We have a nice home with 5 bedrooms, hot running water and a place to sit outside at night as it is currently uncomfortably hot to sit inside much of the time. (Apologies to all the other MSF volunteers dodging mortars in sandy desserts).
Like all the houses in our neighbourhood we have a razor-wire fence and guards, with a dog a night. So I immediately make it my priority to meet the neighbours, to walk about and to talk to the people who sit on the street. I am pleased to see wide grins and warm people where ever I go. Just like Scotland, people are pleased to know their neighbours. A smile and a handshake is well received.
I decide to buy a thermos flask for both our sets of guards (home and clinic) and to make them coffee when the nightshift starts. I am horrified when I realise one morning that I have confused the salt and sugar jars - our guards have been too polite to tell me that I have been adding 4 spoons of salt to their coffee.
At the clinic our "neighbour" is the hospital who provide the land we use for our little clinic. The clinic consists of 5 demountable buildings linked under a canopy. Our battered, bruised and bleeding customers are patched up and provided with counseling from our wonderful expatriate and local staff. We also provide basic advice on their legal rights and will talk them through the legal system. Some arrive via the hospital, some arrive straight to us. I frequently shiver with horror when I see them arrive with congealed blood and obvious injuries. Between rushing about I'll give the waiting people water, as they always seem too meek to help themselves to the free water. Many of the people I see are also men, who are also welcome as patients in the clinic. The men might also be concerned brothers, uncles or fathers. And they might also be the perpetrators of the injuries. We welcome all and (providing they behave decently and do not carry weapons) so I always try to imagine they are the concerned brother and not the violent husband. I frequently find myself having to splash water on my face to try and clear my mind or taking a walk around the back of the clinic where it is quiet to get myself together after seeing a wailing client stagger in though our doors.
Our clients tend to fit into three categories: domestic violence, sexual violence from strangers, sexual violence from within the extended family. But as I said below, the first categories inevitably tend to also be the victims of sexual violence too. I'm on a bit of a roller coaster of emotions between enthusiasm surrounding my new job, pride in working for MSF and helpless horror when I see and hear our patients. I could hear one today screaming in one of our counseling rooms.