Band-Aid for a Broken Leg by Damian Brown is the author’s account of his experiences working for Medecins San Frontieres in Africa. Although there are no instances of giving a band-aid for a broken leg, the title represents the organisations struggle to manage serious conditions with limited resources, and that for all the work it does, it cannot cure Africa’s problems.
Brown is South African by birth, and moved to Australia with his family as a child. His first posting in Angola is a shock to the system: the climate, the danger of landmines, the hospital and the work under difficult conditions. He is frustrated by lack of resources, lack of staff and his relationships with the local members of staff. Yet he feels like they are helping, doing some good on a small level, even if the bigger picture is that they are merely holding things together tenuously – putting a band-aid on a broken leg if you will.
Brown’s account is not harrowing in terms of what he is faced with, although that is far from sunshine and light – death and disease are all around. It is not difficult to read what he describes, but it is not easy to accept that this is all these people have. Life is hard beyond comprehension, and life expectancy for women in Angola is thirty-nine, a shocking statistic in the twenty-first century. Brown’s second posting is to Sudan, where clans are a constant threat, and fear of revenge is uppermost when helping the victim of a clan attack.
Brown’s style is as light as it can be, and despite the work he is writing about, he manages to inject some humour and happiness into his narrative. He laughs at himself easily, and recounts the antics of local children. The narrative only becomes a bit darker when Brown begins to struggle to cope with his posting in Sudan, prior to and immediately following his decision to leave.
Band-Aid for a Broken Leg is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, although not quite so gripping as it could have been – longer coverage of particular patients stories could have achieved that, but that wouldn’t have given such a wide picture of the work of the hospitals.
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