Saturday, 29 July 2017

Two homes......the sequel

Dear Chad

Three months ago, I was sat in your dusty, hot, dry climes, typing a letter to the Western world.  I wasn’t sure how I was going to find it being back in my ‘other home’.

Now, I’m just five days away from returning to you, and I’m wondering how that will feel.
I’m going to sit in that metal bird (aka aeroplane) and in the matter of about 10 hours, be transported to my ‘other home’, in a completely different world.

Yes, I’ve been in my ‘other home’ for almost three months.  I’ve enjoyed copious cups of Costa coffee (I only had to go to Starbucks once, cos there was no Costa at that particular service station!), I’ve eaten lots of bacon, I’ve eaten lots of cake, I’ve spoken English 100% of the time, I’ve felt cold almost the whole time (and mostly enjoyed it….either that or I made myself enjoy it because it will soon be an alien concept), I’ve seen lots of the UK on the 3,500 miles I’ve driven to visit Churches and tell them about the work at Guinebor, I’ve enjoyed fast internet, I’ve enjoyed knowing how things ‘tick’ and how processes work, I’ve caught up with a lot of family and friends and I’ve made fun memories to take back with me.  

I’m looking forward to seeing all my Chadian colleagues at the hospital.  I’m looking forward to seeing my friends who live in N’Djamena.  I’m looking forward to seeing more blue sky than I can shake a stick at (!).  I’m looking forward to getting back to ‘real life’, as it is for me now.

However, since I’ve left, you’ve started rainy season.  Oh joy!  The humidity!  The mud!  The lakes and ponds!  I’m grateful that I’ve a more powerful vehicle now to power through on the ‘road’ into town.  I really dread getting stuck, although I’d soon find people to help dig/push me out, I’m sure.  I can’t begrudge you the desperately needed water and irrigation.  It will be strange to see the desert landscape that I left in May, having been transformed into a green pasture that will last a few short months. 

So Chad, I’ll see you soon for our next epic adventure at the hospital in the desert (currently green, watery, muddy quagmire)

UK passport holder returning to Chad

Friday, 26 May 2017

'It's SO hot!'

....says everyone around me.  Everyone's in flip-flops, shorts and t-shirts, whereas I am wearing socks, full-length jeans and a couple of tops.  Can only mean one thing!  Yes, I am back in the UK for home assignment!

It's been great to enjoy the (relative) cool and not be sweating.  It's lovely to see green grass and the sea.

The beautiful North Devon coast at Woolacombe

I've a fair few Church visits coming up during my home assignment, as well as some rest.

I thought I'd list where I'm speaking and when, in case anyone is nearby and wants to pop along, it would be great to see you!  I'll mainly be talking about my life and work at Guinebor II Hospital

Sunday 28th May - 7pm - Upton Vale Baptist Church, Torquay
Wednesday 31st May - 7.30pm - Oldham Baptist Church
Thursday 15th June - 7.30pm - South Molton Baptist Church
Sunday 18th June - 11.15am - Kirkwall Baptist Church, Orkney
Friday 23rd June - 12pm - Lydbrook Baptist Church, Nr Gloucester
Sunday 25th June - 10.30am - Stroud Baptist Church
Sunday 25th June - 6pm - Moriah Baptist Church, Risca, South Wales
Sunday 2nd July - 10.45am - Robert Hall Memorial Baptist Church, Leicester
Sunday 2nd July - 6pm - West Hucknall Baptist Church, Nr Nottingham
Saturday 8th July - 6.30pm - Belle Vue Baptist Church, Southend-on-Sea
Sunday 9th July - 11am - Canvey Island Baptist Church
Sunday 9th July - 6.30pm - Westcliff Baptist Church, Westcliff-on-Sea
Tuesday 11th July - 2.30pm - Folkestone Baptist Church
Sunday 16th July - 10.30am - Penrallt Baptist Church, Bangor, North Wales

I'm looking forward to meeting people who have supported me whilst I've been in Chad and share some of what's happening there

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Two homes

Dear Western World

This is a something I’ve wanted to write for ages but I’m never sure if I’ll be able to express myself in a way that conveys how I feel.  I hope I don’t offend you, that’s not my intention.  I just want you to know what I’m thinking and feeling right now.

Twelve days from now I shall be leaving my adopted home in an aeroplane (and that means air con, hallelujah) and coming back to you, my other home, for a while.  I am looking forward to a cooler climate, seeing people who’ve known me for years and years and catching up, eating my favourite foods, seeing the sea, seeing greenery, drinking water straight from the tap, having a properly functioning fridge, eating copious amounts of cake, bacon, not being outnumbered by North Americans (BUT see below), not being continuously covered in dust, being in a country where I understand how everything ‘ticks’, being able to pay for shopping with a plastic card, not having to make sure paperwork has the correct stamp on it, fast internet, Costa coffee, a hot shower when the bathroom is standard temperature, explaining what I do here to interested people and having some time to reflect and relax.  I am *very much* looking forward to these things.

However, I do have mixed emotions right now because I’m actually going to miss living in my adopted country.  Apart from the heat.  That I’m definitely not going to miss.  I am going to miss my Chadian colleagues and friends.  Their ability to be perpetually optimistic in a situation where, to Western thinking, they’d have every ‘right’ to be pessimistic.  The way they’ve welcomed me into their country and joke and laugh about the most seemingly stupid stuff (it’s going to take ages to completely ‘get’ their humour).  The way they encourage me in my Chadian Arabic and say that I speak ‘lots of Arabic’ when in actual fact I’ve the Arabic language ability of a two year old.  The way that they can find a way to do stuff when to my mind it’s an impossibility.  I’m going to miss being part of the expat community and the way that other expats can quickly become family.  I’m even going to kinda miss be outnumbered by North Americans (!) and the way they tease me about the English words I use.  I’m definitely going to miss ribbing them about the fact that they ‘stole’ my language in the first place and that they have a bordering-on-unhealthy obsession with Ziploc bags. (As an aside, thanks to my Facebook friend, can’t remember who it was, who ‘liked’ a meme that contained a picture of the Queen with the words it’s English, not ‘American English’.  There is no such thing as ‘American English’.  There is English, and there are mistakes.  I gleefully WhatsApp’d that around my American friends here :) ).  I’m going to miss the nomad family that set up home a mile or so away from the hospital who we visit fairly regularly and who we wave to every time we drive into town – they’ll have moved on by the time I get back.  I’m going to miss seeing camels on the way into town.  I’m going to miss the kids shouting Nasara (white person) and waving as I drive past.  I’m going to miss the almost perpetual blue sky.  Yes, I’m going to miss this place.

I’m not totally sure how I’ll be when I’m back with you Western World.  I expect I’ll be excited but there will definitely be times when I’m missing aspects of here, or noticing the vast differences between here and there, and trying to process all of that.  When the latter two things are the case please don’t take it personally.  It’s just that I now have two homes that are polar opposites and transitioning between the two can be interesting, hard, weird and baffling.  I hope you understand.

Your friend,

UK passport holder living in Chad

Monday, 1 May 2017


The hospital is going through some physical growth at the moment, thanks a legacy from the UK and some generous people in the USA.  I thought it would be good to explain (in lay terms, because, at the end of the day, I’m a pharmacist) some of the intricacies of how things are built here.

Being a mission worker overseas means you more often than not have to get involved in things that ordinarily, in your passport country, you wouldn’t.  That’s definitely the case for me at the moment, having general oversight of three building projects for a month or so.  We’ve been able to start a new area for outpatients to wait, a new surgery centre (with operating theatres and a new sterilisation room) and another house for expats to stay in.

Not being on ‘city power’ (read: mains electric) here at Guinebor means that the majority of things are prepared manually.  Even in the city most things are done manually as electricity costs and manual labour, apart from a salary, doesn’t.  The builders hire in generators when they really need to do something with electricity (i.e. soldering metal together to make a frame for the veranda on the new house).  Apart from that, right down to making the bricks, everything is done manually.  It’s crazy and amazing to watch at the same time.  Factor in the 45C daytime temperatures and you’ll have some understanding of the physical labour that goes into constructing a new building here.  There’s no Wickes’ (or wherever in the UK builders buy stuff….!) that we can just pop down to and buy bricks, mortar and so on.  Nope, we have piles of sand, gravel and sacks of cement delivered and dumped in massive piles near the construction site.  And then the hard work begins….

Step one of brick making:
fill metal mould with sand/cement mix
Step two:
level off the sand/cement mix in the mould,
whilst co-worker poses for photo

Step three:
carry filled mould over to drying area
Step four:
tip freshly made brick out of mould
Step five:
remove mould and start process again,
leaving bricks for two weeks to dry before using

I know very little about construction but I'm told that to ensure a wall is structurally sound, it has to have metal horizontal and vertical supports.  These are also made by hand from long lengths of metal:

Jean creating the metal supports

Marking out the building site for new surgery centre
A week after the picture above was taken,
the building site for the surgery centre looked like this!
These are the start of the foundations.  There are about 20 vertical pits like this,
which are about 3 feet square and at least 6 feet deep.  All dug by hand

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Visiting the locals

You may remember me saying in previous blog entries that I’ve been learning Chadian Arabic.  I started almost 12 months ago now, which seems impossible to believe!   However given that I was only doing a 1.5 hours lesson twice a week and wasn’t getting chance to do any more study because of my work at the hospital, progress has been somewhat slow.

A change in circumstances has meant that I am now having one lesson a week for 1.5 hours.  As I’m in the habit of setting aside time for Chadian Arabic learning twice a week, I don’t want to lose that momentum.  So I’m going to try and visit local ladies in Guinebor II (the village of the hospital and where I live) at the time when I previously had my second lesson of the week.  I’ve enlisted the help of a member of hospital staff, Mariam, who also lives in Guinebor II and who speaks Chadian Arabic and also French.  Most of the locals in Guinebor II only speak Chadian Arabic, which is one of the reasons I want to learn it.

Yesterday afternoon was Mariam and my first visit out into Guinebor II.  I’ve asked Mariam if we can visit the wives and families of our staff that live in Guinebor II.  So yesterday we visited the home of one of our guards.  Unfortunately he and his wife were out, but his mother was around.  She didn’t know we were coming, so it was probably a bit of a shock to see the Nasara (white person) turning up! 

It’s not appropriate to take photos here when you don’t know people, so I’m going to try and paint a picture with words of what it was like out in the village yesterday:

Under the perpetually-blue sky of Chad, Mariam and I walk up to the house which is made of mud bricks and overlaid with plaster.  It’s a rectangular building with three room in a row about 10 foot square, each with a metal door and in front of these rooms is an open veranda area, the front of which is covered with a once-red-but-sun-tarnished piece of fabric, which is blowing in the gentle warm breeze of the late afternoon.  The sandy-floored yard area in front of the house is fenced off with reed mats and is open on one side, which is where Mariam stands and calls out ‘al-salam alekum’ (hello).  There are several ladies and children in the yard.  One of the ladies, with a small child strapped to her back with an old towel, is sweeping the sand-dust floor with a locally made brush made up of many reeds tied together.  Some children are sat on a colourful mat chatting.  The matriarch of the house (the mother of one of our hospital guards) knows Mariam and comes over to greet us.  She shakes Mariam by the hand and the Chadian Arabic begins.  By piecing together the odd word I recognise, along with her gestures, I can tell that Mariam is explaining that I’m learning Chadian Arabic and that I want to hear it being spoken so that I can get better at it.  The mother shakes me by the hand and greets me, asking how I am.  I reply that I’m doing fine thanks and she smiles, finding it funny, but good, that the Nasara can speak a bit of Chadian Arabic.  She gestures to one of the other ladies to bring a mat.  We are furnished with a large (6x3 feet) green and black mat, typical of many Chadian houses in that it’s made of thin woven plastic strings.   We take off our shoes (read: flip flops) as is customary, no shoes go on mats, and sit on the ground in the yard area on our mat.  In order to make the mat even more ‘attractive’, a small woven carpet is brought out and put on top and I’m told via gestures from the mum that we’re to sit on the carpet, not the mat.  Mariam and the mum chat away and I pick up odd words and phrases.  Periodically Mariam translates what’s being said into French so that I can follow along.  Whilst the two ladies chat, I look at my surroundings through the gap in the yard ‘fence’.  There are a fair few trees around providing welcome shade to the houses from the scorching sun (afternoon temperatures are now over 40C). There are many other similar houses around.  People live in close proximity and there are shared toilets of the long-drop variety.  The ones in this area have brick walls but sometimes there’s only some corrugated iron surrounding you to preserve your dignity!  Three varying-sized goats wonder past.  They must belong to someone but goats are free-range here.  As were the five or so chicks that were picking around in a pile of dust.  I’m brought out of my gazing around when a strong gust of wind picks up one side of the large plastic mat and it envelopes me!  Cue some ladies strategically placing some nearby large stones on it to keep it in place on the ground.  There was a nice warm breeze blowing during our visit, but given that it’s not rained since the start of October, wind here always means dust.  A bit later on, two men walk past in the distance selling their wares.  One is selling football shirts, displaying them on coat hangers and carrying them at shoulder-level so as to make sure they’re visible to potential purchasers.  The other man is pushing a small two-wheeled cart, on top of which are some locally made sweets that look like seaside rock but are much softer.  They are ambling along chatting to each other when all of a sudden they stop, look behind them and then turn back to the house they’ve just passed.  Someone wants to buy some sweets and has called them over.

At this point, Mariam and the other lady decide they’re going to test me on my Chadian Arabic.  ‘Da cenu?’ (‘what’s that?’ they ask, pointing at a tree).  I reply that I know, but I can’t remember which the plural version is and which the singular is!  They help me out and then point to the dog that’s been lazily sleeping behind us the whole time.  I always mix up the word for dog (kalib) with the word for book (kitab) and of course, I said the wrong one!  The next thing they point to are the chicken.  Ah ha I think, I definitely know this one (at the start of lessons with our teacher, chicken was one of the first words we learned and so with our limited vocabulary, whenever the teacher asked us what we’d eaten that day, or what we’d bought at the market, the answer was often chicken, as we didn’t have a great repertoire of items to say!!).  I got that word right and the mum smiled broadly and shook my by the hand as a way of saying ‘well done!’

They both encouraged me a lot during our time together and said ‘you will get there’. 

After an hour on the mat, it was time for Mariam and I to leave, as it was going to start getting dark.  We thanked the mum very much and walked the 5 minutes back to the hospital together along the dusty tracks.

Hopefully this will be the first of many visits to some of the ladies of Guinebor II :)

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Fractured: an update

After my last blog, I thought people would like to know how David (not his real name) is getting on.

Happily I can say he is doing well.  He had his surgery at 7.30am the morning after he arrived with us at Guinebor II Hospital.  Our senior nurse surgeon successfully put a metal rod and screws in his femur in order to bring the two ends of bone together.  It wasn’t an easy process he tells me.  The day after surgery, David was wide awake and chatting away to us.  We wheeled him down to our x-ray department and took some pictures of his leg to check positioning of the rod and screws.  The nurse surgeon was ecstatic to see that the placement of the rod and screws was good and that the two ends of bone were well aligned.  Unfortunately, we don’t yet have any way of printing out our x-rays, we have a digital x-ray machine and look at the images on a computer screen.  Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to print out peoples x-rays.  As such, we wheeled David over to look at the computer screen and see his x-ray.  Being a nurse, he knew what he was looking at and the nurse surgeon explained how well the surgery had gone and that the metal rod was in a good position.  David’s sole response was ‘gloire à Dieu’ (glory to God).  He was so pleased with the outcome of his surgery. 

The next challenge was to fit David out with some crutches so he could be mobile.  He is a tall guy, measuring 192cm (6 feet 3 inches) and none of the crutches we had in stock were long enough!  We have a man in town that makes crutches for us out of wood.  This necessitates a phone call to him to place an order.  We have a standard size that we usually ask him to make, that’s adjustable to a certain extent, but David required a size over and above that which we usually stock here.  My colleague called the crutches-maker and explained as best she could the size of the crutches we needed, and the length we needed them to be adjustable to.  This was done in French obviously, which is not her first language as she’s American.

'Just when you think you have arrived at communicating
well in your second language, this happens....'

We had a good laugh at the size of the crutches that materialised, and so did David!  Fortunately, someone on site at the hospital was able to adjust them down to a size suitable for him.

So as for his leg, David is doing well.  The incision wound is healing well.  What is concerning now is that he’s having near-constant headaches, which is probably a concussion from the accident.  He’s still with us in hospital in order for us to keep an eye on his incision wound, but also to monitor his headaches.  He is doing better every day.

Thank you to those who have been praying for him.  I told him yesterday that a lot of people in the UK and elsewhere around the world are praying for him, and he is so very grateful.  Please continue to pray for his recovery.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017


At the end of last week, my Chadian pharmacist colleague and I were having to frantically buy plaster of Paris.  All part and parcel of running a pharmacy in a hospital here in Chad.  As I’ve no doubt recounted numerous times, it’s not just medicines that we have to ensure are available, but also many other medical supplies.

We’d had a good stock of plaster of Paris, ready and waiting for anyone who needed a limb putting in a cast.  All of a sudden, the hospital was seemingly inundated with people with fractures and our stock was exhausted in a matter of days.  The senior nurse surgeon who works here came into the pharmacy asking us to ensure that we had a good stock of this product.  We went to the wards where he pointed out three guys who were waiting for plaster casts; two with leg fractures and one with an arm fracture.  And we’d run out of plaster of Paris.  I hate it when that happens!  Within a few hours we’d managed to find enough in town to get all of these patients in their respective casts and we breathed a sigh of relief.

Why so many bones fractures?  They are mainly due to road accidents.  Many people travel on motorbikes as they’re a cheap form of transport.  It’s very unusual to see one person on a motorbike.  A motorbike owner will always offer a lift to someone else travelling in the same direction.  Throw in the traffic here and the fact that people carry all sorts of stuff on the back of a motorbike and you’ve soon got a recipe for fractured bones. 

Two on a motorbike, plus a bench and some paint

Fast-forward to this morning.  I was in the pharmacy and my Chadian colleagues were talking in one of the village languages and I couldn’t understand what they were saying.  Apart from the fact that they kept saying the name of one of our nurses here (let’s call him David, that’s not his real name.  He’s in his mid-twenties).  I asked what was up with David.  They said they weren’t sure but that someone had come in saying he’d been involved in an accident last night and was asking if he was in our hospital.  ‘No’ my colleagues replied.  The man departed but my colleague tried calling David’s phone.  No answer.  He tried another nurse who lives near David, who said he’d try and find out what was going on.  A few hours later he calls back saying that David is in the central hospital with a fractured femur after being knocked off a motorbike by a car last night.  Cutting some to-ing and fro-ing short, eventually our hospital driver goes and collects David in our ambulance.  He brings him to us at Guinebor Hospital, so that he can be in a place he knows and also much nearer his home, so that it’s easier for his family to visit.  We hear that he’s received little in the way of care at the central hospital because he didn’t have much money with him.  No money up-front, no healthcare it would seem.  He arrives with us with a copy of his leg x-ray and a makeshift cast on his leg made out of cardboard and some bandages. 

Our senior nurse surgeon, the one who asked us to make sure we’ve got enough plaster of Paris in stock, is hoping to operate on David’s leg very soon.  And it's likely he’ll be using some of the remaining plaster of Paris that we frantically acquired last week.  I’m glad David is here with us at Guinebor now, amongst colleagues who will care for him.  The staff here are like one big family and it’s hit me that ‘one of our own’ has had to endure such a serious accident and then apparently sub-optimal care at the central hospital.

Those reading this who pray, please pray for David’s recovery and also for all of the staff at Guinebor Hospital as we seek to ensure we have enough supplies and enough personnel to deal with all the cases that come through the door.  Thank you :)