Fieldset
Strength in the face of pain

I have just returned from holidays and can see my sleep patterns changing already. The soothing sounds of the waves crashing on the shore are a much nicer bedtime lullaby than the constant roar of the fighter jets. I will no doubt acclimatise again soon.

I have just returned from holidays and can see my sleep patterns changing already. The soothing sounds of the waves crashing on the shore are a much nicer bedtime lullaby than the constant roar of the fighter jets. I will no doubt acclimatise again soon.

When I landed in Islamabad after leave I made sure I consciously took in as much as I could. The young girls and boys at the traffic lights washing windows hoping for some change; the cows being herded on the high-speed highway; and the boys playing cricket on the dusty makeshift pitch in the midday sun. I am used to the sights and sounds by now, but I still want to make sure I capture it all in my memory to take home when this is all over.

Life in Quetta on my return is as busy as ever. Despite restricted movements, I still find myself with little time left at the end of the day for anything other than rest. It is a place of strange dichotomies. On the one hand I see a laid-back style of living, where it takes a long time for anything to get done and where the sense of time is loose, at best. On the other hand, there is an urgency in many of the people I meet. I’m not sure if this is representative of the place I am living in, or the organisation I am working for. There is an urgency and pace that I have found unique to the world of humanitarian aid.

I see this even on the streets of Quetta. The pedestrians and wheelbarrows; donkeys and carts; horses and carriages; and vendors with transportable fruit and vegetable carts all share the road with the rickshaws; buses; motorbikes with an array of cargo and passengers; and cars speedily manoeuvring through traffic. The slow pace of the pedestrians and the animals, compared with the urgency of the motorised vehicles. It’s a confused but glorious sight.

As always I am humbled by the clients that come through the mental health program. There is something quite moving about a woman whose life is filled with such hardship that her only relief is to imagine it being over. “I am just waiting for my death,” she says sadly, but with grace and dignity. Despite the pain in her life, she continues to persevere, knowing she is all that her children have.

I am also incredibly humbled by the bravery of the children here. I watched today as a young boy of no more than eight years old came to the clinic for his regular cutaneous leishmaniasis treatment (a skin disease I had never heard of before coming here). The lesion was on his right cheek, and he endured — with no tears and barely a sound — the incredibly painful experience of having an injection in his cheek. I am told it must be done slowly, and with some degree of force because of the body’s resistance. His feet moved back and forth as his way to cope with the pain. But no tears, and no complaints. This is neither the first nor the last time that he will go through this. I think about my own level of pain tolerance and wonder if I could endure what he does with such strength and with no complaint.