Tomorrow will be an emotional day as I disembark my final passengers in my role as the doctor of the MV Aquarius, a rescue ship in the Mediterranean jointly operated by MSF and SOS Mediteranee. I have seen approximately 4,000 people off this ship over the past four months and I always feel uneasy for them as they face their new life but I’m also uneasy about my life after working on this boat – a task that has completely consumed me.
The past four months have gone by quickly, though some days felt as though they would never end. My time on the Aquarius has been as full of peaks and troughs as a sea in a storm.
- Looking for a boat reported by a plane to be in distress, sinking, with people in the water, and being unable to find it.
- Helping our wonderful midwife, Jonquil, deliver a healthy baby on board.
- Working with passengers to gather information in an effort to identify people who had drowned when their boat took on water.
- Watching the most amazing reunion when a father saw that his children and wife, believed to be dead, were alive and being transferred onto our boat.
- Telling women that they were pregnant as the result of rape.
- Working with incredible people from around the world who put their lives on hold to try to save lives in the Mediterranean.
- Failing to resuscitate a young man who collapsed on deck in the middle of the night.
- Hearing that the woman in labour whom we medevac’d off the boat had had an emergency C-section and that mother and baby were doing well.
- Diagnosing scurvy and severe malnutrition in several groups of people.
- Hearing that passengers had given the MSF/SOS team a standing ovation when team passed by the reception centre on the way to dinner (I missed this by opting for sleep instead of food).
What am I thinking after almost four months at sea? I am overwhelmed by emotion. As with all of my MSF missions, I have seen both the best and the worst of humanity. I remain incensed by the lack of political will to save the lives of those who cross the Mediterranean in desperate search of a better future. I fail to understand why safe passage cannot be negotiated for those trying to live a life without war, discrimination, poverty, stigma, and persecution. I am confused by the money that flows towards tightening border controls rather than improving the lives of people in their home countries.
But I am left with hope. I see the hope in the eyes of the passengers of Aquarius. The hope that their hellish journey across Africa, the Sahara, Libya, and the Mediterranean will lead to some form of a better life. I see the new MSF/SOS team members coming on board each rotation and know that there are other people in this world who are trying to stem the senseless tsunami of deaths in the Mediterranean (more than 5,000 people in 2016). I have hope that beyond my medical skills that my presence has prevented someone from suffering alone. I choose to believe in the words of iconic Canadian politician, Jack Layton:
“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world.”