Scar Tissue

It’s hard not to get frustrated sometimes. I don’t have the independence I’m used to, and I’m trying to keep myself busy with little tasks to stave off the boredom. A long, slow recovery is often difficult to deal with.

But then I have to remind myself that I’ve come a long way. It was only twelve weeks ago that I was airlifted into hospital with a serious spinal injury, a head injury, internal bleeding and several broken bones.

For days I couldn’t turn over without five members of staff being there to support me, and even after my operations I could hardly sit up in bed without needing incredibly strong painkillers on hand. It took me days to learn to walk again, and it was only a few weeks ago that I was able to walk around without the help of my crutch.

Considering the gravity of the situation, it was miraculous that I was out of hospital two weeks after the accident, and I guess I’d assumed that my recovery would proceed at the same speed. Yet it has been a slow process, and there is still some way to go.

It’s hard not to be self-conscious about my scars, and still difficult to explain to people who haven’t heard about the accident why I sit at home all day. Now the crutch has gone and I’ve relinquished the need for my sling, it’s tough to explain to someone why I need a seat on the train when my injuries are not immediately obvious.

It’s a constant rollercoaster of energy levels, pain, and frustration. I know I have a lot to be thankful for, which I am. But it’s hard not to feel vulnerable, frightened, and a bit helpless at moments.

I don’t feel like this all the time. Far from it. I am determined to make the most of this situation, and deal with it all with a smile on my face. But I guess, like all things, life isn’t always that simple.

Published in: on October 28, 2009 at 1:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Career in Kidnapping…

Having assumed what I wrote about yesterday to be a fairly rare occurrence, I have now discovered that this is far from the truth.

Only days after the two female aid workers kidnapped in Darfur were released, another French aid worker has been abducted, with his captors demanding a one million dollar ransom. Gauthier Lefevre was taken at gunpoint last week, marking the fifth kidnapping since the ICC (International Criminal Court) demanded an arrest warrant for President Bashir earlier this year, in an attempt to indict him for war crimes.

Abducting aid workers has become a new career for gun-wielding rebels, seeking a lucrative reward by demanding high ransoms. So far the Sudanese government has refused to pay the ransom, but even the mere suggestion that a ransom was paid to free the two women last week is acting as an incentive to encourage further kidnappings. The Sudanese government insists it is pursuing an alternative strategy to ensure the safety of the hostages, but a botched attempt to free workers in south Sudan last year resulted in the death of three out of nine hostages that were hoping to be rescued.

This only goes to show the bravery and dedication these aid workers are demonstrating, in a life or death situation – risking their own to save others.

Published in: on October 27, 2009 at 12:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Home at last

Two female aid workers were set free last week, having spent 107 days held hostage by their captors in the remote mountain region of the Sudan-Chad border.

Sharon Commins and her fellow captive, Ugandan Hilda Kawuki were abducted from their aid office in Darfur in July, and have now been released from a terrifying three-month ordeal. They had to endure mock assassinations, had their food and water heavily rationed, and were held in harsh desert conditions with only a blanket for shelter.

This has been the longest kidnapping so far in Darfur, with previous abductees set free after a couple of weeks. Commins told the press that it was her friendship with Kawuki that kept her going, and helped them endure the abuses they suffered. Both women have now returned home to their families and are enjoying a well earned rest before they return to work.

However, despite a love for the Sudanese people, Commins has expressed some reluctance to return to Darfur; “I think my family will have something to say about that”.

I think it’s incredible that there are people who work in such risky conditions in order to bring aid, medical assistance, and hope to people who desperately need it. I hope they both continue to work in what appears to be a tough but immensely rewarding profession. Inspiring.

Published in: on October 26, 2009 at 5:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Band Aids and Beyond

As Ethiopia faces another famine of epic proportions, the Ethiopians are getting weary of hand-outs.

Farmer Tayto Mesfin says that it is not food aid they need, a temporary sticking plaster over the gaping wound of economic failure. “Begging is a shameful practice,” Tayto said. “What we need now is skills and training. We don’t need food aid anymore.”

The Ethiopian government has called upon the international community to provide food aid once again, with an estimated 6.2 million people reliant on the foreign handouts. The drought highlights fears that climate change could endanger the lives of millions for decades to come.

Oxfam’s report ‘Band Aids and Beyond’ underlines the fact that Ethiopia has become highly dependent on foreign aid, and is trapped in a vicious cycle of dependency. The last 25 years of severe poverty are set to be repeated unless effective sustainable development projects are put in place. Currently only 0.14% of global aid is spent on disaster prevention according to Oxfam.

Tayto Mesfin has benefitted from programmes that have taught him how to crossbreed seeds to improve his crop yield. Other projects such as grain banks and beekeeping courses have encouraged Ethiopians to feel they can survive the drought, and offers new skills to pull them out of the cycle of poverty.

Published in: on October 23, 2009 at 11:15 am  Comments (2)  
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Big Brother is back

Don’t panic, I’m not about to reveal the return of the Channel Four TV series, but more the counter terrorism behaviour that is beginning to resemble something out of 1984.

I was reading an article in the New Internationalist yesterday on global counter terrorism movements that have developed since 9/11, with some bordering on the ridiculous.

–          Earlier this year the London Police ordered Austrian tourist Klaus Matska and his 15 year old son to delete all the photos of London buses from their cameras. But this was no April fool; they were asked to give their passport numbers and told that photographing anything to do with transport was ‘strictly forbidden’. Despite the fact you can easily get such images on the internet….

–          In 2002 Hasan Elahi was detained at Detroit Airport after having mistakenly been put on the FBI terrorist watch list. Extensive questioning and nine lie detector tests later, he was set free, but without the all-important FBI clearance. In retaliation to the humiliating treatment he had received, he posted his location, financial statements and even images of every toilet he has used on a website, turning the process into a form of artwork.

–          Homeland security courses are a lucrative business in the United States, with various qualifications offered at over 300 US colleges and universities. At a school in Maryland, located close to the National Security Agency, the course covers some unexpected connections, such as security issues in Romeo and Juliet, developing skills for dealing with infiltration in the family….

Makes you wonder if George Orwell was just a little ahead of his time….

Published in: on October 22, 2009 at 11:34 am  Comments (1)  
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Rejected Refugees

Thousands of Angolan refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo are being forced out of the country and back across the border.

The mass expulsion of the refugees has forced them to set up impromptu camps in northern Angola. There are over 30,000 people living in overcrowded conditions, with a lack of shelter, food and access to clean water. There is an urgent need for aid and assistance.

The refugees were suddenly forced to leave the DRC despite having documentation to prove their refugee status, and were pushed out without any opportunity to collect their belongings.

It comes in retaliation for the eviction of 160,000 Congolese by the Angolan government this year. Those expelled have reported brutal treatment during the process of return.

The DRC and Angola have come to an agreement to end the cross-border expulsions, but the Congolese government expect that there will be further large-scale returns, with an estimated 100,000 Angolan refugees still remaining in the DRC.

At the request of the Angolan government, UNHCR is now intervening to provide assistance to the Angolans suffering in difficult camp conditions in northern Angola.

Published in: on October 21, 2009 at 12:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Was it Rohypnol?

Last week my sister’s housemate was found by the police, lying unconscious, slumped in a bus stop at 2am on Thursday morning.

I spoke to my sister at the weekend, and she relayed the whole sorry story. Her housemate had headed off on a night out with the university ski team for a social in Newcastle city centre. He sent a message to his friend at approximately 1.30am, saying he had made it to the club they had been heading for, but half an hour later he was out cold on the street. The police rushed him to hospital where he was kept on a ventilator for a few hours before being discharged later that morning. He was incredibly drowsy and unsteady on his feet, and my sister and her housemates spent the rest of the day looking after him. He recuperated at his parents house for the weekend and has now returned to university.

I should underline the fact that the guy in question is not a heavy drinker, and had only had a couple of drinks before he arrived in the club. He isn’t a big guy, about average build, but the one drink he was given in the club proved lethal. He remembers being given a drink by some freshers he had just met, and no-one knows what happened to the drink between the bar and his mouth, but it appears that it was laced with a dose of a powerful sedative.

Whether his drink was spiked for amusement or something more sinister, there is no doubt that it was a deadly dose. Had he not been found by the police (who no doubt assumed he was just another inebriated student), the situation could have taken a turn for the worse. He was extremely lucky to have not been mugged or attacked whilst under the influence of the drug.

It is vital that greater publicity on the dangers of drink spiking is circulated throughout universities, and even in local clubs. The police are unlikely to investigate unless they are certain of prosecution, but if there is a spate of incidents then something urgently needs to be done. Date-rape drugs pose a threat to both men and women, and even if there is no evidence of assault, the withdrawal from the drug alone can prove fatal.

In this case, my sister’s housemate had a lucky escape, but it highlights the fact that this danger still lurks in dark clubs and bars. Please, please, drink safely, for your own sake.

Published in: on October 20, 2009 at 12:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The new threat of narcotics

Having barely recovered from decades of civil war, West Africa is under a new threat from cocaine smuggling.

Guinea-Bissau has become the focus for an international network of cocaine smugglers, exacerbating the fragile political situation in the country. Earlier this year, the president and the army chief were brutally murdered in a double assassination in March. The trade in narcotics is fuelling gun crime and violence, creating a culture of fear in the country. International law enforcement officials suspect that the profits from the narcotic trade fuel terrorist activities worldwide.

However, it is not just political upheaval that is at stake, but the lives of ordinary citizens. As drug-fuelled prostitution spreads throughout slum areas in the cities, the AIDS epidemic is growing fast in a country with limited healthcare. Moreover young people are increasingly drawn into violent crime, attracted by the lucrative drug trade.

The cost of cocaine smuggling has catastrophic consequences for society, and the situation in Guinea-Bissau should set off alarm bells for the international community.

Incredible black and white photos of the situation in Guinea-Bissau here.

Published in: on October 19, 2009 at 12:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Unexpected ultrasound results

Don’t worry, I’m not expecting twins, the scan was on my shoulder.

Having spent ages trying to tie up the hospital gown, the ultrasound assistant undid all my hard work and ushered me to sit on the paper-covered couch. The scan flashed up unintelligible images onto the screen, and I squinted hard to try and make sense of the greyscale representation of my shoulder. The doctor quizzed me on the scale of my injuries and asked me to move my shoulder into what felt like impossibly painful positions. After what seemed like an effortlessly quick scan he hurried off to consult another patient and left me with the ultrasound assistant who passed me a paper towel to clean off the gel, and patiently retied the hospital gown.

The results are sent directly to the consultant and are not necessarily detailed to the patient at the time. However I did manage to ascertain that I had indeed torn a tendon, confirmed in the doctor’s parting shot before he disappeared out of the door.

Reassured that my pain was indeed well-founded I thought that was all I needed to know, a minor tear of a tendon is unlikely to need surgery.

Until I saw the results.

Not only had I torn a tendon in my right shoulder, I had also broken my right arm. Brilliant.

Another injury to add to my list. Whilst I had been careful not to put any pressure on my left arm (which was broken in three places in the accident – see earlier blog posts), I had relied on my right arm to support me with my crutch, lifting and other tasks. Two months later I’m told that the reason my right arm is hurting so much is because it was broken too.

I could be really annoyed at the NHS for not noting my injury sooner, or myself for not calling attention to the pain earlier. But in a way I’m slightly amused. After two months broken bones heal themselves, and unless an x-ray reveals that it has healed in an abnormal fashion, there’s nothing much I can do about it.

I just hope they don’t discover any other injuries I don’t know about yet….

Published in: on October 18, 2009 at 2:28 pm  Comments (1)  
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Could School Dinners Eliminate Poverty?

Malnutrition is costing Latin American governments billions of dollars according to a recent UN report.

The economic cost of malnutrition is highest in Central America costing up to 11% of a country’s GDP, as for Guatemala which spends $3.1 billion a year.

Malnourished children are more vulnerable to illness and disease, placing a higher burden on overstretched healthcare systems. They perform poorly in schools, lacking energy and concentration, and often have to repeat school years or drop out, lowering opportunities for income generation as adults.

Malnutrition therefore is not just a physical issue, but an economic one. The World Food Programme believes that it would cost only a fraction of what is currently spent to solve the problem.

As 80% of a child’s brain develops in the first two years, tackling nutrition both in mother and child during infancy can greatly reduce the risk of chronic malnutrition passing down through the family.

Chile has demonstrated that promoting nutrition programmes and breastfeeding can be successful, having dramatically lowered the levels of chronic malnutrition over the last thirty years. This has encouraged other Latin American countries to target undernourished infants in the hope of repeating such success.

By providing nutritious free meals at school, a country can invest in the education of its citizens and lower the economic costs of malnutrition later in life. School dinners improve concentration, leading to better grades, and encourage parents to send their children to school.

So perhaps school dinners could help to eliminate poverty after all. Can someone give Jamie Oliver a call?

Published in: on October 16, 2009 at 12:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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