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Letters from Gaza

December 12, 2013

By Simon Chambers

Allison Kittleson is a nurse from Lethbridge, Alberta who has just finished a month volunteering at the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza.  Through the course of her time there, she has sent several emails to update her friends and family (and PWRDF, too) about her time, the first few of which can be found here.  Here are some excerpts from the rest of her experience volunteering there:

November 5:

The excitement of the day… I came into the physio clinic and everyone was staring into the corner where Na-il was crouched over moving furniture. I asked one of the girls why and with her limited English she shrugged and said mouse? Well it was not! They moved the bed out and it turned out to be a snake!! Poor snake was subsequently beaten to death with a lead pipe (this is sounding like a game of clue!) and removed in a plastic bag!

…I spent yesterday with Dr Geoff in his consultation and follow up clinic. That was very interesting, I saw many of the scars left by well healed burns. He is a plastic surgeon and I was surprised by how many came in wanting scars removed. I’m more used to cultures where scars are a source of pride and the visible symbol of strength. Here the women and young girls especially want perfect skin, in spite of the fact they’re completely covered unless they’re at home.

…A funny thing I learned quickly was that when multiple family members come in with the patient it’s because they all want to be seen! The parents will pay for a consult for one child but bring his or her sibling and have the doctor look at both. Dr Geoff has been coming to Gaza for over a decade and is quite use to this sort of appointment.

…The mood of the hospital is a very happy one these days. They have fears over it closing and everyone losing their jobs, which are hard to come by in Gaza, but right now there are surgeries and patients and lots to do. Today I was told how wonderful it is that I came, they haven’t had volunteers here in several years (other than Dr Geoff) and it makes them happy. One doctor told me “when people like you come from so far away to help us it makes us feel we are not alone, even if you just say Hi.” That is something I will keep with me forever, I’ve never met such open and welcoming people.

November 14:

I’ve had a busy few days between the ‘mixed ward’ and the burns unit, and I’ve made some new friends! There is a little fellow named Salah who had his 5th and hopefully final surgery this week. I met him two weeks ago when he had surgery #4 an stayed with us for several days. Before his surgery he was quite shy but definitely had a few smiles for me. After his surgery in a very groggy state he saw me and gave me a big wave of recognition. That was replaced by shyness as the drugs wore off! Then he was pleased to see me at the outpatient clinic, and I was very excited to see him yesterday for his final surgery! He was all crooked smiles and hand shakes, and his parents greeted me very warmly. The little guy was actually pretty excited about the surgery because in order to give him proper lips Dr Geoffrey had sewn the middle of his mouth closed. So yesterday that was opened and everything put back as it should be! This morning I said hello by sticking out my tongue at him! The best part was when he realized he could do it back!!

November 20:

It’s hard to believe but already almost a month is gone and today was a day of farewells! Every trip I’ve taken ends the same and though I keep all of my friends and new family members close to my heart, I’ve never seen any of them again. But my travelling days are not over, and with any luck I will see each and every one again.

My team in the burn unit had a party for me today, Samira brought pastries, the men went out to pray and came back with cake and nuts. For the first time I saw men and women eating together! I was so honoured, and so happy. I couldn’t go anywhere without offers of tea or coffee without sitting down to talk a little and mostly listen. My Arabic has improved 😉 actually they’re incredibly expressive when they talk and I have been able to follow conversations very loosely because of it!

…I am sorry to be leaving, and missing home at the same time. As with every trip everyone asks me when will you come again? Inshallah I say and that is what they’re hoping to hear, God willing I will be back to my Palestinian family at Ahli Arab hospital. Each one hopes that when I come again things will have changed, there will be electricity for more than 6 hours a day, the water will be drinkable, there will be work without fear of the hospital closing, they will have me to their homes to eat and above all things they will have peace and freedom. They want me to see what they dream about, a land they can truly call their own and a place to be proud of. My driver tonight apologized for the state of things, he said this is not what his people really are it is what has happened after years of being in jail. I told him not to apologize, I can see the spirit of these people and feel the hope in their hearts. I told him that despite life being so hard I have met the most generous people in the world, the most welcoming and some of the kindest. I have good things to say about everything, he hopes I’ll share my experience so the rest of the world will think better of them.

I haven’t done the work that I had hoped and expected, but I have certainly touched lives, lifted hopes and learned an incredible amount. As I have promised all my nurses I will not forget my month in Gaza. And I do hope that I can come again whether things are better or worse I would gladly come again.

Thank you, Allison, for your ministry in Gaza, and for sharing some insights into your time there with us here in Canada!

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