Obstetrics in Nigeria: Kiss Day

Jared Watts is an obstetrician-gynaecologist from Australia. He's on his first placement with Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors without Borders, in northern Nigeria.

Today is 'kiss' day.

Yep, I was also a bit confused (and slightly shocked!) when told to be up at 7am and ready for the 'kiss'. Thankfully, I soon discovered it wasn't 'racy', as my grandmother would say. But it was the way in which I would be getting from MSF's Nigerian headquarters in the capital, Abuja, to Jahun, where I'll be working.

Image shows Jared, who wears an MSF t-shirt and glasses, standing next to the sign for Jahun General Hospital

Jared outside the hospital in Jahun. Photo: MSF

A car would leave Jahun at approximately the same time as we would leave Abuja, and we would meet, or 'kiss', in the middle. Those of us who were transferring would then jump from one car to the other, and the vehicles would then return to their respective bases.

Today we will be having quite a large 'kiss', with eight people leaving for Jahun.

Today is also the first time I will be wearing my MSF t-shirt. The cars will also have flags attached to the front bullbars, proudly flying the MSF logo. The logo is visually very interesting with the half-red, half-white figure and the French words Médecins Sans Frontières proudly making up the bottom half of the logo. For many years it has allowed MSF safe passage, protection and the ability to enter and operate in some of the world's most significant conflict zones. The logo on its own obviously has no significant power, but it is what it represents that allows MSF to undertake its medical and humanitarian work in the difficult political, geographic and war-torn areas.

Image shows two MSF land cruiser cars back to back, transferring patients between the two

An example of a 'kiss' occurring between two MSF vehicles in Ivory Coast. Photo: Jean-Christophe Nougaret / MSF

During the field worker orientation week, we spent a whole day focusing on safety while in the field. One may have expected that if you are going into the kinds of areas that MSF works, this would have involved talking about armed guards, escorts and large fortresses with tall walls. However it was quite the opposite. 

For many years the MSF logo has allowed safe passage, protection and the ability to enter and operate in some of the world's most significant conflict zones.

MSF has quite an impressive safety record for its projects around the world. Rather than relying on physical defences, MSF's safety comes from its reputation and actions, represented by its logo. People know that when they see the MSF flag flying, or see a person wearing the white MSF shirt with logo, that they will be treated and cared for irrespective of their race, gender, religion, nationality, political affiliations or economic status. That the care they will receive will be of the highest standard possible, and provided without expected payment. MSF's reputation of being impartial, and important and of value to the communities it serves, provides it with the ultimate protection and safety.

Images shows a street in Jahun

On the streets of Jahun. Photo: Kathryn Norgang / MSF

While only having been on my first placement for four days now, I have already seen MSF's reputation, represented by the logo, in action many times. When I arrived at the immigration desk and presented my papers with the MSF letterhead, my passport could not be stamped quickly enough and I was warmly welcomed by the previously stern looking guards. I have seen gates quickly opened for vehicles bearing the MSF logo, and while we have been travelling along, many people stop and wave as the MSF convoy drives pass. It feels like people recognise the logo and understand MSF's ideology and the work they are doing, and want to help, or at least just wave and say 'thanks'.

My t-shirt is too white at the moment, showing I'm still a newbie!

Over the next six weeks I'll proudly wear the MSF t-shirt (which I have been told is too white at the moment, showing I'm still a newbie!) and look forward to upholding MSF's values by providing the highest level of care to everyone based on their need.

Right, it's 7am, time to start the 'Kiss!'