Opening the New Mountain project has kept everyone busy for the past few months in terms of movement, exchanging and training staff, setting up new primary health care units (PHCUs), supplying medical stocks, and following up on activities. The goal for MSF has been to decentralize primary health care into the remotest areas possible. The rationale is to treat people so they can continue to live on rather than wait for them to show up at our doorstep holding on to their last breath. This was a strategic move, as we are seeing more and more patients at the PHCUs far exceeding the initial number of patients estimated.
Various teams did an exploration in the New Mountain and, during debriefing, described one thing rampant in this area: snakes…!! When one of the team described an encounter with a baby cobra, I knew that I would not be visiting this area. As plans were made and more people started traveling up there, I just laid back and observed, secretly hoping that my turn to go would not come too soon.
Finally, the day came when I had to go. Pharmacy activities in the mountains had to be assessed, since everything had been running remotely from Yida for the past three years. My PharmaCo, who I was hoping could make the trip, was out of the country. My project coordinator of course put it very sweetly that I don’t have to go if I don’t feel comfortable. But again, what is comfortable in the field…!?
After a couple of days of contemplation, meditation, visualization, discussion, and the desire to overcome my deep fear of snakes, I decided to make the field visit into New Mountain. Off I went with one of my staff, Adjago. The three and half hours ride from Yida was bumpy to say the least, but I felt free. This was my first road trip out of the camp since my arrival in January. I always wondered if this vast piece of land was known as the New Mountains because it had lots of mountains, but it’s just a lot of small rocky hills and valleys. It’s still beautiful.
One thing I noticed during the trip up the New Mountain was how the inhabitants build their houses very close to the base of each small rocky hill, blending the color of the houses to the hill. Each family builds a cluster of small huts together in one compound and if you are not close enough, you can’t really see the houses from afar. I later learned that this was a mechanism for the people to shield and protect themselves from the constant ongoing bombing.
In the mountains.
We visited a site , where MSF is the only provider of health care services. It felt like this population had been cut off from the rest of the world. No electricity, no taps for drinking water, no schools or supermarkets. I went to a small open market, which sells goods only on Wednesdays. As I walked around, it was clear to all that I’m not from the community. I watched how a trader selling green onions almost got trampled by a group of women trying to buy a stalk of this ingredient used for cooking. Food is scarce, ingredients used for cooking such as salt, maggi, oil, pepper, onion, tomatoes, ginger etc are even more so.
A local market.
My first night in the Nuba Mountains was very edgy and my senses were on super alert to anything even remotely like the noise of crawling. Day one went by and I didn’t see any crawling creatures, so I began to relax and enjoy the beautiful rocky mountain. And yes, I laid down in the open watching the fire flies, shooting stars, and stillness of the night…..for 10 minutes… :-). So, I’ll be making more trips to the Nuba Mountains until I come face to face with the unknown…!
Inpatient nurses at the New Mountain.