So, having completed my first month on site at the end of last week, I can truly say that I was tired in body and mind. Luckily, MSF recognises that working in a project like this can wear people down pretty quickly and thus makes it possible for staff to take regular breaks outside the “hot zone”. And this is how I came to spend this past weekend enjoying some serious chillage in Islamabad, the capital.
The MSF co-ordination team for all our projects in Pakistan is based in the capital and so I was able to stay in the expat house with some of the more senior staff, which was a good opportunity to build relationships and share news and info from the field. It was also a good opportunity to enjoy the wonders of air conditioning (I don’t think I have appreciated a modern convenience as much in my entire life!), eat some different food (though our usual diet on the project is tasty and appreciated, it does border on monotony at times…) and to see and experience a more open and relaxed side of Pakistan.
In Islamabad, the security situation is far more relaxed than in NWFP, which means we have a much greater freedom of movement. It was a real pleasure to be able to visit some of the markets and browse idly in books shops (this is one of my favourite things to do and I was very impressed with what was available). We were also able to go out at night and enjoyed some excellent hospitality at several of the cities many restaurants. But the highlight of the weekend for me was an afternoon stroll in the park. It was wonderfully freeing to be able to enjoy such a wide-open space and to feel like I was really “in” the place (since our usual restricted environment makes us quite apart from it all at times). Along with Fabio, a Brazilian expat doctor who is coming to the end of his time in Pakistan, I made an invigorating circuit of the very beautiful Jinnah Park, which is just over the road from the MSF office. We saw children at play, watched locals enjoying games of soccer and cricket and generally appreciated the normality of things here compared to our usual set up. It was an afternoon well spent and I will look forward to my next weekend off very much - they tell me there is a swimming pool and that sounds quite marvellous!