It's been an eventful few days, as my last entry indicated. Our patients of last posting are en route to the US for definitive care, and we are settling down into our normal routine. I guess to some extent we are figuring out what our normal routine is. Our picture tonight is of the sun setting over the settlement of Balbalah (sp?) west of Djibouti city, as seen from the Old Cantina - one of the two base watering holes. Haven't been out that way yet, but we still have a lot of exploring to do.
The folks we came in replacement of have now left, for good and for all and the ball is largely in our court. One of the recent changes in the manning of the EMF is the staggering of the relief process, such that about one third of the officers - nurses, doctors and administrators remains behind to assure continuity. They'll leave in July, but bless their hearts, they looked mighty wistful as that 767 lumbered down the runway and banked to the northwest. For our part, if I may presume to speak for my colleagues, we were happy to see them off. This is not from any dissatisfaction with our predecessors but more, I think, from an inchoate sense that until we start this tour, we won't really get any closer to being done. Make no mistake, our eyes followed that chartered bird hungrily too.
We did get out for a couple of superb meals with the last crew before they left. The first place was a restaurant called Bamfena which had the unlikely twin specialties of ethiopian food and fondue. At least I think it's unlikely. Anyway, we all opted for ethiopian fare - the owners being ethiopian this seemed like the better bet (although I was assured the fondue is good). We split traditional preparation of savory meats and vegetables, served on a large round of bread - the bread more like a crepe - tearing the bread, scooping up the delicacies and popping them in our mouths. I tried hard to remember to use only the right hand, but only just saved my lap from catastrophe a few times. The food was delicious, and washed down nicely with St. George beer, imported from Addis Ababa.
The night before last we took our predecessors out for their last Djiboutian meal, and ended up at a Yemeni fish restaurant, whose name I can't transliterate from the Arabic. It was lovely - no alcohol as the owners are a bit more traditional then many in this French influenced town - but a fresh lemon beverage too sophisticated to be lemonade more than made up for it. The fare here is fresh fish - I chose grouper - split, seasoned and roasted over a wood fire. It is served with, again, a large bread round but the bread here is a flat, sesame seed covered preparation - something like indian naan, but lighter and a tad crisper. The fish is flaked off, wrapped in the hot bread and dipped into one of three sauces - cumin, cilantro, maybe tamarind and other exotic spices made the otherwise simple preparation magnificent. I finished mine and my neighbor's - trying to be careful not to be too obvious about licking my fingers.
I realize that the forgoing will not serve to build a sympathetic and solicitous readership, but folks I gotta call 'em like I see (or taste 'em). As a culinary stop on your world tour, you could do worse then Djibouti.
Of course, this happened a couple of days ago. I was walking down the dust and gravel road that leads from our exchange and my CLU to the galley - it was lunch - and I saw an American woman in her early 30's, walking hand in hand with her 6 year old son. A normal scene where you are, but it floored me. I choked off an involuntary utterance - somewhere between gasp and sob, and I had to look away lest the hot pressure behind my eyes give way to tears. I didn't realize, or I had buried deep down, how much I miss kids, children, my child. Camp Lemonier is like Vulgaria from the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie (not Ian Fleming's original book) in that it is a childless world. Ah! How arid indeed this place is, and the world would be without the small faces, the sweet voices, the lovely, noisy, busy, joyful chaos that children carry with them as honey bees carry pollen - scattering it heedlessly in their flight. Oh, but I miss my little boy! Anyway, I have no idea who they were or why on earth they were here and of course I didn't ask. They walked along, and I turned my eyes to the West and walked on myself. Do me a favor...hug a kid today. You can wait until they've had a bath if you're squeamish.
Anyway, perhaps that's enough for today. I've moved into my new, permanent CLU, bidding adieu to Ahab the crow. The space is exactly like the one I vacated, save there is no TV, but there is a refrigerator. All in all a net gain. I'm off to Pelltier, the Djiboutian hospital tomorrow, having gotten to sit in on a C-section at the French hospital yesterday. Arabic classes tomorrow night and Sunday. I'll write more tomorrow.