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Yemen - Part 1: “The city bears the wounds of the ongoing war”

“The next adventure has started. After some time off following my placement in conflict-affected Central African Republic, I was ready to hit the road again. I knew already that there were no projects in Barbados, Ibiza or the Maldives… but what was proposed to me was completely off my radar.

I am getting used to not looking at the “travel advice” websites – if I followed them, I would not get anywhere! But needless to say, after a couple of weeks of talking and reflecting I had a signed contract in my hot little hand and was ready to travel to Aden, Yemen. After a commercial plane trip to Djibouti and a brief stay there, I was off again on the one-hour hop to Aden. There were only two of us on the plane, and a beautiful day it was.

"In Aden, Médecins Sans Frontières is helping to establish a cholera treatment centre. The other person on the flight was a water and sanitation specialist, travelling to Aden to help set up and maintain the centre."

Cholera outbreak

Cholera has broken out in Yemen recently. The water and sanitary infrastructure is badly damaged by the war, so a regular outbreak has very quickly turned into a major one, with little means on the ground to hold it effectively at bay. In Aden, Médecins Sans Frontières is helping to establish a cholera treatment centre. The other person on the flight was a water and sanitation specialist, travelling to Aden to help set up and maintain the centre. One hour later, we were descending to the Aden runway. This was my cue to put on my black coat and headscarf, both of which I bought in Djibouti. Only to discover that synthetic material slips on the hair – I ended up walking across the tarmac carrying my luggage in one hand and holding the scarf on with the other! Luckily, I had a cotton back-up which I have been using since.

Trauma centre

The trauma centre we are running in Aden is in the grounds of a (non-functioning) hospital, in a building solely occupied by Médecins Sans Frontières. It has 70 beds, three operating theatres, one emergency room and various support areas such as an X-ray facility, lab and outpatient centre. As we are doing prostheses, orthopaedic surgery, internal fixations and the like, the Yemeni staff are of a high standard, and the international staff are also all experienced. Our cases are 50 per cent violence-related and 50 per cent traffic accidents. 

The city bears the wounds of the ongoing war: buildings with holes in them, checkpoints all over the place, and holes in the roads.

Wounds of war

The city bears the wounds of the ongoing war: buildings with holes in them, checkpoints all over the place, and holes in the roads. The traffic is chaotic, cars going in all directions, and everybody with their hand on the horn. As you drive along, you dodge goats, donkeys and kids, and go over numerous speed bumps and around army checkpoints, manned by one Kalashnikov-bearing soldier (mostly sound asleep).

My colleagues taught me within the first couple of days to recognise “happy shooting” versus “shooting shooting”. I have been thoroughly schooled on our Mass Casualty Plan, and know where the green, yellow and red zone is. All our windows are half blocked with metal sheeting, with holes drilled in some to make it possible to see what is going on.

Ramadan is in full swing here. Between the heat and the lack of food, this understandably does not bode well for productivity, particularly in the afternoon. In consideration, the government has shortened the working day to 10.30 am until 4.30 pm for all workers. But with Ramadan coming to an end and the start of the holidays, everybody is in a party mood. Sweets and chocolates are being passed around the hospital. It is a festive atmosphere, despite the ongoing war.”

 

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