Fieldset
First weeks in the House of Stone

In Shona, the indigenous language of the country  Zimbabwe means 'House of Stone'. There is not a more precise way to describe Zimbabwean people as they are adamantine: like stone in the way they face difficulties.

In Shona, the indigenous language of the country  Zimbabwe means 'House of Stone'. There is not a more precise way to describe Zimbabwean people as they are adamantine: like stone in the way they face difficulties. You really see this in the tough economic situation faced by the country that has resulted in a high unemployment rate.

In a way I can identify with this, as I had to develop a certain degree of resilience to make the decisions that brought me here. Leaving a rewarding job and a secure routine full of comforts in a metropolis to face the unknown was a hard decision.  It turns out that sometimes in order to make some sense of life we need to risk it all. Today, I’m sure I made the right choice.

Zimbabwe welcomed me warmly, in ways that I could never have imagined. Here, it is common that strangers greet each other when passing in the streets. “Good morning” and “Good afternoon” are constantly used, regardless of the context. Initially, I was convinced that there was an ulterior motive behind the friendliness.  I thought people were greeting me as an approach to either offer me something for sale or even ask for something. It turned out to be nothing like that. Zimbabwean people are simply polite, pleasant and very courteous.

Since my arrival I have had many 'first-time' experiences. Things like sleeping with a mosquito net (the area I am based in  has a high rate of malaria), eating with my hands, speaking my first words in Shona (Mamuka Sei, Maskuera Sei, Makadini), looking at the wonderfully starry sky, and meeting people from many different places. (By the way, all this will be a separate chapter in the blog.)

The diversity of international staff's nationalities creates a platform for exchanging ideas and knowledge. For example, in my spare time, a colleague, a Swedish doctor, gives me ukelele lessons. In return, I teach her how to use Excel, so she can analyse the medical history of her patients more successfully. My supervisor, the project coordinator,  spent six years in Mozambique, also with MSF, and we occasionally speak in Portuguese in order for her to practice the language.

This is my first assignment with MSF, and I’m responsible for the logistics of  a project in Chipinge district, which is very close to the border with Mozambique. So it is not uncommon to occasionally hear someone speaking Portuguese in the surrounding area. My job is rewarding and challenging. Among many other things, we facilitate rehabilitation work in district clinics and hospitals to support the Ministry of Health.  Usually, MSF projects in Zimbabwe are focused on HIV and AIDS. We also provide tuberculosis (TB) care (one of the opportunistic infections that can affect people with the HIV virus). The project I work in is also about to commence a program for non-communicable diseases. These are illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma among others.

In spite of not having any direct contact with patients, I do pay attention to my medical colleagues’ stories. Last week, a colleague from Kenya, also a doctor, was with a 17-old patient weighing approximately 23kg (around 51 lb). The patient  was HIV-positive and had tuberculosis. In other cases, HIV-positive children also come to the hospitals and clinics of our program.

I’m sure I’m in the right place at the right time. Working with MSF is rewarding in every way and it’s wonderful to know that I make a difference in the lives of so many people.