To give a better idea of what it is like to be running mobile clinics in remote parts of Eastern Congo, here is a little summary of what I did today…
The alarm goes at 6am. I take a quick breakfast with stale bread and marmite (an essential item on any of my field missions!) before we load up the motorbikes with the rucksacks packed with medicines.
Its 2 hours along bumpy forest tracks to reach the mobile clinic site. There are little children who wave and shout “muzungu muzungu” (white person) everywhere I pass. If I´m not holding on too tightly to the motorbike, I wave back.
I think we must be the first motorbikes to pass along this track for a long time. The grass is so high, we can hardly see where we are going.
On arrival at the health centre where we are running the mobile clinic today, there are hundreds of mothers and small children waiting for the nutritional screening. They all start cheering when they see our motorbikes arrive.
We are a bit short-staffed today so I spend the next 5 hours helping my colleague to measure the upper left arm of all children under 5 years, a way to see if they are malnourished or not. Any children who are malnourished or ill are then sent for a consultation. The healthy ones can go home.
Some of the younger ones are a bit scared when they see a muzungu so close to them. I send these ones over to my Congolese colleague for their screening.
By around 1pm we have finished the screening, but the MSF doctor now has a long queue of patients outside his consultation room. I leave him to it, and go to explore the village where we are working.
I meet with the local chief, who tells me about the recent insecurity in the area and the arrival of displaced families. He takes me to visit the homes of some of the displaced families so I can get a better idea of their living conditions. There are often 2 or 3 families living in very small spaces.
I go back to the health centre as the doctor is finishing. I chat with the nurse in charge of the health centre. He jokes that he is trying to find me a husband from the village so that I will have to stay here longer. I tell him that I wouldn’t make a very good local wife.
He tries to tempt us to eat one of the local delicacies before I leave…a type of hairy worm. I decline quickly, saying we are already late.
We get back onto the motorbikes to return to our base. The rainstorms are threatening, but luckily we arrive back before the they start.
A quick shower with a bucket and cold water. Finally I get to eat the first real meal of the day: foufou, sombe (a bit like sour spinach) and goats meat.
I spend an hour in the evening filling in the statistics for the day, while the nurse refills the medical bags for tomorrow morning from our little pharmacy.
For those who are not too tired, we will play a few rounds of cards this evening before heading off to bed. We still have another 5 days to go before we reach Sunday.