My first experience as a volunteer.
I could start by saying that my experience in Mauritania has been fantastic and very positive, but that can never reflect the feelings, fears, frustrations, and joys that this trip has brought me.
How to briefly tell a unique, human experience that has been maturing in your head for a long time?! What can be said of a team of 10 people who give their time and the maximum of themselves to improve the lives of other beings?
This is how the story begins …
We met very early at the airport, 27 huge bags with material and large hand luggage about to explode or tiny with the minimum stuff. All in blue: 9 women and 1 man, proud to wear the logo “no more cataracts”.
Long hours of travel where there is time to get to know each other, talk about lived experiences and exchange details, not very intimate, we hardly know each other. “The new ones”, we listen and timidly answer what they ask us.
We arrived to Mauritania, administrative queues, tiredness and smiles, humour was not lacking. We got some rest and the excitement of a new day. Then we had 7 hours of crossing the desert, waiting for the unexpected (a bus with all the suitcases of material that breaks down at after 3 hours of travelling) and find the most appropriate solution, quickly. Finally, we arrived and “charged the batteries” to start operating as quickly as possible.
In a Muslim country, everyone reacts in his own way, as they say: “the woman rules at home, the man outside” (let me doubt it)??? Once clarified in the hospital who is in charge and who gives the orders, “Jabba the Hutt” takes care of us.
Intense work, knowing each expression, each name, understanding the surgery room, the anaesthesia room, the doctor´s practice room… then the doubt settles … what the heck am I doing here? I will never remember everything! And the support of an attentive team: “don’t worry, everything will be fine, ask, we’ll tell you”. So, get courage and Inshallah!
Long and intense days, full of music, nerves on the edge, with highs and lows, but with good humour and full of dynamism.
The efficiency and knowledge of the ophthalmologist made the practice a welcoming place.
The sweetness of the Italian accent in the anaesthesia room provides direct contact with the patient (spider included). The personified efficiency of two women with character, the hidden calm of the scrub nurses and a slight Argentinean accent in the operating room made it a place … interesting!
Little by little everything fits and if not, it is improvised. Quick lunch and the satisfaction of being able to have a cool beer (“called an olive” so as not to touch Muslim´s sensibilities) at the end of the day.
Last day, graduation dance in the surgery room and the satisfaction of having contributed to operating 245 cataracts.
On the trip back we had a bit of everything: sandstorm, truck accident, rain, the air conditioning stopped working and the bus entered a road where the wheel got buried, humour and joy are not lacking. Safe and sound we got a day to rest, visit a market to learn about the local customs and guaranteed bargaining. The return trip in superior class was appreciated a lot, and then everyone begun to speak about being back to reality, inevitably you make a balance of the experience.
What does it matter the kind of hotel that you are in, what we are going to eat, the dirtiness or if the streets are paved or not? We know why we are volunteering, all with the same purpose in the same project, each one contributes with their part and the union allows us to improve the lives of those less fortunate than us.
We returned happy to have contributed, sad to say goodbye to a unique group, happy to see our people again and eager to repeat!