Nicole Ganderton is a registered nurse from South East Queensland. She is currently in Aweil, South Sudan on her first mission with Médecins Sans Frontières.
I’ve decided that the French are my nemesis. Well, French women to be specific. Yes, true to the Médecins Sans Frontières ethos I am a ‘humanitarian’, and I do ‘love all’ and ‘serve all’ as the Hard Rock Café franchise branding suggested to me in my childhood. But what I want to know is: how do the French girls do humanitarian work, and always manage to look so beautiful? I mean seriously, it’s unfair!
A superficial topic? Perhaps. A trivial topic? Well, yes. And one that is admittedly borderline ridiculous given the significant nature of this work. But still, I feel it’s unfair none the less.
A position with Médecins Sans Frontières isn’t for everyone. It’s tough. In my short time since starting my first mission I am constantly chasing the gaps in my nursing and cultural knowledge. Sometimes with innocent grace and at other times with what I am sure are blunt, stunned, unattractive facial expressions. I question every minute decision I make and am becoming familiar with the sinking feeling in my chest when I remember that we don’t have that piece of equipment here. Oh… and my two least favourite, but increasingly regular thoughts are, “Wait, did I wash my hands?” and “Uh-oh, did that noise come from my stomach?” (Yep, it most likely did).
So for a change of pace, let’s get back to the superficial.
May I begin by describing the environment in South Sudan. It is hot. And I mean hot. As in, above forty-five degrees Celsius, my clothes are constantly soaked in sweat, and where the heck is my water bottle, HOT! There is currently a delightful sand storm gracing us with its presence. Flights are grounded. Coughs are common. International staff tempers are thin and there is a wonderful film of brown dust on every imaginable surface.
There also seem to be swarms of children who point and shout in chorus “kawaja”, kawaja!” at every given opportunity. I’m not entirely sure if this Dinka word translates to “visitor, visitor” or “fat white girl, fat white girl”, but understandably this attention makes for a mild dose of ear pain and self-consciousness (as if the pale skin wasn’t enough of a give-away that I’m not from around here’).
So understandably, thoughts of beauty are mostly fleeting in this context. Primarily they consist of catching sight of my face in the mirror when brushing my teeth and wondering how long is too long between hair washes? Being amazed at how quickly my feet can turn brown, calloused and rather unattractive. Or looking at the bright red faces of international staff from the United Kingdom and being grateful that I at least grew up near the beach. Clearly I have a superior knowledge about all things regarding sunshine and sand, and can’t possibly look as uncomfortable as them. But then I catch sight of the French girls.
They can frequently be seen exuding a cool ‘European’ vibe. They are bilingual, sophisticated. They have clean skin, tidy eyebrows, great hair and sweat that more glistens, than drips down the face and falls on their shirt the way mine does. Yep. I am forming a nemesis. Because every woman in the world knows, checking out other women is a thing. Even if we claim it isn’t, trust me, it is. And even if you’re doing ‘significant’ things in the world like working for Médecins Sans Frontières, it’s kind of human nature.
And even if my immediate French colleagues happen to be spectacular, kind, capable, warm-hearted human beings…. Well, that only makes me want to dislike them even more. Although of course I can’t.