Sunday, 6 November 2011

Abuja: A Thoroughfare?

IB 2011 Participants during the training session (by Tom Saater)

Today was premised on things-are-coming, the feeling that comes from imagining the future. When I woke, for instance, I told myself the obvious: The journey has begun, and today is the tomorrow I thought of yesterday. Okay, I lie. I could not have thought so eloquently as soon as I woke up. We slept a maximum of four hours apiece, and even that was luxurious – Emeka slept only two hours (I caught him dozing later!)

We had an appointment at the National Hospital Abuja, a training session for emergencies and first aid. Unoma had arranged for the session with the gracious assistance of Dr Wole Olaomi, Head of Trauma and Head of Surgery at the National Hospital, whom she had met at Ile-Ife, where they had both been invitees of my friend Damilola Ajayi. Our breakfast was hurried for this reason. Uche and Amaize prepared scrambled eggs; there is, really, nothing like scrambled eggs made by men who know how to make scrambled eggs!

Our National Hospital stint requires great elucidation given how important safety is, and how there is no point, for us, in trying to prove a point in the conflict areas in which we are headed. Dr Wale Olaomi taught us basic and practical ways of saving saveable victims. The distinction is important, he pointed out, and I must point that out too. The problem with dealing with trauma is too much emotion, which is a general human deficiency anyway. Logic, Dr Olaomi says, dictates that a First Aider decide whether the victim is worth the effort or not. My heart is saying this cannot be possible – I have lived in several vicarages, I believe in miracles. Yet my head told me Grow Up, not everything can be saved.

Thinking in retrospect, writing this, the fact that not everything can be saved jumps to me as a major lesson from our first session with Dr Olaomi. The First Aider must assess the situation, the scene, and the victim. Such messiah (permit me) must think of personal safety. It is like saying, I cannot die while trying to keep others from dying. This, again, negates everything I have thought about altruism. Being a First Aider is premised on voluntariness, the whim of a Good Samaritan, and yet we were told the virtue of wanting-to-help is not enough. Why, I ask, do you seek to save when you cannot seek to lose yourself in the process? But these things are too heavy in my mind, too hazy, and I prefer to learn and pray God forbid.

For the interested reader, I summarize the principles into four: Act on time; protect yourself; assess the situation; and sort your patient. I hope it is always this simple.

Hafsat and make beliefs
There was a lady from the National Emergency Management Agency, Hafsat Shuaib. She worked us through a session on Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation. Of course, this session required simulations, which began with Amaize being asked to act as a conscious victim, who could hear the rescuer, and who responds to questions. He was chosen for his weight, the idea being that a heavier victim was more difficult to control. We were showed how to cover wounded areas, take care of the neck, keep a victim in a recovery position, place on a stretcher (or makeshift stretcher), and move to an ambulance. The key word was ‘improvise.’ Our journey will take us to uncertain places, conflict zones. There is no reason, despite our love for this place called Africa, to play down the fact that trouble exists in the spaces we are travelling to; it will be foolhardy to act otherwise. And given that we cannot extinguish the possibility of danger, we had to prepare for unforeseen contingencies. As such, our training sessions became necessary and cogent.

I was Hafsat’s second choice. There is a photo Tom made of Hafsat’s mouth separated from mine with a tube (unfortunately, everyone forgot the name of the tool at the time of writing – unserious students!) He has promised to publicize the scandal, saying she was kissing me! Geez! I am scared of the implications – there is a girl I have my eyes on.

In the third session, Dr Olaomi worked us through dealing with bleeding. By this time, God forgive us, most of us were carried away by hunger.

Hafsat delivering CPR to Emmanuel (by Tom Saater)

Hunger is a necessary evil
Hunger made us forget to take a photograph with Dr Olaomi and Hafsat. I must question why as humans  we need to go hungry, why we come to a point when our stomach twitch in anticipation, in revolt, and our heads make a U-Turn, saying I cannot process information…  FEED ME!

We had a group photograph with the signpost of the National Hospital as a background. And then we headed for food.

Over dinner, we discussed photographers in Nigeria, photography networks, and making money. There were Nigerian photographers generally considered to be arrogant, and gain-seeking.

I should point out that our conversation began after our meal.

Abuja: Wide and Wide
Rem Koolhas would find no ‘close’ in Abuja. There is Close in Lagos, with its explosive human bodies, compulsive survival lifestyle, and possibility of everything and anything. But Abuja, as I have seen, demands less fraternity.  There is a wide gulf between have and have-not, able and unable, who-is-who and who-is-not-who. In Abuja, a person cannot be both.  Options readily present themselves: live in the city centre or in the suburb. Drive in a car or take a taxi. Pay a rent of 40 million naira or own your house outside the main city. Own eight houses in Asokoro or own nothing.

I know this is obviously true of many other Nigerian cities. But in Abuja it is stamped with such obviousness that in one instant a person can see whether the city suits or is repulsive to such a person.

Unoma’s house in Asokoro, where we spent an hour after our meal, typifies the constant attempt to define and individualize. She was asked by Uche if she worked at the nearby Embassy of Hungary, to which she responded that she worked from her house. To work from one’s house is, I believe, the basic definition of artistic freedom. To make one’s house art, as Unoma has made hers, is a rare achievement. There are reasons to make this unattainable; life in wide, unfeeling spaces snuffs creativity, summarizes life into two great gulfs.

There is a plan to make photos tomorrow at the National Mosque, as suggested by Amaize and corroborated by Tom. The idea was borne out of the fact that the throng of worshippers who will gather for the Eid el Kabir festival will suffice as worthy subjects. What we see might make my assumptions of Abuja fall apart. I am hoping that when Unoma sees this we would have a conversation on Abuja life.

I am hoping that I will see Abuja in new light after this brief stay. And I am wont to think that perhaps Abuja is a thoroughfare for us, and we might not see as residents would.

IB 2011 team at the National Hospital (by Lucy Azubuike)


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