Several books written by medical doctors from a European country spending time in one or another African country have found refuge on my bookshelves. I have not had the honour of shelving a book written by a nurse about his/her medical experience in an African country.
Steven van de Vijver, a Dutch medical doctor, is one of those medical doctors who spent time in an African country. He worked for a period of nine months in a small hospital at Baraka, at the fringes of Lake Tanganyika. He worked under the umbrella of the international organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors without Borders). In 2006 he qualified as a medical doctor for the tropics and after a crash course ‘French language’ (why not a crash course ‘Swahili language?) the 28 years young doctor moves to the rural hospital in Baraka, where he is in charge of the place. There are local doctors and nurses and an international team of other MSF workers.
In a pleasant style of writing Steven relates his experiences during nine months in which he is submerged in an different world. he writes about the medical situation at the hospital, about the visits to the outlying clinics, about the relationship with other members of staff also in the midst of a strike. He pens down his encounters with local food and drinks. He wants to search his own soul in understanding his own position at Baraka. He watches the local situation during presidential elections. He joins a local soccer team and celebrates glorious victories. He is well aware of the security complications in Eastern Congo. He meets members of Pentecostal churches and local healers, with whom he tries to build a relationship.
Van de Vijver sees and rejoices in the resilience and the lust for life among the people with whom he interacts in Baraka and beyond. This clearly comes through the pages of this book.
The title of the book is translated ‘Africa is contagious’, but Africa is not a country, and the local situation in Baraka is not the situation in the whole of Africa.
Steven van de Vijver – Afrika is besmettelijk. Een arts zonder grenzen in Congo – 2014