Fieldset
The power of play

Today I spent an hour in the company of a wonderful six-year-old patient building lego trains, driving mini matchbox cars around the floor of the counselling room, and tracing our hands on a piece of paper as though I was in primary school again. It makes this MSF gig sound pretty sweet.

Today I spent an hour in the company of a wonderful six-year-old patient building lego trains, driving mini matchbox cars around the floor of the counselling room, and tracing our hands on a piece of paper as though I was in primary school again. It makes this MSF gig sound pretty sweet. It is at times. So blissfully sweet. To see the smile and hear the laugh of a six-year-old boy with TB who spends his life in and out of hospital.

Hearing that giggle creates a natural high. All of this was happening while this boy’s mother was in a therapy session with one of the counsellors. Here, I’ve noticed that sometimes people forget that children feel too – they feel bored, angry, upset, forgotten. This boy had been admitted five days ago to the hospital. During that time, there was little in the way of psychosocial stimulation. No play, no drawing, no learning, limited conversation. I saw him lying on the bed, bored and lonely. His mother was clearly depressed and not in a position to be able to give him the psychological and emotional care that he required. He is in physical pain, no question; and receives medication for that. But isn’t physical pain made that much more bearable when a child is able to play? I think again about the things I’ve taken for granted.

Life is much easier for us adults when we can play also. What’s that saying about all work and no play? That’s the danger with MSF. There is always so much to do. Our expatriate team’s small saving grace is our natural gravitation toward a daily meal together at the dinner table. Regardless of how busy we are, we always seem to make time to sit with each other at the end of the day. Granted, much of the discussion is work related, which I often complain about! But it is still a routine I am grateful for.

One of the biggest perks of the last few months has been the “fabulous” people I’ve met from all corners of the globe. We sit at the dinner table and (other than work) we discuss everything from the etiquettes of sharing soap, to our favourite staples (there are frequent discussions about the merits of rice vs bread vs ugali vs noodles), to our encounters with snakes, spiders & scorpions.

I’m certain that some of these discussions are recycled across MSF projects across the globe. But some are ours alone, not to be shared with even the closest of friends or family. When in a state of such exhaustion, I’m sure very few of our conversations make sense to the outside world. But they keep us (marginally) sane in an insane world.

An insane world that results in someone’s entire family being killed in a bomb blast and them being left to deal with the complex emotions of grief, loss and guilt; someone else being required to flee from their homeland for fear of persecution and death & the subsequent feelings of loneliness and longing; someone being forced to marry at the youngest of ages & the fear, anger and depression that can come with that.

Play…oh how important it is to play…in spite of it all.