The party

A farewell party in Kunduz can take many different forms. Tonight we are doing a typically Afghan barbeque:  mutton kebab seasoned with mirch and hora – delectable to say farewell to Dr Helena with the help of her favourite patient.  

It’s been a busy day in the hospital: the wards are just about full, the out-patient department is bustling and the emergency room has received many patients, including two with gunshot wounds. One survives and is taken to the operating theatre and then the intensive care unit. When the sun sets everyone is still running around tying up a loose end here and quickly double checking something there. We almost forget about the party!

Now, there is nothing unusual about a farewell party in Kunduz. With the high number of expats in the project, a high turnover is to be expected. A farewell can take many different forms. Tonight, for example, we are doing a typically Afghan barbeque:  mutton kebab seasoned with mirch and hora – delectable. Along with this we have fresh naan and salad, and a cup of hot chai to round off the meal. Of course no one comes for the food (though I wouldn’t blame them if they did), they are coming to see the ICU [intensive care unit] doctor who is leaving.


Food for a king © Stefan Kruger

I follow my nose to the back of the hospital to find the fires already lit. There is some lovely meat sizzling away over the coals and I begin contemplating how I will pilfer a piece without the head chef (cum ICU cleaner) noticing. The arrival of the guest of honour gives me the perfect diversion. She has been working until now and seems relieved to finally be out of the ICU. She is happy to see all the colleagues and friends who came, but what obviously delights her most is the arrival of the next guest. He used to be her favourite patient, now he is her favourite friend.

We first met Karim when he had sustained a severe head injury, he was comatose and from the start his survival was doubtful. He was admitted to the ICU for many days, operated on and re-admitted to ICU. Long story short:  his family took him to a Neurosurgical centre in Pakistan when MSF could no longer help. Days later he returned but still needed some basic care and antibiotics, which MSF provided. He was discharged from MSF and walked out of the hospital with his family. I’m not saying that MSF saved his life nor that we can take full credit for the fortunate outcome; what I am saying is that it has been a privilege to be involved in his story. There are enough tragic stories in Kunduz, so when a case does turn out as well as Karim’s we are pleased (to say the least!)

Tonight he has come to say goodbye to his dear friend, who will be leaving Kunduz tomorrow. They pose for a few pictures and make a few jokes in broken English and Dari, respectively. After the speeches, Karim, only six, gets up and counts to 35 in English (his third language). We suggest that he becomes a Neurosurgeon one day. Karim agrees. He is just adorable.

The star of the party

Dr Helena and her favourite patient © Stefan Kruger