We have projects throughout the country in Yemen. One of our main projects is the Ad Dhale Project. This area is south of the capital and is a much warmer climate. The Ad Dhale Project covers 4 areas with smaller projects in Ad Dhale, Qatabah, Al Azariq and Damt.
Spending time in a project is an entirely different experience than working in the capital. As part of my job, I visit the projects to assist in training and finance support issues. This past month, I visited my first project. Even though it isn’t that far of a distance, the total travel time took 9 hours to get there and 11 hours to return. This was mostly due to having to stop for checkpoints and we also stopped at a couple of MSF hospitals along the way.
When I walked into the first hospital, I was kind of shocked that it was even a functioning building. It was old and dilapidated. The observation room had a patient table with rips in the upholstery. The walls were severely cracked and it looked like something someone had abandoned. Even so, it was clean. I don’t have any sort of medical background, and it is not too often that I have visited hospitals. But this was beyond anything I could have imagined and nothing like a hospital in Canada. I am not sure if the second hospital I visited was any better or worse. It too was run down, with posters printed and taped to the walls that were torn and ragged. The paint was peeling and the furniture was very old. By the time I toured the third hospital, I think the shock had worn off a bit. The hospital was still run down, but I guess what else could I expect in a country in the midst of such a conflict?
My visits of the hospitals made me think a lot about what it meant to be a patient here in Yemen. I saw the faces of sick children and the concern in the eyes of the mothers. I saw the pain in the body of a man who limped by me with a bloody and torn shirt. There were many patients so bandaged and broken. Maybe because I work in the finance office and not in the hospitals, I sometimes forget how bad it really is for the people we are helping.
MSF makes a great effort to be accepted into the communities and to respect the local culture. For this reason, we wear both the Hijab and the Abaya during our visit. This means wearing it during travel and during the entire workday. In the heat, I found the Hijab to be very uncomfortable. I spoke with some of the women about how they felt about it, and they all said I would get used to it, and it didn’t bother them at all. Also, I think people acclimatize to the heat, so for me, it probably felt a lot hotter than it would for anyone who lives there. There are probably tricks to the way you wrap it and for me it just kept falling off and I had to redo it tighter. It was really difficult for me to manage.
Much like the capital, the staff in the projects works very long hours. But it is the little things that made me appreciate my life in the capital all that much more. In the project, the internet is unbearably slow, and that is when emails send and receive at all. Also the food choices are quite limited. For example butter is not available (neither is a toaster). In the office there was only a squat toilet, but at the house there was one squat toilet but also (thankfully) one European style toilet.
The expat house was pretty basic; although I feel lucky there was a house at all. I have heard that in many missions, that in the projects, the expats live in tents. But here in Ad Dhale the expats live in an actual house. The house was small and only one floor. There was no yard, and a large cement wall surrounded it, so it was very dark and there was no view at all. My room was not an original room in the house, but was part of the living room that was made into a makeshift room. The house was old, but functional. Still somehow, the staff doesn’t complain. We all got together for a movie night in front of the TV, and other than the mosquitoes that taunted me throughout watching the movie; it was nice to spend time together.