I’ll be leaving Seattle for the Democratic Republic of Congo in 24 hours. It will be my second time working as an MSF surgeon, just six months after having spent five weeks doing surgery in the Central African Republic. This time I’ll be traveling to eastern DRC, near Lake Kivu in their Great Lakes region, to a hospital in the town of Rutshuru.
MSF has been providing humanitarian relief services at their Rutshuru hospital since 2005. What I’ve been told about the project in Rutshuru is that it is a cooperative venture with the Ministry of Health in the DRC. The surgery service is under the auspices of MSF and usually staffed with three surgeons, sometimes only two during a change-over. In 2011 on average there were 424 operations performed each month at the hospital. Almost all the surgeries were for either trauma, emergency surgical problems or caesarean sections for childbirth. An anesthetist I met on my last assignment had worked in Rutshuru in 2010 and she described it as a busy and efficient hospital surrounded by dramatically beautiful countryside. A quick Google search shows that Rutshuru is within 50 km of the Virunga National Forest, a previous tourist destination for gorilla watching safaris, as well as Mount Virunga, a semi-active volcano that last erupted in 2002.
Like an overconfident sophomore who figures he learned all the important stuff his first year at college, I’m feeling relaxed about the trip, other than my ongoing regrets for leaving the kids for another month and the final preparations for leaving home for almost five weeks that have been left for the last few days. Packing for this trip will be easier than the last and I’ll finish it today. I’ll pretty much duplicate what I took last time with just a few changes; an extra pair of sandals, fewer pants, a few more Clif bars, fewer tee shirts (I can always wear an MSF tee if I run out), extra electric outlet adapters so that I can charge a computer, i-phone and camera simultaneously when the opportunity arises, a light weight merino sweater as the nights may get cool plus fewer books (I decided to enter the world of e-readers and splurged on a Kobo Arc).
I’ve also had the chance to do some pre-trip reading and “research” including re-reading Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”, reading parts of “King Leopold’s Ghost” and all of “In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz”, trying to familiarize myself with who’s who in the current mix of the political and military players in the DRC and re- watching “Dark of the Sun” (an old 60’s war movie with Rod Taylor and Jim Brown set in what was then called the Belgian Congo, IMBd says it is one of Quentin Tarantino’s guilty pleasures to watch).
Tomorrow I’ll fly out of Seattle in the afternoon. After a few brief stops and plane changes, I’m scheduled to arrive in Kigali, Rwanda just 26 hours later where it will be around 2am and I should be met by someone from MSF. From there, I’ll travel by road to Goma in the DRC, then north to Rutshuru. I’ll write more when I get there.