The world can seem like a serene and beautiful place from 40,000 feet. On the Horn of Africa however, a different story unfolds on the ground. We flew north along the Somali coast, the tin roofs of the village sparkling like diamond dust in the sunlight, thousands of feet below. We descended steeply and banked out hard right over the Indian Ocean, swooping in low once again to the fiery furnace that is Mogadishu in the afternoon heat.
We had two casualties on this occasion. Their contrasting injuries, for me, illustrating something of the lives of the AMISOM troops in Somalia. The first patient was suffering from multiple gun shot wounds and was in a bad way. The second patient had a fractured patella from playing volleyball. The gunshot wounds had been inflicted in a so called ‘friendly fire’ incident and although I cant really elaborate more on that here, it didn’t seem very friendly to me. The bullets had caused compound fractures to both arms, the right arm having no blood flow now at the wrist and the hand was contracted into the claw of an ulnar nerve injury. I suspect he will later loose the arm. The small, clean entry hole of the bullet just below the rib cage on the right was in contrast to the much larger exit wound a few inches around the side. The bullet seemed to have just missed the liver, lung and diaphragm.
I have long been a proponent of non-violence and nowhere do I feel that conviction more strongly than I do here. To my mind, its time that we learn from our many mistakes and make a greater effort to settle our differences through negotiation and mutual understanding; rather than through killing and wounding one another. The end does not justify the means. War begets more war. As Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘the means are like a seed, the end is like a tree.’ Maybe I am a hopeless idealist, I don’t know. What I do know is that AMREF Flying Doctors make a contribution in picking up the pieces of the shattered lives of war and I’m glad to play a small part in that.
Its not been all war, doom and gloom. As a flying doctor, I’m privileged to witness some incredible scenery and experiences. As we flew south on another mission yesterday, Mounts Kilimanjaro and Meru were standing proud ahead of us, like sentinels at the gates of Tanzania. These are Tanzania’s two highest peaks (Kili being the highest in Africa) and I had climbed both seven years earlier on a trip with Jagged Globe Mountaineering. We landed at Kilimanjaro Airport to be met by welcoming, friendly locals, grateful for our evacuation of a young man who had literally fallen off a cliff. He was fortunate and got away with lung and kidney contusions only.
This week I’ve also had the opportunity to give some teaching to the AMREF nurses, help with the preparation of a conference presentation and spent some time relaxing with a Tusker beer at the Aero Flying Club of East Africa. Life is good.