Extra passenger

“The taxi driver holds a bundle of rags and blankets in his hands.”


“The taxi driver holds a bundle of rags and blankets in his hands.”


Everyone sits in the car and the gate swings open smoothly so that we can leave the compound. For the first time I will see one of the two projects that we support with our team. For the first few minutes we drive through the city. The storekeepers are opening their shops and children are travelling to school — usually on bikes that are too big. The asphalted road takes us to the edge of the city, then the driver exits the roundabout and we leave the town centre behind us, continuing on a dark grey stripe through an extremely arid landscape—a landscape that represents a hard life for the people who live here. After several kilometres we shift to the left lane and slow down and I notice a familiar logo. A large steel gate opens and we enter a small courtyard. We’ve arrived at our Mother and Child Healthcare (MCH) centre at Kuchlak.


Following the corridors I walk through the centre with the coordinator. I meet dozens of doctors, nurses, cleaners, extension workers and midwives. Fortunately, I’ve heard so many names in the week prior to this visit that linking the faces to the names is pretty easy. The three doctors who sit in their offices surrounding a waiting room only shake my hand or just nod their heads. They proceed with their patients quickly; despite the fact that it’s Ramadan, the waiting area is full. More detailed introductions can be done at a later stage.


The most important man in the centre for my team – the ‘Log’ – is waiting in a small room. He is the man who ensures that everything non-medical continues to work in this centre. He has been waiting for me to start with a tour. We first walk to the two main logistical facilities: the generator and the water tank. The centre is connected to the local electricity network, and since the capacity of the network is not sufficient, the electricity is distributed among different geographical areas, which means that a number of times per day there is no electricity in the centre. With a birthing unit that is operational 24/7, electricity is essential. At these moments the generator provides backup electricity. However, unlike with the electricity, there is no water system present in Quetta. Water is supplied daily in water tanks pulled by colorful tractors. Given the arid environment in which we are working this system has proven to be effective.


While walking through the centre I notice red frames hung with five steel buckets that are filled with sand and marked with: “Fire”. Throughout the centre I had seen fire extinguishers that were checked and filled. But since the majority of patients don’t know how they should be used, why not offer an old, familiar system? And for a small fire, the buckets with sand are at least as effective.


While I’m checking my notes from the day, a taxi reverses down the narrow gravel path and stops just in front of the birthing unit. I see that the taxi driver is holding a bundle of rags and blankets in his hands. Through a small opening I can see the fine sight of a baby just a few hours old, the eyes firmly closed. The driver sits motionless, waiting for the mother to be guided to the car by the grandmother of this small baby. With a smooth motion, the driver gives the baby to grandma and he leaves again, bringing an extra passenger into the barren landscape.


Other patients are waiting their turn outside one of the buildings. From some of the faces I’ve seen today, it is easy to see a reflection of the arid landscape: faces like those often shown on magazine covers and in newspaper articles back home. Faces now secretly watching me read my notes.


When it’s time for us to go back to the compound where we are based, the line of patients has disappeared. The doctor in charge tells me that it was a quiet day when she joins us in the vehicle. Quiet? This is something I need to check. Quiet, busy, crazy: concepts that have different meanings for different people in different places. A small team is left behind to assist the women that were expected to deliver during the night; the rest of the team returns to the compound. The city has now really come to life; the shelves out on the street are emptier now, less meat is hanging in the windows and the shelves with newspapers are almost empty.


When we drive back into the compound and the gate closes behind us, I can sit down with the logistics team and discuss some of the construction works in the centre. Let’s see how these types of projects are being addressed here. I’m looking forward to it.


(This blog was written earlier in my mission.)