Afghanistan - the "Hollywood" of MSF missions

Working life is hectic at Boost hospital with the number of patients growing daily and patients often on the floor in the rooms, as we have no more bed space available. However the nights and weekends can seem long punctuated only by a re-invigorating trip to Kabul every 6 weeks.

I am now at the half-way point of my mission here in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan. I have been here for four months.  I remember everyone’s surprise that I would consent to come to such a “dangerous” place, and how concerned my family was about my safety. To be honest, I was a little worried, myself, but I felt that I should come, so here I am.  I knew that there might be some explosions or the sounds of gunfire, and I was prepared for that. All I knew about Afghanistan was what I had seen on television, but I felt I was ready.

Who would have foretold that I would actually be bored? Yes, that’s right. Bored! Not that the work is boring; far from it. I am responsible for the Female General Medical and Surgical Ward, and have recently also taken on responsibility for the Emergency Department, and the Outpatient Department. Boost Hospital is a busy hospital, and the number of patients is growing daily. We often have patients on the floor in the rooms, as we have no more bed space available. We see all sorts of patients, with plenty of burns and trauma, and a huge assortment of acute and chronic diseases. As you can imagine, there is always lots of work to do, and the days pass quickly.

What can be incredibly tedious are the nights and weekends. We all live together in a compound, surrounded by cement walls. Because of the tight security restrictions, we do not leave the compound except to travel to work and back. Otherwise, we are always in our compound, with little to do. We do our best to entertain ourselves with games and movies. I am studying French with a computer program I brought from home. We have a small gym that some of the expats use to relieve some of the daily pressures. Some of us find solace in our music.  I find myself longing for a good restaurant, or even a long walk. The weeks flow by, with weekends spent doing laundry, cooking, and a lot of reading. Now that the winter is over, team life is a little better, as people are venturing outside again, and we often meet on our patio for cups of tea, and chats. Not exactly the adventurous life one expects.

I find myself counting the days until I can go to Kabul for a long weekend, and get out into a nice restaurant, see some new faces, or do a little shopping. We are sent to Kabul for a long weekend every six weeks, and while most of us whine that we’d rather just stay at home and lie around, we always come back more rested and invigorated than we expected. This also gives us a chance to stock up on our personal supplies, and the always dwindling chocolate reserves in the kitchen. We do have to be careful not to buy too much, or we face a lecture at the ICRC (International Committee for the Red Cross) plane, when we weigh our luggage for the trip from Kabul back to Lashkar Gah. Our luggage is always too heavy, and we always get a lecture, but in fairness, they always allow us to bring what we’ve packed, so we can’t complain. The rest of the team is amazingly happy at whatever goodies we’ve managed to haul back for them.

In exchange for our monotonous life, we are given some things that other missions would never dream of having.  We have a television, and a Wii game, and a microwave in the kitchen. We have flush toilets and hot showers, and we all have our own rooms. Really, from mission standards, the Hollywood of projects! Not exactly the doctors riding on donkeys image we have of MSF, but this is the reality of our mission. Yes, there are occasional sounds of war. The biggest challenge for myself, however, has been the monotony. It is two more weeks until my long weekend in Kabul, and I am already counting the days.