It really is like a small club of friends in MSF – everybody seems to know everybody! This week I discovered that our Psychiatrist worked with Elena (one of our psychologists in Gaza who also Blogs for MSF), Anne knows Michelle (Post-op Clinic Manager from Gaza), Debra was providing Anesthetics in the Sri Lanka project which I was originally hoping to join last summer, and Anne was working in the Yemen project (my alternate plan) which was suddenly closed, leaving me with the sad duty of golfing and fishing at the lake all of August.
I have agreed to extend my mission a bit to allow both Anesthesiologists here to take some vacation time. Those who know me will agree that I believe strongly in rest and relaxation. The interesting thing is that in order to extend my Jordanian Visa past one month, the government requires that I take an HIV test! If the result comes back positive my Jordanian Visa will be the LEAST of my problems.
As I mentioned last week, I was given a tour of the Hotel where patients remain during their convalescence. In the well-equipped Physiotherapy department, the staff has put up a poster demonstrating hand and finger movements (which I think is an ingenious maneuver to avoid confusing translations). I took a photo, partly for interest in the rehabilitation positions, but even more so for the title. You gotta love the French!
Our Pharmacist is into the full mind & spiritual health idea. She is a vegetarian, practices advanced Yoga, enjoys regular Chinese massage, avoids pharmaceuticals (showing true restraint, being a pharmacologist) and even dabbles in acupuncture. So when I heard the sound of birdsong coming from her room a few mornings ago, I naturally assumed she was playing a meditation soundtrack. It sounded just like the Ashley & Franks albums I acquired from a friend back home. You know what I mean – the sound of a dozen tropical birds twittering in the trees, making you imagine you are high in the Cloud Forest of Costa Rica. Turns out it was REAL birds in the eves outside her window. They must be celebrating the warm weather as much as I am!
The high point of the week (and of the Mission, so far) was our trip to al-Petra last weekend. Truly one of the most impressive sights of my long(ish) life! We made our way south from Amman by tour bus along the desert highway. I was a little worried about the bus-ride since I’ve been known to get a wee bit of motion sickness (read: Mallory-Weiss tear of the esophagus in the Caribbean) but I needn’t have worried. Once you leave Amman the highway heads due south for two hours,
then makes a hard right toward the Israeli border with only the occasional speed bump to slow traffic down at rest-stops along the way. We arrived at the bus station which stands right between our hotel and the main gates and had checked in, unloaded our bags and made it through the gates before 11 a.m.
Petra is a marvel of ancient settlement culminating in an advanced, wealthy trading civilization called the Nabateans, who eventually partnered with and succumbed to Roman influence. The main city centre, consisting of severaltemples and other buildings, is now reduced to rubble by earthquakes and the elements. The amazing feature of Petra is the Tombs carved directly into the mountain face (instead of the more traditional free-standing assembly). The entire valley is teeming with elaborate facades, sometimes with tiny crypts where bodies were laid to rest, occasionally with large multi-room chambers large enough to hold feasts or religious ceremonies.
Thetombs appear to have been commissioned by the wealthy, powerful or famous to be built after their deaths as a tribute (or perhaps to provide a more comfortable afterlife). Because of their proximity to the surrounding rock many have been protected from the weather and resisted 2000 years of erosion. The most notable(and the most well-known, in part due to the filming of “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) is the “Treasury”. This glowing work of art is the first thing a visitor sees when emerging from the 800 m long Siq (or gorge) entrance to the valley. Breathtakingly beautiful, the sandstone glows in the morning light like a beacon to travelers.
On our second day, we got up at 5:30 and passed through the gate even before the security personnel arrived. This enabled us to take an alternate route into the ancient city, following the Wadi Muthlim stream bed (impassable during the rainy season due to flash floods). We picked up two companions at the gate – dogs presumably belonging to the local Bedouin clan. While dogs are unpopular with (and even shunned by) most Arab communities, the Bedouin frequently keep them.
The dogs who joined us had some of the distinctive markings of border collies (which explained why they nipped at our heels and bounced around like delighted children when they realized we were going for a walk). The hike in was somewhat challenging what with the walls closing in to less than one metre in places and boulders blocking the way. At low points, residual water from last week’s snow and rain formed pools which had to be leaped, skirted or (once) waded through. “Lonely Planet – Jordan” was quite positive about the route, but my “Rough Guide” advised against wading due to the water snakes… I guess I should have read that BEFORE the trip! Our companions left us at an obstruction made up of two boulders and a 3 m expanse of water – we reluctantly left them behind, realizing they would have to find an alternate route home at the end of the hike (as would we).
We came out into the valley above the Royal Tombs, found a quiet place to sit and ate our Bedouin breakfast overlooking the glory of Petra. Not a soul was about – it was just after dawn and not even the local traders in jewelry, postcards and tea had come down from the town. The rest of the tourists hadn’t made it as far as we had yet, so we had Petra to ourselves (at least for a little while). Eventually the earliest Bedouin overtook us and we were invited by a lovely lady on donkey-back for après breakfast tea at her “shop”.
I had to laugh when two young men in traditional Jordanian attire passed us while listening to Bob Marley on their portable Boom Box. The music matched their dreadlocks (and strangely enough, their long black shirts and baggy trousers) perfectly! Next we made our way up to the “High Place of Sacrifice” (al-Madhbah), 170 m above the valley floor. The Royal Tombs are even more breathtaking from above, and from this vantage point cliff tombs & carvings spread out in all directions as far as the eye can see. To put things in perspective, the dark opening you see in the bottom of the tomb farthest to the right, is about 2 m tall (and in the following photo, the small white speck in the doorway is a tourist!)
The Negev of Israel lies to the west but due to the heat haze (or dust and sand) we were unable to see it. On the bus-ride back to Amman I realized this was the first real hike I have been on while on any mission with MSF and I was especially grateful I brought good hiking boots. Up until now, I have been satisfied with my Birkenstocks, which fill the role of hiking boots, shower flip-flops, house slippers, and occasionally operating room clogs. I even hiked to the top of Red Mountain once or twice to pick Saskatoons, not to mention wading through the flooded O.T. Tent in Gaza last February… It’s nice to be busy again – lots of plastic surgery and combined maxillofacial-plastics free flaps booked the next few weeks. I managed to have a senior moment and completely miss didactic rounds last week, so I was “volunteered” to give the next one. Between lecture preparations, 10-hour operations, shopping and cooking I now have full days. I even helped move a few cases of I.V. fluids around in the Pharmacy (now that I have pretty-much recovered from my New Year’s Eve hernia repair – I have been waiting for an opportunity to comment on the “comb-over” and self-imposed “Hemi-Brazilian”). Over-share alert!
Speaking of over-share – if you ever find yourself in a country with slightly tighter restrictions on personal attire than that in the West, try not to pull one of these… The End. So Far.