From: Captain Lisa Yanity
Date: December 5, 2005
Subj: Speak loudly or carry a big stick?
I have been out on day trips all week long. When we go to big villages it is impossible for all the women and children to be seen by our medical providers so I become the triage doctor. I send all babies, expecting women and the very sick into see the physician's assistant or nurse.
The majority of women suffer for body pain, heartburn, stomach problems, dry skin and the fact that they are women in Afghanistan, all basic problems that can be treated with basic over the counter meds. Well except the living in Afghanistan part. I also pass out the HA stuff that we bring so everyone gets something.
Most women I see just want something, anything even if it is just lotion and chapstick. But to be honest we are just a quick fix. We only supply them with 30 days worth of meds. These women think we bring miracles in our footlockers and they want them.
I go back to the point I brought up before about only looking out for themselves. The women here are unbelievably aggressive. Yelling at me all at the same time when I can't understand them, not listening to my interpreters trying to get them in some type of order, ignoring the village elders as they try and beat them into a line. It is unreal.
I am a very calm person and that is a good thing in these situations. I am not too proud to close my medicine chest and call in my guys to come and regain control. My guys come in and some order is achieved for awhile. However the women are back in my face, pulling on me, yelling at me and maulling me in no time. This week I had two female Navy Petty Officers working with me and they did an outstanding job but were amazed at how we were treated.
On other missions we have had members of the local Afghan National Army or police join us. The women listen to them because they carry big sticks and are not afraid to use them. They know that we will never hit them so they don't really listen to us, but a big stick is heard loud and clear. I really can't paint an acurate picture of what these women do.
OK, try to imagine the day after Thanksgiving shopping chaos. Now imagine that you are the only person standing between hundreds of customers and the item they want. Now imagine that all those people are yelling at you in a different language all at the same time. You want to help them, but they are not helping you help them. They keep pushing forward closer and closer to you. Still yelling, and now they are pulling and pushing on you. You see that your team members are geting as frustrated as are you. You want to give up, you yell at them to get back, but they don't understand you. You try to use what little bit of their language you know, and they still don't listen. They just yell louder. You want to walk away to catch your breath, but as soon as you move the items would be gone. You stop, call your team together, you try and remember that you are there to help. You then wade out into the sea of humanity again and try to figure out a way to help them. That is as close as I can come, and it is still not anywhere near what goes on here. We try to find humor in the situation to release some of the frustration, it might not be right but it helps.
I sometimes worry that my ability to care or to have compassion is gone. What have I become if I think it is OK to push these women away from me, to stop wanting to help them, to yell at them, to think, yep you are dying, there is nothing we can do, but here is some chapstick.
And then it happens, I am able to get one woman to sit down, she waits for me to get ready for her, but before the interpreter explains to me what is wrong she says one of the few words that I know, she thanks me for coming and gives me a toothless smile. My hardened heart beats again. I know there is little I can do for her, I give here meds that will easy some of her pain, I give her vitamins, lotion, lots of HA and of course chapstick. I don't have time to watch her walk away because someone else has begun pulling on my arm and wants my attention
For a brief moment Dr. Marty Martin and his Starfish Award comes to mind. I made a difference to that one, at least for awhile. So I am bouyed enough to jump back into the sea of burkas. I realize that even in the midst of chaos that something as small as chapstick can make someone's day. When I get home I hope that I remember that no matter how busy or hectic my day is, there is still time to do something small to make someone else smile. I just have to remember chapstick.