A Psychologist in Albania

Ran around all day in the heat. Started in the office for an hour, then hit the 9 a.m. mental-health meeting in the Bashkia (the Kukes government office building in the main square), grabbed the car, then back to the house to discuss the referral of a patient from another aid organization. Then it’s on to the Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) camp to check on two developmentally delayed babies and their mothers. After that I worked with the teen-agers in the camp who have formed a group to meet and write their private journals of their experience. We found a cool place where they could work in peace and quiet and I did statistics, late again.

Checked in at the Kukes 2 camp where Doctors Without Borders is running a medical post to see if there were any referrals from the medical team there. Then it’s time for lunch in the camp (satay, rice, the classic tomatoes and cucumbers) and a long conversation with the team and the other aid agency teams on the role we assume in the lives of the refugees. One man spent 20 years in Africa and has convinced me it is beautiful. Put it on the list of places to visit or work.

After lunch it’s back to the Doctors Without Borders camp for a meeting with the woman I hope will be the local coordinator for the stress-management training group. She served strong, hot coffee: I’m still zooming. We leave for the scheduled referral in a tractor camp in town. We don’t leave. The car is missing. It was supposed to be easy today. In the end, we hitch a ride into town in a Doctors Without Borders ambulance and actually make it to the referral on time.

The guy meeting us to introduce us to the patient lives 40 miles from me in the States. The family has taken the patient to the hospital, so he makes introductions and her father walks with us over to the hospital, where she has been admitted. His sister is attending to her, says she wants out of the hospital, wants us to pull strings. No strings to pull. We meet more family and talk about how we will work once she is “home.”

My translator, Hamdi, and I walk back to the office and search on the radio for the car. No luck. We make copies, put the statistics on the computer, and lose 15 minutes cleaning up a diskette. Some things are too familiar. Go back to the house and wash my feet. They’re the color of clay. At least there’s water.

7 p.m. I leave for a consultation in town, a meeting with a friend doing psychosocial work for UNICEF, then on to a new place with a garden for dinner with Besnik, one of our Kosovar translators, and another friend from Amnesty International who is leaving in a few days. We order and listen to a journalist who has joined us tell us how it is. How the situation is quiet, watchful, hopeful. No one wants to get hurt hoping too much. In the meantime he goes on and on about the garbage in the town. I anticipate a long “them and us” discussion and wonder if he will come to understand that Besnik is a refugee. I think not.

The night is beautiful, starry, and a bit cooler than last night. The lake is still and the frogs and birds are noisy. Can’t hear the planes over their racket. I still want to write, think about some clinical questions, be serious. If I had four more hours I’d be even. As it is I’ll start over already behind.

Photograph courtesy of Doctors Without Borders/MSF.