In March 2011 the British Embassy advised all British citizens to leave Yemen. Nigel and Catherine Dawkins left at this time, and Christ Church was without a chaplain for six months. In September, Peter and Nancy Crooks were able to return to Christ Church for a two-month visit.
The working days at the clinics begin for the Christian staff – Ethiopian, Indian, Pakistani and British – with prayer. It is a good way to begin. Yesterday it was my turn to lead. I spoke (rather movingly, I thought) about the need to emulate Jesus’ compassion for the sick and pushed aside. Afterwards we sang a hymn and prayed. By 10am I had blown it: exasperated by a Somali refugee woman’s rejection of what I considered a generous contribution towards her rent for a wretched, corrugated iron shack in Aden’s main refugee camp, I exploded with frustration, but then I calmed down, apologized, talked some more and she left with the proffered money.
There is a saying, ‘For gold the fire, for silver the crucible, for the heart … Jerusalem.’ I think Aden might fitly substitute for the name of the Holy City! It is a hard place and in recent months it has got much harder for the people here, though thankfully not as hard as in other cities of Yemen. Power cuts are long and unpredictable. Diesel and petrol supplies are erratic and with some of the country’s key oil fields on fire as a result of fighting, the shortages are likely to get more acute, fuelling anger among many. A lot of schools remain closed, occupied by large numbers of Yemenis displaced by fighting not far from Aden in recent months, and now other poor people seeking refuge in Aden from the fighting in Sanaa.
Despite these things, Aden for the most part remains calm. There are days of disobedience when government employees are discouraged from going to work. There have been the occasional halfhearted bombings of military or police installations, and last week an attempt on the life of the chief of defence. From time to time we hear the crackle of small arms fire as youngsters, many of whom have a gun or two, shoot it out with police. Sometimes main streets are cut off for protests, but generally street markets are busy, the post functions at an even more leisurely pace than usual, goats still scavenge enthusiastically on the rubbish tips and the consumption of qat appears undiminished.
We have managed a swim most weeks and of an evening have often walked into Tawahi, our scruffy, local commercial area, to shop, accompanied by Kala, the clinic’s Indian lab technician. (We rarely go far afield and whenever possible try to have a local friend drive with us.) Local stallholders, who thought they had seen the last of us seem astonished and happy to see us back, and in these quieter days it’s been really lovely to have time to catch up with local friends, not least among the clinic staff.
The clinics are running well and we are enormously impressed at the cheerful, conscientious dedication of all the staff. Morale was boosted greatly on learning that Dr Jan Tynovsky from the Czech Republic is prepared to come soon to help work on a list of over 150 cataract patients. There is also the possibility of a past local employee, an able and much loved surgeon, returning on a part time basis to Aden from Sanaa, with her young family. Dr Nada, who heads up the general clinic has just started a full time course of further study. She has a young ‘stand in’, but we miss her experience and wisdom.
On days of civil disobedience, when patient numbers are few, we’ve set aside the last hour of the day for ad hoc, highly interactive English classes. Nearly everyone attends. They seem appreciative. Yesterday Nancy tackled ‘kitchen English’ with the aid of a chopping board, mixing bowl, various instruments and ingredients. We meet in the eye clinic, which has constant electricity, thanks to a generator. On Friday, as we were about to start the service in church the power went. In moments we were puddles of sweat so moved to the eye clinic, which was quickly transformed into a very simple and wonderfully cool chapel. We were fifteen, including four lively children. Afterwards we shared a tasty brunch together. There was much joy.
Today I went to see the director of a local NGO working in the camps about a refugee from Congo who had appeared last week at church. He greeted myself and Sahel – our guard/driver – warmly and went on to tell us that his mother had had an eye operation with us “before six years”. The eyes are working well.”
Praise God! It is very good to be back.
Peter & Nancy