new culture that I might not fit in, that my different cultural background might make it difficult to understand the Melanesian way of doing things. But I've learned that there are far more similarities than differences between Scotland and PNG.

Noah (driver), Awaro (dog handler), Ramson (rottweiller), Yako (guard).

Photo: C Houston | Our guardhouse. (Left to right) Noah (driver), Awaro (dog handler), Ramson (rottweiller), Yako (guard).

And just when I'm starting to feel really warm I actually have to shut my ears and eyes to the horrors of the clinic. An older women who reminds me of my grandmother staggers in, aided by our security guard. She has been bashed badly around the face and has no energy to walk. She is our first client and I suspect she has been waiting for us to open. Our doctor tells me of a patient who escaped to the clinic after years of beatings and having being tied to, and tortured on, a crucifix. We have yet another woman who's nose has been bitten off.

That the media has been picking up on the issue and the fact that 67% of women experience rape in PNG (90% in the highlands) shows that we have so much more to do here. 4 times a week now we go to outreach. I think most of Lae now knows of our clinic, but the concept of free healthcare is always a source of amazement for the people we meet.

As I learn about the medicine we use, I discover that the ones in liquid form are for infants who can't take tablets. It's impossible not to be reminded of this as I count or move medicines used to treat sexually transmitted infections in liquid form.

So still, I'm spending most of my time at some emotional extreme. Sick and angry to think of people raping children. Amazed to interview security guards who tell me about the history of MSF at their job interviews or my log assistant who first heard about MSF in a Rambo film, who travelled down from the highlands for a job interview the day after the word of mouth message got to him that we wanted to interview him. Sick to hear parents bashing their kids who were raped because now their daughter can't demand a high bride price. Humble when strangers approach me to thank me for MSF's services. It's tests my principles when someone asks at outreach "suppose my friends and I rape a girl, can we come to your clinic for the medicines to protect us from AIDS". The counsellor talking is stuck for words and I butt in with a "No." I explain, "We don't use the term 'victims' to describe those who suffer from sexual violence, we say 'survivors'. But we are here to treat those who are raped. Not those who rape. If you come to our clinic - I'll turn you away." I'm a little bit unhappy with the question, but I hope he was just being hypothetical. The audience clearly don't like his question much either and he stays quiet. I worry that I might have been too assertive with him, but later the girls reassure me they would have said the same.