Foreign doctors, nurses stand by Libyans amid rocket fire
At the Nalut Central Hospital, some 50 foreign doctors and nurses continue to treat the Libya rebels – and injured pro-Qaddafi forces – despite no pay and nearby rocket fire.
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And after so many years working in Libya, the Filipina nurse – one of 10 at this hospital – can’t complement enough the Libyans she knows. “They are good people, very very good,” she says of those she has worked with for three decades. “We are in the middle – we treat both sides.”Skip to next paragraph
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“I want a peaceful Libya,” says another Bangladeshi nurse, Sahetaj Khanom, who wears an aquamarine hospital gown and hair cover as her shift begins. “But nobody knows when it is finished, this war.”
Which is why some are wondering how their quiet, pre-uprising posting to the relatively obscure town of Nalut has turned into what, on some days, now appears to be a combat deployment. A Katyusha rocket fired by pro-Qaddafi forces last Thursday landed inside the hospital compound, less than 50 yards from staff housing – one of half-a-dozen that landed that evening.
“I was afraid too much!” recalls Bangladeshi nurse Usha Barai of the blast that burst in her windows. “Suddenly, ‘Boom, boom!’ I fell down and I cried.”
Space has since been made for living in the reinforced basement of the hospital itself, with one door listing the “Filipina Group” and others. Many have moved from their unprotected apartments where they maintain vegetable gardens and usually spend their free time.
But the conflict has been inescapable. “Our life is very painful,” says Ms. Barai. “We love people, but it is very hard. In front of my eyes, I have seen a lot of people die. I want to go. My family is also crying.”
At least she does not have her family with her, as does one Pakistani anesthetist, who moved into the basement with his wife, 3-year-old child, and 3-month-old baby. Lack of cash has kept them from leaving.
“The people of Nalut are very cooperative and they help us,” he says. About the conflict, he adds: “We are waiting for the result.”
Concern Qaddafi may target staff
The Nalut hospital is not alone in feeling the pressure of the Libyan war. The besieged rebel enclave of Misurata, east of Tripoli, has withstood the same frequent shelling from pro-Qaddafi forces that rains upon the city. In Zintan, 70 miles east of Nalut and still in the rebel-held western mountains, this reporter saw fresh Katyusha strikes last week in the hospital parking lot.
And that is not the only danger for foreigners in this rebel town. Russian-born Ukrainian lab technician Zhenya, who has lived in Libya 11 years and is Muslim, has made three trips to Tripoli since the uprising began, but now the hardened front lines make such a journey impossible.
“The people are fine with me here, we are like brothers and sisters,” says Zhenya of her decision to stay. “Some leave. But me, no. It doesn’t make sense … that when something goes wrong, I leave.”
Libyan and foreign staff alike are concerned about Qaddafi's wrath if their profile is raised higher. Most asked not to be fully named or photographed, though their professional work continues regardless no matter who controls this town. Pro-Qaddafi agents once worked to identify regime opponents here, as they did in cities across Libya.
“From the beginning of the war in Nalut, there were members of the Revolutionary Committee who took pictures and the names of protesters during demonstrations,” says Dr. Bhiey from Egypt. They were later arrested at checkpoints or harassed.
Duty-bound in solidarity with the people, despite the anxiety, this surgeon has no plans to leave.
“My wife was bathed in sweat; the sound was very, very loud,” says Bhiey about the Katyusha strike that shocked his Moroccan wife and their three children. “Now when [she] hears a mosquito, she is scared.”
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