Pakistan: And off I went to Bajaur

Sarah blogs about the start of her assignment in Bajaur, in the north-west of Pakistan...

Prior to joining MSF, I had enjoyed an academic career, encompassing teaching, research, and a brief studentship. These bits of varied experiences had kept me away from clinical work for four long years. And now I ached to be a doctor again. At the same time, I wondered if it was the right thing to do.

Luckily, my concerns were adequately addressed since MSF had arranged a training for me at Timergara DHQ Hospital which helped me ease back into clinical work.Timergara, a town I had never heard of before, along with the hospital turned out to be a pleasant little surprise. After a week of orientation, I left for Nawagai, an even smaller set up than Timergara, awaiting what surprises it had to offer to me.

My choice of going to a far and remote area had been questioned multiple times by myself and others

I had anticipated my first journey to Bajaur to be nerve-wrecking. I had even prepared myself to feel scared. After all, my choice of going to a far and remote area had been questioned multiple times by myself and others around.

But for someone who comes from one of the biggest cities in the plain regions of the country, the journey in fact turned out to be delightful. As we left Timergara behind, the landscape changed pleasantly over the next two hours. People in cars moving through concrete streets were replaced by scenic beauty of giant mountains and green fields.

Weaving around Koh-e-Moor, the mightiest mountain in Bajaur about two hours later, I realized my anticipation had long given way to amazement at the picturesque beauty around. It took away all the anxiety that I could have possibly felt approaching a new and remote area.

The hospital with the mountains in the background

The hospital. Photo: Nasir Ghafoor / MSF

My first week at this small hospital made me see a few things that were different from the tertiary care hospitals in my city.

The sky tells how many patients you might receive that day. If you see clouds, you will not have many or maybe any patients. The only people you do see are the ones who are very sick or are there to receive their treatment for cutaneous leishmaniasis. Most of the children you see waddling into the ER sniffing back tears are there to receive their meglumine injections, upon receiving which they break into a full blown crying episode.

A few days after my arrival in Nawagai, uncertain as to when I would get access to internet again, I sat on the steps right outside my room which open into a small backyard. I held my breath as I gazed around at the overwhelming backdrop that surrounded me. I counted four mountains, seven trees, two daffodils and one national flag fluttering in the distance. Sitting there I took in the sweet fresh air of Bajaur and it felt right.