A Psychologist in Albania

A Psychologist in Albania

Notes from different corners of the world.
June 10 1999 6:43 PM

A Psychologist in Albania

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Cooler today because of the wind, but the wind stirs up the dust and makes it impossible to stay clean. I begin again in the office and then to the 9 a.m. interagency mental health coordination meeting, explain again what we are doing here, how the referral system works. Many visits today, and amazingly the car is always there.

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My translator, Hamdi, is tired. I'm talking too fast and interrupting him constantly. At one point I watch him listening to the father of a patient and trying to understand what the deaf woman across from him is gesturing about. She fell out of the tractor cart and fell back asleep. This is her border crossing story. Now they laugh. We all laugh at how tired they all felt then, while slowly it becomes normal to be living like this. But there is a vast fatigue here on all parts.

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It would be beautiful to take a day off. No hiking, no place to go. What could you do? Bird watching from the balcony might be it. I have no idea what these birds are. One looks like a crested woodpecker, large and mythic, or so my Italian-Belgian housemate tells me. She calls it a hupu and tells an ancient story of its journey with other animals to see God. At the end they see themselves in mirrors. Have to think about this. There is another tiny bird with a red mask and yellow areas under black wings. I don't know bird body parts. Something sings late into the night, a long, light, sweet song. Is this a nightingale?

The Italian-Belgian nurse who tells me these stories has been everywhere, and I need her to write her memoirs. She explains Muslim rituals to me, tells me myths, describes the local villages she visits. She works hard, keeps her eyes open, and has made our house so livable I don't know how to thank her. She set up an ironing board! What a thing to see. Boiled eggs and cheese in the morning, coffee, tea, fruit. It all seems so normal.

In tent after tent, life becomes more normal. We talk about what it will be like when the border opens in the opposite direction. It's hard to organize life in a tent, but it's better if it's in your own garden while you're rebuilding the house. Watching and talking I try to project what mental health needs will be in Kosovo. There are always at least two things going on in my mind at the same time.

When you enter the tent you take off your shoes and you sit on a blanket on a mattress on the floor. Someone nearby is baking bread. These are the good impressions. There are plenty of unforgettable smells, and sometimes the litter on the roadside is still smoldering in the morning after a mini-bonfire the night before. Plastic, tin cans, everything; and the occasional cow grazing in the middle of it. Don't think about it.

I have to get out my camera. When I'm on leave in the States, I want to get all my film developed and just get some perspective. Is it as beautiful as I think? Will anyone else see it in the pictures? These faces of friends have become familiar; the humor remains surprising. Fast, sarcastic, nothing too sentimental. No one has lost their edge.

We meet again this evening with our Kosovar translators to relax, tell jokes, finish the sausage from New York. More singing, more joking. In the midst of it, the news comes in that the military agreement has been reached, the United Nations is on standby. The response is controlled, quiet, but so clearly a relief. Even then they joke that there is no point in giving addresses in Kosovo, just ask for them in what used to be their neighborhood. See you there.

Photograph courtesy of Doctors Without Borders/MSF.