Mix-ups and Marriages

Greetings from Khartoum!

Its Friday, the first day of the weekend here. And no,  I didn’t get married through some slight misunderstanding, but I have now completed my first working week (Sunday to Thursday) at Soba University Hospital, just outside Khartoum.

Its been great fun, but really all about finding my feet and getting my bearings. I’ve felt a little like a fish probably feels out of water – hooked by something I don’t quite understand, but realising that some pretty speedy evolution is going to be rather handy!

For example on my first proper day (after some introduction and orientation on the Sunday), I got to the front of my accommodation (I am staying in the doctors’ mess) to catch the shuttle bus to the hospital, which supposedly went at 08:00am. After waiting peacefully alone for a few minutes,  I went up to a man sitting in the shade of a tree nearby (the mess sits in a large scrub field a little way from Soba Hospital) to ask about the bus.

Me: Hi, is there a shuttle bus now?

Man: No bus.

Me: When is the next bus?

Man: Uh?

Me: (In faltering arabic) At what hour is the next bus that goes to the hospital of Soba?

Man: (In English) The next bus?

Me: Yes

Man: Not now.

Me: Oh (pause). At what time?

Man: Uh?

Me: (Arabic) At what time is the next bus?

Man: (English) This evening.

Me: Ah (pause). Okay, so I can walk?

Man: No.

Me: Oh (pause). But I think maybe I walked yesterday with one of the doctors?

Man: Not now, too hot.

Me: Ah (pause).

(We watch for a few seconds as some of the doctors from the mess stroll past on their walk in to the hospital)

Me: But I think really I should go in to the hospital, so maybe I should try to walk.

Man: Okay, I will walk with you.

From one perspective, I think this gives an idea of my first few days. Its taken just a little time to adjust to h0w things are – from routes into Soba Hospital and bus routes into Khartoum, to meal times, ways to stay hydrated, and how to shift my sleeping patterns to make the most of the cooler parts of the day (day time average is about 40 degrees C at the moment).

What that 2 minute ‘conversation’ barely touches though is just how friendly, welcoming and helpful so many people have been to me in these first few days – particularly at Soba Hospital and in the doctors’ mess. I spend my day shifts with the house officers, who mostly speak excellent English. They have helped me to see patients, taking some histories and doing examinations, correcting my clinical technique and encouraging me to try and pick up the odd medical word in arabic (and if I ever remember any they could be useful as many patients don’t really speak English).

I have also been to a pre-wedding ‘henna’ party – at the kind invitation of the chief administator at Soba Hospital – which I think is essentially about the groom (or the bride) celebrating the end of their single days and forthcoming marriage. From 21:00 onwards, around 200 people were up dancing to the live music and songs. One of the female singers in particular had a fantastic voice, kind of the female equivalent of Tom Waits, only I think with an even bigger set of lungs.

I have to come into Khartoum to use the internet (which takes around 40 mins via 2 microbuses) – so it may be less easy to blog as often as I had hoped.

I will post again soon – particularly about the medicine I’ve seen, including my first day at Omdurman Hospital of Tropical Medicine – where I will be spending 2 days a week from now on.



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