After more than a decade of working in medical rehabilitation of people injured by conflict or disaster, I allowed myself some time to explore also the nice and peaceful places in the world. By motorbike, free from any contractual commitments. But it would be a waste of my skills and knowledge not to use my professional experience when reaching places that could benefit from it. And so, last month in Turkey I reached out to the Syrian border for a temporary assignment with an international humanitarian organisation.

Perfect timing

Antonella, a former colleague and super-supporter of my journey, dropped me a message about the assignment without even knowing that I had just entered Turkey the day before: an international NGO was looking for a consultant to assess the rehabilitation services along the Turkish-Syrian border and to compile a proposal for future interventions. The job seamlessly matched with my professional profile and the matter was rather urgent – and so I set course to the head-office in Ankara in order to prepare my field visit to the border area. For a couple of weeks I traded my tent for a room, nature for city, and I parked Harry with the promise of a full maintenance treatment after I’d finish the job. Read more

In 2014-2015 I was working in a recovery program in the Philippines, after super-typhoon Haiyan visited the area – the strongest storm ever recorded.

I was acting as a field-advisor to tackle the specific needs of people with disabilities within the destroyed area. Every disaster comes with injuries; in a collapsing health system these injuries easily lead to long-term and extensive consequences. Additionally, when disaster strikes, people with disabilities are often left behind in the hectic of evacuation or emergency kit delivery.

During major disaster, human kind falls back to survival of the fittest. People with disabilities often can’t reach the existing aid workers – and the aid workers don’t reach them either. Isolation from both emergency preparation and response is a failure of the human rights of an already vulnerable population.

Almost a year after the disastrous typhoon I flew into Manila to carry out my mission – after the initial briefings I moved on to Tacloban and Roxas, where I would supervise 2 teams of local physiotherapists and other aid workers for the next few months.

During my mission, the area was again hit by a huge typhoon, named Hagupit. Being confronted with the aftermath of natural disaster is overwhelming, no matter how much you’ve seen. But to be part of the imminent destruction approaching within a few days’ time, was a total different experience. To ride out the storm, not knowing what’s still to come and then, when it’s all over, to get out there not knowing what you’re about to encounter, was an intensive situation.

7 December 2014

Happy Birthday…

Should there be only one thing I could wish for this birthday and all the ones that might follow, it’d be: stop pushing people through the hell of a typhoon! Mother Nature is a Bitch.

What an incredible brutal force of nature. It’s impossible to explain, to describe. This can’t be compared with anything I’ve experienced before. I almost feel guilty for my amazement watching this natural spectacle. I think about all those people who need to live through this; who fear for their lives, who lose everything they possibly have at this particular moment … and I can’t do anything to help them. Life is so incredibly unfair.

Never will I watch the news with the same eyes as before, when they report about a storm with devastating force. Last year, watching the footage of the destruction that Hayan left behind, I had been impressed to see what became of the area that I got to know a couple of years before – and had such beautiful memories of.

Today, tomorrow, and over the coming months, similar images will be my daily observation.

What will we find, what will we encounter? Will we be able to reach the areas where help is needed the most? What exactly will be needed? How will I deal with the fact that I will never be able to do enough?

After we had assisted the evacuation – thoroughly searched all neighbourhoods for people that had been left behind – it was about time to go into containment ourselves. All windows and doors were nailed with wood, the glass taped to avoid flying splinters should it come to an impact after all. We received water, fuel, and food. We transformed the living room into an emergency office, where we started composing proposals for the immediate response, using the bits and pieces of information that trickled through. We put up a large map of the area on the wall, to record everything and indicate the areas of isolation. Tomorrow the first colleagues will go out and check the situation; taking chain saws to make their way through the jungle that was created overnight. According to their first assessment, we’ll compose and send out the emergency teams. There’s no doubt about the necessity of all that – however this means a further interventions delay for the people who’ve been waiting for recovery assistance for over a year, after all their belongings were destroyed by last year’s disaster… Mother Nature, why are you in such a hurry? Can’t you just let us get back on our feet again, before you hit again with this brutal force of destruction?

Tajikistan, one of the many ‘-stan’ countries.

I had the chance to work as a consultant and to get to know a country that surprised me – no … amazed me – in many ways.

Although I’m well aware of being privileged to get an ‘insider’s view’ of several countries thanks to my work, I would have loved to see more from Tajikistan. The numerous meetings with a lot of different people, teach me various things about the countries that I work in. The countless hours on the road traveling from one project site to another, show me a lot of places and a lot of emptiness. But because I need to focus on my job, I also filter out a lot; time is always short which makes us sometimes pushing the boundaries. Despite the short period of time for a complex set of tasks, Tajikistan managed to leave behind a deep impression.

The countryside made me wonder: ‘how is it possible for people to live here?’. The barren, harsh climate and the endless emptiness … Crossing through that rough landscape in a Lada 4×4, and to encounter people, children, animals where you would least expect it, was an intriguing experience … where did they come from? Where are they going? Is it somehow possible to find water here? Not even to speak about food?!   

And yes, Tajikistan also holds my personal record for most scaring road tunnel. I thought we had driven straight into hell… !

The Tajik people moved me in a way I never felt in other countries before (even though I happened to fall in love with some countries and their people in the past). Children with disabilities (the main subjects of my job at the time) in ‘poor’ countries are merely regarded as a burden. They usually won’t bring in resources for the family and are often stigmatised due to prejudices about the causes of disabilities and of having a disabled child. In contrary of many countries around the world, I experienced a different attitude towards disabled children in Tajikistan – the poorest country in Central Asia. The tender loving care of mothers, aunties, sister, but especially also fathers towards their handicapped children made an uplifting, deep impression on me.

Since the country was liberated from the iron rule of the Sovjet-union, parents have the possibility to keep their handicapped children at home, instead of having them growing up in institutions, shelters, or hide-aways. Now they are allowed to take care of their children, they do so. Even if there’s no money to spend … even if that implies ‘a bit less’ for the other children in the household.

‘They’ don’t have much, and there is a need for almost everything. Still, I believe the Tajik are very rich people. I think ‘we’ could learn a lot of the love, care, and human warmth that I witnessed in only those few weeks.

The streets that had been muddy last July have now dried up. 2 Months ago did the last raindrops fall. The country is dry and barren; I’m anxious to go and find out how the situation is in the camps down south – desert area. The smell of hay mixes with thick diesel smog. I am, once more, making my way to the Somali refugee camps to run a training with the local health workers. Once again 3 days driving down south and afterwards the long 3 days back up again. All the way across a magnificent country.

The seemingly endless stream of youngsters in their pink and purple suits reveal a school in the neighbourhood. We slow down for a bunch of mules on the road. Cars, busses, trucks, and wood-and-rope-barrels pass by, passionately pressing their horns; the animals are not easily impressed and won’t move a single bit. A boy takes advantage of the little hold-up and tries to sell some sweets and cold drinks. A girl carries packages of chewing gum, neatly positioned side by side and selected by colour, in a wooden draw upon her head; bags of chips dangle on the side. She knocks on the window of the car, holding up her hand – then stroking her belly as to signal ‘I’m hungry’. The driver nods a determined ‘no’ and receives an indignant look in return.

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I’m heading into the community with my students today, for a home visit. A hut visit, in fact. We find a man, 30 years old with 7 children; his hut is built from twigs, tree stumps and clay. I squat just like everyone does, but a woman suddenly appearing from the dark, shuffles a tiny stool underneath me. I observe a man whose language I don’t speak. Still I understand a lot, because I observe and see a lot happening.

His children are hanging around the bright sunlight coming through the open doorway. The leg of one of his sons is covered with sand. Several layers of sand; I can’t see his skin anymore. The sand is cracked just like the walls of this hut.

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Saturday morning, the pickup truck is being loaded. A gas tank, spare tires, a shovel, and my training materials are routinely put in the back of the van. A palm leaf is quickly cut from a tree and put underneath the tarp; it should avoid the scuffing of it against the car. One last stop at the office, to get the latest security update and instructions before we head out. We’re instructed to drive with magnetics of the logo on the sides of the car but no flags. NGO-indicative material is often assumed to provide protection, but it may just as well attract ‘bad guys’. NGOs are regarded to have money; a captured white woman could possibly buy off a lot of dollars or euros. I am aware of the rivaling clans along the road ahead and the risk of getting trapped in the conflict.

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In January 2010, a devastating 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti: affecting an estimated 3 million people. Possibly over 200.000 deaths and for sure many – very many – injured. 2 Years later, in 2012, I took on a mission and went to work as a clinical rehabilitation trainer in Léogane, where the epicentre had been. Once I reached the area, I couldn’t believe that 2 years had passed already; it was as if disaster had struck the night before. On my way from the airport to the mission base, I wrote in my diary: ‘it is just one hell of a mess here’. With time passing by, this impression only grew stronger.

The time that I’ve spent in Haiti is stored in my memory under ‘the Haitian Hell’. It was a tough year, both professionally and personally. After the first few weeks I drew up an HTS-list – my abbreviation for ‘how to survive’. It was a list with things and thoughts that I could turn to during difficult times … I often used it! It wasn’t until much later, that I realized how similar my own list was, to the principles of surviving during captivity that international aid workers are instructed with (in case of i.e. kidnapping which wasn’t uncommon that time in Haiti).

It was a turbulent time in a (for me) very demotivating environment. International organizations were tripping over each other – yet most of the available resources didn’t reach the areas with the highest need. A worldwide willingness to help doesn’t do much in a country where the government is not interested in the lives of its own people.

After 3 months I was evacuated by helicopter to the Dominican Republic as the internal bleedings due to haemorrhagic dengue fever were getting out of control and a storm was threatening to close off the country from any incoming and outgoing transportation once again. After I returned to the base a few weeks later, I struggled to serve the last long months of my contract.

But there were also positive sides to that period of time. The temperament of 2 Italian colleagues, a huge bush of fresh basil and a compound goat brightened up the days. Even if it is on a small scale, still I noticed the results of our involvement. As always, I tried to visit as many patients as possible ‘at home’ (instead of having them visit the clinic) and got to see a far different Haiti than the cruise ships mooring to the shore from time to time. The memories that I collected were not so nice, but even more so impressive.

Looking back, I am happy that I had the chance to experience life behind barbed wire on a closed compound where armed guards can’t manage to stay awake during their duty; it did put some things into different perspective. What I found most challenging was to deal with being deceived by my own colleagues and even the students that I was tutoring, rather than to process the overpowering destruction and despair. Questions like ‘how far should I go for my job?’ and ‘why do I do this job in the first place?’ or ‘does it make sense it all?’ accompanied me through the months. Although I didn’t find the answers until today, surviving ‘the Haitian Hell’ made me be better prepared for the variety of jobs in the emergency and development field that followed.

A man  in front of me on a bicycle. A rickety creaking bike, which he rides not faster than needed in order not to fall over. On his carrier –made from pieces of wood and steel wire- he carries a large black bowl with yellow, white and pink flowers. When he hits a bump the water splashes over the edge. I saw him many times before; he is to me the prototype in the Mae Sot street view. Wherever I see him, he is always on his way to the market. He wears a shirt which must have been blue once, but turned black in the meantime. His green longyi –a type or skirt worn by most Burmese men- is knotted tight around his waist. Because I always wonder how they can ride their bicycles in their logyi, my eyes drop down towards the pedals. Only then I notice that he has two different legs. One brown and one grey leg. He’s wearing a prosthesis from the Mae Tao clinic. He, like many others, has cut the toes off his prosthetic foot. That way his flip flop fits better.

I’m back in Mae Sot. The past few weeks I was stationed elsewhere for work and relaxation. After many adventures, and a fantastic time, the daily life starts again. In particular the colours, but also the smells on the market make me feel being back in Mae Sot. Their faces painted with tanaka (yellow tree root extract which Burmese use, but Thai don’t)… I stroll the streets on my flip flops, as one is supposed to do here. A man occupied the pavement with green leafs, smeared with white paste. With great precision he puts some tobacco on each leaf, a second man follows with crushed betel nut. Some other undefined bits and pieces are added, and finally the whole is wrapped into little packages. Betel nut bites for sale, for 1 Baht (2 ct) per piece. A sturdy woman in the stand next door minces chunks of meat. The tool that she uses would rather be called a sword than a knife. Not a lady to mess around with! Then I notice what she has on display at her table: sheep heads and everything that used to be attached to them. That’s remarkable, while sheep are not so frequent here.

A dog stretches itself out and slowly makes his way to the pig stalls a bit further down the road. Then I see another two dogs lying, right under the cutting board of the dangerous lady. They look up and seem irritated, but it’s too warm to put once paw in front of the other. I continue my way, along the fishes. And again I’m surprised, this time because of a few enormous species. The smaller fishes are being dried in the sun. Some are packed with 3 in a little basket, others neatly put side by side, shining in the sun. The view of the clucking chickens being feather picked makes me decide to return home. I found what I was looking for: a camouflage coloured hammock and kindling-wood to use for our cooking stove at home.

On my way home I pick up a small noodle snack in banana leaf and I realize it is today the 29th of January. I exactly one month I’ll be back in the Netherlands. The king’s flag flutters in the wind, on the balcony of my Thai little house. It’s quiet in our street, even at the neighbours across. Just recently there was a big street festivity. The entire neighbourhood was present, they put up a party tent and I had difficulty making my way through the motorcycles. 4 days and 4 nights of Thai music, alternated with the monotone humming of the monks’ prayers. The neighbour from across the street had died; it was celebrated heavily.

But now things are quiet again. The only sound remaining is the steady approaching of a cow with a cowbell. It’s a beautiful white cow, with impressive horns. An old man with wrinkled skin and thatch hat walks it through the street twice daily, on his way to the field further down. Always in the same slow pace, bull Herman and his owner. A big lizard warms up on the neighbour’s roof and I install myself to get to work. Duty calls, here too

Shan New Year

The adrenaline rises up high from my toes. I almost start to sweat instantly but that is quickly turned into goose bumps…

Here I am, far away from the civilised world, in a Shan refugee camp in northern Thailand, right on the border with Burma, in the middle of the night and a sinister sound is being echoed through the mountains. I am scared to death by the little explosion close to me; an order is being called, directly followed by a collective salute, then a respective bow. Short and sturdy: for just a second it falls deathly silent. I am the last one standing straight, but before I can react and bow as well, the fireworks start. It doesn’t make sense, it’s not yet midnight, but the Shan obviously can’t be bothered.

This night we celebrate, so why should we wait any longer? There’s loud yelling in a language that I don’t understand, with a limited  translation to English in my ear. They’re talking about freedom, about human rights, about peace. About fighting for a proud nation. The same people who appeared so shy during the day, are now dancing exuberantly and loudly voice their longing for existence into the mountains, into the dark night. It’s cold, I am standing there with my flip flops and dressed in a Shan skirt. Nicola, a good friend with whom I witnessed a traditional sunrise dancing ceremony in an Indian reservation in Arizona 6 years ago, is standing next to me and I can see her wondering glance:

“Look at us standing here…How did we end up here?”

Mae Sot, my homebase, explodes by the large number of aid organisations. Up north along the Thai border are large numbers of Shan refugees who are still only sporadically noted on the international agenda. I decided to increase working with the Shan which was easier said than done; I had to find your way around in an invisible world and got to know the people who (officially) don’t exist. I had to gain trust and at the same time make sure not to trust the wrong people by mistake. It’s a complicated process.

But if there’s a will, there’s a way and if there’s a way, I want to go there.

The way that led me to this remarkable place was a tough one. Since the Thai authorities are playing hard these days, I can only reach the camps through the familiar ‘backroad’. It’s a rough ride: the 4×4 makes its way right across the jungle, for hours in a row. It seems to be never-ending and I am expecting a Thai tiger to jump on our bull bar any moment. But no; the only one we see along the way is a boy washing himself in the river. During the rainy season the only way to get here is by horse, but we continue on 4 wheels as long as it’s doable. The last half hour we have to go by foot and as soon as we enter the camp I feel like we’re stepping into a different world.

We are in Loi Taileng, a camp where I haven’t been before. It’s one of the three camps where we will be supporting landmine victims by facilitating their livelihood activities. Besides Loi Taileng there is Loi Kaw Wan camp, and Khung Jor; all situated in the no-man land right on the border between Thailand and Burma. During an intensive visit along the project-sites I try to match the needs and wishes with the possibilities, and to start things up. If all is going according to plan there will be about 65 landmine survivors working within a few months, breeding their own pigs, chicken, and fishes, and cultivate their mushrooms. Possibly weaving thatch and bamboo for the houses as well, and repairing motorcycles. One man wants to become a hair dresser!

I meet a person from New-Zealand who installed a water pump system with solar panels and we try to find out if it could also deliver the energy for the prosthetic workshop. I am checking out the prosthetic legs that were recently made by two Canadian volunteers. What theoretically sounded like a masterplan (minimizing the security risk for everyone by distance-production) turns out to hold some practical issues. The protheses don’t fit well, or are not being used for other reasons. The toes are being cut off since a short foot makes for better walking on the steep hills; the exchangeable ‘knob’ which was introduced for exactly that reason needs to be attached with a certain tool and storing it at the chief created a large barrier to actually use it. Severe challenges came up and I am honestly happy that I have something to offer from my professional background. I plan the next visit in January to train the local medical staff about the rehabilitation treatment of amputees.

Back to the party, Shan New Year. Last year I already celebrated the Karen New Year on a similarly unusual place, close to Mae Sot. Contrary to the Karen, who have their celebration spread out over 4 days (meanwhile regarded as a ceasefire) this Shan-festivity is short but intense. Not long after midnight I’m lying on a wooden floor with my eyes wide open. Outside I had been amazed about the astonishing starry sky; I am now surprised by how dark the night can be as long as you’re far enough from civilisation.

In the morning I’m waking up with the smell of wood fire and I still have difficulties realizing where I am. Sai Y. T. my contact person with the Shan Health Committee has undergone a metamorphosis. Whereas I normally know him as a decently clothed man with gentlemen’s trousers and shirt, he is now dressed up in a full Shan State Army-suit. We are expected at the yearly ceremony this morning, honouring the newly-trained soldiers. Last night we’ve seen them building up the podia; the melody of ‘Mission Impossible’ came out of the loud speakers when we passed by. Looking at all the army green I wondered if I happened to be at the film set of the newest Tour of Duty movie. Almost all the men of this 2000-persons refugee camp are dressed up in green SSA-suits and the women turn up in their most beautiful sarongs.

Again I find myself standing amongst them and I look up into the mountains. At the left there are the monks lined up; at the right are the guys ready to show their tricks. The ceremony consists of several parts: first there is a demonstration of physical capacities, a serious exercise of muscle provocation to which heavy tree trunks are being thrown up in the air, then caught again to being put back on the ground, etcetera. Collaboration is a must and the discipline can be read upon their faces. Then there’s the weapon part: weapon control in different positions, including rolling over the ground and prowling through the jungle. The fire shots are being answered by the sounds of mortar coming from the mountains. Someone assures me that it is part of the ceremony but I can’t help myself closing my eyes for a second and imagine what it is like when these sounds peal through the jungle when it is ‘for real’.

The ceremony continues a bit longer and one could write 3 books about everything that’s happening. The way back wasn’t unscathed, but after all I’m in the bus and safely on the way back to my home base Mae Sot. Before we pass the last checkpoint, something remarkable happens. 3 men are being pushed into the toilet and the door is locked. The controlling officer picks out another passenger from the bus, he needs to stay behind and we continue on the way. The 3 men get out of the toilet and snigger released. Upon arrival at the bus station I jump on the back of a motorcycle taxi to drop me off at home. Over less than a kilometres ride we pass by at least 20 police men. My driver explains with a short ‘Farang’, meaning foreigner, and because I’m wearing a cap they light up my face with a flashlight. My blue eyes confirm that I’m a foreigner, so we can continue. Now I also snigger and feel released, since the police men don’t realise that I’m carrying a bag full of pictures and other documentation from the northern camps – both the Thai authorities as well as the Burmese intelligence would make themselves a great catch if they’d find all the information that I’m carrying with me. I hold the calendar which I received as a present from the camp commander rolled up in my hand; even the most reliable blue eyes could not defend a story that I’ve bought it at the market or so. There’s an unusual and almost grim atmosphere in town and I wonder what’s going on. Tomorrow morning I will try to find out what it is, but for now I want nothing more than a cold shower and a warm bed.

Life at the border

A year ago I couldn’t point out Burma on the map. Now I can point out more than I would like to. So much has happened…so much that I can’t just say “Been there, done that, I’ve had my experience”. I have seen too much to be able to close my eyes for what’s happening here, just like to many others do. I’ve heard too much, tasted too much. The past 8 months have been a rollercoaster of developments. I started to compile and teach a basic medical rehabilitation course, which got quickly out of hand. Clear Path asked me to take over the responsibility for all the projects in the area. Me? Do I have that capacity? I can at least try…

I first reviewed the 4 running projects and meanwhile 4 more projects have been started up. Over the next 4 years we will be building the foundation of the concept of “medical rehabilitation”. Not only producing prostheses, but also providing physiotherapy, psychological care and social reintegration. I.e. though setting up pigs farms and fisheries, the prosthetic users can make their income and become independent again from financial support.

In order to avoid a major transportation obstacle, I’m working out a plan to build a floating prosthetics workshop, with which we can drive up and down the river passing by several villages, so that people don’t need to undertake the life-threatening (sometimes weeks-long) journey crossing the jungle to our clinic.

Besides that, and gratefully thanks to donations, we’ve been able to build 2 schools for 1000 children and a new medical clinic. I’m furthermore involved in setting up another 3 clinics, a bamboo house-boat for storage and evacuation purposes. I also try to provide side-support some projects in Vietnam; an institute for the blind, and a child rehabilitation centre. There is so much need; there is so much to do…

Life at the border is challenging, unpredictable, exciting, and close to the fire.

Being alert 24/7 is tiring, but in a way addictive. Now I’m sitting here, at the brand new airport in Bangkok, with the dust still in my nose, and the sand in my pockets of the last meeting with a high rank official at one of the military headquarters attached to a refugee camp, hidden in the jungle. I take a moment to look back at the time that’s now behind me and it feels like watching a bizarre movie. I read the last words of this page, of this chapter. But for sure not of this exciting book. I’m curious to the next chapter, which is written in Dutch. I’ll be spending a few months in Holland, before returning to the Thai-Burmese border; in the meantime I’ll continue my work from a distance by monitoring the proceedings and steering where needed.

Monday at work

I’m on my way to the clinic; a few minutes’ bicycle ride away. The weather has changed since a few days and instead of raining it’s now heating up early morning. Several “sawngtaws” pass by: some sort of extended pick-up-trucks full with people and piled up high with anything you can imagine. Straw baskets, chickens, spinach, fish oil, televisions, printing paper, rice bags, coke crates, eggs, noodles, flip flops, salted bacon, pots and pans, clothes, wooden cupboards and chairs. Now and then a vehicle like this tips over and lands alongside the road; that’s when you can only stop and stare at the sight of all that’s fallen out!

The sawngtaws are  driving back and forth between Mae Sot market and the Burmese border. Underway they pass by several checkpoints, where in case of bad luck everything is off-loaded and re-loaded again should the Thai authorities see a reason for it. The thick air of diesel exhaust mixes with the smoke of the barbecues that are lined up along the road from early morning until late at night – they grill fish, chicken, and frogs, wedged between 2 sticks or served in banana leafs. I quickly close my mouth, nose, and eyes when passing the last stall, where the sharp air of fried chillies squeezes my throat and makes me cry. Then I pass the fruit stalls; a bunch of mini-bananas for 10 Baht today, juicy watermelons, and pomeloes.

My favorit part of the journey come after I passed the last stall: brightly green, stretched-out rice fields, with the rough Burmese mountains in the background. A beautiful view. I think about the documentary that I was watching yesterday, about the brutal Burmese regime. About the slavery, the practices of torturing the political prisoners, about the massacres and the numerous people that were driven out of their homes, struggling to survive in the jungle, probably just there, in that ‘beautiful view’ right in front of me …

I continue over the bridge, where the boys are fishing and yell “Wow! Hello, hello!”; finally I arrive at the clinic’s compound. I make my way  through the motorcycle taxis that troop together around the clinic and knot their fishing nets in between rides. Down the little hill, avoiding to step in the mud poles and along the car from MSF (Medecins sans Frontiers), who is responsible for the treatment of TB-patients.

It’s a strange day today. The helicopters, which normally fly over once or twice, circle around every 10 minutes now. There’s clearly something going on. In the clinic it’s hectic too. Other than for the circling helicopters, at ground level is doesn’t take long to find out what’s causing the chaos: the sceptic tank is being emptied. Shit, that stinks! I decide to go on to the library and do some computer work first; there I encounter next unpleasant surprise: a dead rat under the table. I’m instantly demotivated to stay here too, so I start my round in the ward.

A small group of people gathered around one of the wooden beds and several hands are signaling to the guy: ‘Do something!’. The patients who’s causing the consternation screams “Awèh, awèh!”, madly kicking and waving. Two medics fixate his hands and feet with a piece of nylon rope and everything becomes quiet again. “Malaria-madness” is the diagnosis and seems to frequently result from the malaria-medication. It doesn’t take long until there’s a next break-out of unrest. This time it’s a goat who slipped in and is chased away by two dogs. ‘It’s a bit like a farm’ I think and the rooster who’s always sitting on the corner at the toilets completes my imagination.

In front of the trauma department, the guys hang around and onto each other as usual, and as soon as they see me arriving, the yelling starts: “Hi teacher! Flexion, extension, abduction, adduction! Lessons today?” I started to train a small group of medics en prosthetic technicians last week in the basics of rehabilitation of amputees. I enjoy the enthusiasm of the group – and they seem to enjoy my course. Rumours spread rapidly, and someone asked me the other day: “Are you the phylosarist?” Well…something like that, yes. What’s in a name anyway?

That evening I’m having diner at Casa Mia, the place to be for good food and tomeet the newly arrived foreigners. “Hi Charlie!” is the usual greeting upon arrival there “Hiiiii, Luka!” he enthusiatically replies with his charming dark eyes. My name is hard to recall for many, so I think Luka is good enough. It’s not really clear what happened to Charlie back in Burma, but he is limping and he’s somehow not completely switched-on. He left his family and all his possesions behind in Burma. He works 7 days a week in the little restaurant, from 8am until 10pm. When I asked him if he would like to go back to Burma, the sparkle in his eyes turned into a dreamy glance: “Maybe, one day”.