“There was a roaring in the wind all night. The rain came heavily and fell in floods.” William Wordsworth, Resolution and Independence
A tremendous electrical storm woke me from sleep with a terrifying show of lightning, accompanied by driving rain. It lasted more than an hour. When I got out of bed the next morning, I stepped into a puddle. At first I thought that window frames were not water-tight, but then I realised the toilet had leaked into the bedroom. Backflush.
The minivan arrived at 7:15 to take us to work. I began to regret having eaten a greasy omelette for breakfast. We made good progress driving north along Marine Drive, despite dozens of goats on the road. To our left, semilunar fishing boats were beached, ready to be launched at high tide. To the right were prawn hatcheries.
We hit traffic driving south on the main road, National Highway 1. All traffic was at a standstill. But patience is not a virtue held by Bangladeshi autorickshaw drivers and after a couple of minutes, they came buzzing past, horns blaring, belting down the wrong side of the road. Someone asked our driver what was the cause of the holdup. He slowly and deliberately said, “It…is…a…traffic…jam.”
We thought that there may have been an accident and I considered getting out of the van to see if my services were needed, as a medical Good Samaritan. My colleagues advised me against it. Discretion prevailed, but imagine the newspaper headlines, “Expat medical team remains cosseted in their air-conditioned vehicle while Bangladeshis perish in road crash.”
In front of us, a truckload of Bangladesh Signals soldiers in rather fetching camouflage uniforms climbed down onto the tarmac. Their officer looked efficient. He had a row of pens and pencils tucked into a pocket on the sleeve of his uniform. He strolled down the road past the stationary vehicles, looking into the ditch. I wondered out loud if he was considering whether it could be possible for a truck to bypass the obstruction by going off-road. “No, he’s just looking for a place to pee,” said one of the Water & Sanitation engineers in the minivan.
When we started moving forward, the drivers behind us became irritable and parped their horns if we didn’t immediately drive closer to the vehicle in front. We overtook the source of the blockage, a massive earthmoving machine mounted on a low-loader. At last other agencies were responding by supporting infrastructure. I guessed that the machine would be levelling ground for the new Red Cross/Red Crescent hospital by the side of the road at the Rubber Garden. It was far too big to tackle the muddy tracks inside the camp itself.
The hospital is muddy and miserable when it is raining. Rain pelting on a corrugated iron roof makes such a racket that taking a history is almost impossible. The consulting rooms and wards have concrete floors, but the tents have flooring made from plastic sheeting. People find it difficult to get to the hospital because the paths in the camp have turned to muddy streams. Old people who venture out run the risk of sliding and slipping in the mud, fracturing their wrists and hips. More work for us.