From the seaport town of Aden

It has been over a month since I last wrote and so much has happened.

It has been over a month since I last wrote and so much has happened.

I have spent three months in Aden and everyday is an eye opener. One of my many repeated lessons is that you cannot please everyone and any attempt to try will most likely result in one being certified a nervous wreck. The other is that the position of power does not make you many friends especially if you toe the straight and narrow!

The lessons have been as a result of daily experiences with people. I have learned not to be swayed by the pressure to grant favors and try to do everything by the book because many times the same people who had the favor granted them will turn around and accuse you of not being fair.

The last couple of weeks saw us admitting in one day several patients, all with multiple injuries, mostly gunshot wounds. We had a busy night mid-February and we declared a mass casualty event as we had exceeded our normal Emergency room capacity which is just 4-5 patients at the same time. It was interesting seeing how everyone pitched together to help but it was also a time to reassess our protocols and work on trying to smooth things out if we ever have so many patients at once.

One of the things I do together with the surgeons is to have meetings with patients and their relatives. For patients with extensive injuries and a long road to recovery this is very helpful as they are carried along with regard to treatment options and complications. Almost all of the caretakers are men except when we have little children which fortunately is not too often.

What has struck me most about these conferences is the response of the fathers to not so good news. On two occasions I have watched grown men break down and cry and in a society where being macho is what is projected most often this has left me very surprised but it’s a good reminder that beneath the label of ‘patient and caretaker’ there are real hearts and lives impacted by the injuries we see every day. The fathers in both cases had adult sons - one in his early 20’s and the other in his mid 40’s.

We have been able to go out more often since the security situation has improved. We do not go out during the week at all and are only allowed out on Friday/Saturday if the roads are clear. One of the drivers showed me on the way out the hotel where Queen Elizabeth II spent her honeymoon. Across the road from the hotel is a statue of Queen Victoria and there is a replica of the London Big Ben in the city.

Myself and Sandra (MSF Finance coordinator and HR) ready for the wedding © Tomi Lamikanra

I was able to attend a Yemeni wedding last weekend. We were invited by our bio-medical engineer who was getting married for the first time. We attended the third day of the three day wedding. This event was restricted to only females. It is a party given by the groom’s family in honor of the bride. It was a very nice wedding and one that gave one some insight into the lives of the females in the Yemeni society.

One of the first things I noticed on arrival in Yemen is that there are very few women outside. At the airport when I arrived, apart from the women who traveled on the same plane with me, there were no other women to be seen outside the airport. I arrived at about 7 pm. When you do see women they are completely covered in black abayas, and veiled. 

The wedding was a complete contrast to the picture I had earlier. On arrival at the venue which was a hall used for weddings, we (two other international Staff & I) went through two curtains into an antechamber where women were taking off the abaya. The transformation was stunning, under the black abayas, beautiful women emerged.

We met three of the national staff at the wedding and I was stunned when they stepped out of their abayas. They looked gorgeous and after weeks of seeing them only in black, the red, blue and green dresses they had on did them justice. Going into the hall my eyes were overwhelmed by the dazzling jewelry, shiny dresses, risqué styles many of the younger girls wore. Gone were the hijabs from their head, everyone had styled their hair in curls, ponytails, weaves and their hair was in display for all to see.

The bride came in with the groom about two hours after we got there and in a twinkling of an eye when it was announced that the groom would be coming in for a few minutes, all the colors disappeared and the black abayas once again made their appearance. Only the grooms sisters and mother remained unveiled.  

Weddings like this are said to be hunting grounds for the older women looking for wives for their sons. Age, Hair length, Family background, Size, manner of comportment are all assessed and eligible prospects are viewed and discreetly asked if they have a beau or are betrothed. The food was served Middle Eastern style. We sat on the floor and ate with our hands, rice and cow meat cooked so soft it melted in the mouth.

Dancing went on throughout the ceremony with the music coming from all over the Arabian world - Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Syria etc. It was nice to see the transformation of women I work with from shy reserved ladies into women able to have a lot of fun and dance until they laughed! It was fun, I made a few friends and I enjoyed the event and hope I am asked to attend at least one more before I leave. 

Tomi wrote this post in February 2014