Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Lying Low in Pakistan

My brother, recently returned from a tour in Kandahar where he has been with the Canadian military, sent a message when he heard I was heading for Pakistan. He said that I should be careful, that Pakistan isn't safe!

“What,” I asked my sister, when she conveyed the message, “about Afghanistan? He thinks that is safer? Did he forget there is a war being waged in Afghanistan?.”

Our two year Strengthening STI Management project is drawing to a close. My visit to assist with the physician training has been postponed several times in the past two years. Finally, on advice, the workshop was shifted from rural Mardan to Peshawar. This would be more expensive but was deemed more secure. The day I arrived in Islamabad, US planes were bombing at least three tribal areas close to Peshawar. So my brother was right and war is being waged here too.

Headlines in newspaper the following day declare "Militants Lie Low in Bloodless Operation". Side bars in the newspaper indicate a number of civilian deaths.

If this is lying low, I wonder what would flying high be like?

So I am settled in a guest house in Islamabad which is deemed secure for now and has wonderful food and staff. Unfortunately it has regular power blackouts. My only casualty is a broken toe when I was attacked by my suitcase in the dark, so I am limping around. As well my computer batteries were fried during one of the power surges, but switching my two batteries around seems to have stimulated one of them to function so I now get about an hour and a half , rather than the almost 4 hours of battery time I was getting before. On the other hand maybe both of them are at half mast! I had a moment of brilliance in the duty free in Heathrow on the way over here and purchased a portable hard drive but it seems I should have been thinking voltage stabalizer.

Meanwhile, my colleague, Emel is scrambling. After a lot of calls it looks like we are going to be able to go ahead with the training in Abbatabad, a quiet place north and west of Islamabad. The security staff at the Canadian High Commission agree that this area has been calm. More calls and a site is booked and physicians notified. When I point out to Emel that if I were not here, the whole thing would be postponed, he quickly agrees and then graciously adds, “But thanks goodness you are here and we will go ahead with it, enshallah.”

The situation in Mardan is worrisome so I suppose this is a useful distraction. Our drivers who have been in and out of Islamabad, tell me that the health work still goes on and they are able to move to all of Frontier's twelve health units,.

It has been a long while since I have run a STI training workshop. A Canadian colleague was originally supposed to come to assist in running this workshop as well as adapting it to Pakistan but security has forestalled that. More recently several possible Pakistani physician trainers were approached to assit but the most recent possibility is not able to come to the first workshop. So it looks like I am going to be facilitating alone. Not quite alone, as I do have the assistance of the Master Trainers who are excellent in Pushto but not so fluent in English and my colleague, Emel, who is a master organizer and keeps reminding me that he is not a trainer!

My first task has been to assemble a slide show on genital ulcers that includes all the patter and comments and possible questions. This is needed because I didn’t think I would be allowed, as a woman, to show and discuss genital ulcers. I run my slide show by Emel since it looks like the total cast of facilitators is going to be him and I. He doesn’t look comfortable even with all the notes I have attached. The upshot is that he feels that as a foreign female doctor I can discuss the slides of genitals although he agrees a local female doctor would not be allowed to do so.

I think about this for a while, a very long while.

Now I have to get on with making most of the training material, since I am here in Islamabad and the rest of the team are in Mardan. But then today a whiff of fresh air, just like a Borneo breeze, came wafting through my door bearing a local artist. We have been correspondidng on the internet about him drawing the illustrations for the training manual we hope to produce so that they will reflect the local situation and customs. He is an incredibly gifted and much in-demand illustrator and after some negotiation, it is apparent that on our limited budget we can not afford him.

Today he has come to tell me that he will do all 50 illustrations and is going to produce some of them almost immediately. So I am close to euphoric, at least as close as I can allow myself to be given all the preparation needed for our workshop.

It is a wonderful tonic to help counteract all the awful things I am reading about the Taliban. As are these evocative photos of rural Pathans in our project area, a wonderful, hospitable albeit conservative group of people.

Photos: PM residence in Islamabad, rural Pathans gather sugar cane, Literacy training for women, health poster competition for young girls, making gur (brown sugar from cane)



Blogger TBTAM said...

glad to see you are back, hope you stay safe. Great photos.

5:37 AM  
Blogger Dragonfly said...

Stay safe and keep up the good work!!

5:41 AM  

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