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Customer reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars

VINE VOICEon 8 March 2017
Really enjoyed this candid account of life as a Medicins Sans Frontieres doctor. The author doesn't hold back when talking about his own struggles and failures, as well as giving a good perspective on the realities of healthcare in two different parts of Africa.
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on 22 September 2017
V Good
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on 16 January 2013
The title of the book pretty much sums up beautifully the nature of the work that Dr.Damien Brown does in Africa as a volunteer doctor with MSF - Doctors without Borders. It is a book that evokes multiple emotions in you as you read it - at times breaking your heart, at times making you laugh, at times feeling despondent about Africa and volunteer work, at times feeling inspired, at times completely upbeat and optimistic about the future. The thing that strikes me most about the author is his honesty and openness in evaluating his time as a doctor with MSF in Africa and never losing his perspective even under trying and testing conditions. The book also brings out the essential goodness of the 'ordinary man' in the street, or 'hospital' so to speak.

Dr.Damien Brown, as a young 29-year old from Australia, offers himself as a volunteer doctor to serve in Angloa with MSF. He is sent as the only 'resident doctor' to Mavinga, an outpost in SE Angola consisting of only mud huts in an area surrounded by scores of landmines - remnants of a long civil war. He has for company three other expatriate medical practitioners and a few Angolan health workers, who are actually veterans of the long civil war. Dr.Brown goes in there speaking little Portuguese, the local language. His six-month stint, to say the least, was eventful. He attends to a man mauled by a leopard, wrestles with cultural conflict with his Angolan health workers,
treats severely malnourished children, assists a surgery by 'cleaning' the instruments by holding them up to the fire, argues with relatives of patients who insist on their patient being 'operated upon' because that is what is seen as the 'Rolls Royce' of medical care, is shocked by his own Angolan colleague who, after having cut open the stomach of a patient, challenges Dr.Brown to decide as to which organ to remove......
However, it is not all gloom and disease and death either. The lighter side of life in Mavinga is brought out in the context of the four expatriate volunteer workers - three of them men and one , a blonde young German woman named Andrea. Unfortunately for DR.Brown and Pascal and Tim, she happens to be a born-again Christian and so any casual fling was out of the question. The narrative also spells out in the end that many aid workers eventually end up being partners or spouses of other aid workers. Dr.Brown humorously refers to it as 'double the baggage in one relationship'!

In the author's own words, his Angolan experience is summed up as follows:
" ...the reality of medicine in developing countries is that people die of preventable conditions that are easy to treat or even prevent. Of the millions of children who won't survive the year, most will succumb to one of six things : poor nutrition, pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, measles or lack of basic neonatal or maternal health care, all of which are easily managed or prevented. ".
As for his own time in Mavinga, it is " a confusing, intoxicating, frustrating, heartbreaking, inspiring, disillusioning and life-affirming blend of all the best and worst things. Of Angolans, he says, "...no one mopes, or says Poor us. They just get on with it".

After six months in Angola, he returns home to Melbourne, Australia, but feels alienated by the trivialities of the 'problems' in the Australian context of total security and affluence. His mother talks about an anxiety disorder that the family dog is undergoing and the need for anxiety pills for the dog; at the supermarket, he watches an overweight kid throwing a tantrum because his mom bought him 'that' chocolate bar instead of the twenty other varieties he wanted....It is all too much to handle for Dr.Brown and he takes off again to Africa with MSF to regain his balance.

He serves a short stint in Mozambique and then six more months in Nasir, South Sudan - a place as far off from civilization as one would want. In Nasir, in addition to the expected malnutrition, diarrhoea and malaria, he deals with clans of people with gunshot wounds in the fight for 'cattle' which is often valued more than human lives in Nasir. As if this is not enough, he finds himself in a heartbreaking situation where a dying pregnant woman needs to be operated upon urgently but her husband forbids it by refusing permission - result of a strong patriarchal culture where even the woman's life is in the hands of her husband. This was the last straw on Dr.Brown's back and he decides to return home to Australia.

In the final chapter, the author asks the question," ...So, is there really any point to this line of work? Is there any lasting benefit to the people that MSF tries to help? Or does the aid industry just bumble on blindly, patting itself on the back for 'at least trying' , all the while perpetuating its own existence?' Dr.Brown resolves this dilemma in the following words:
My head says it is futile. My heart knows differently. I hope to be in the field again sometime soon.

The book is simply brilliant.
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on 20 January 2014
This book details the real story of Dr Damien Brown, a 29 year old Australian serving as a volunteer doctor in Angola with MSF - Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without borders). The book beautifully sums up the brilliant work completed by many MSF volunteers serving in unknown foreign countries. The book is a rollercoaster of emotions, making you sad, making you laugh, making you feeling inspire or debating the true effect of volunteer work in less economically developed countries. Damien tells the reader how an ordinary person reacts under the "interesting" conditions abroad.

Dr. Brown is sent to Mavinga, South-East Angola on his first assignment for MSF as the only doctor living there. The outpost has only basic mud huts and many landmines circling the town, scars of the long Angolan civil war. Brown goes in knowing very little of the native language of Angola, Portuguese and has an interesting six month stay in Angola. The book reveals some of the shocking and inspiring stories that occur everyday. Some notable events include: Trying to understand under trained Angolan health workers (many Ex military medics), treating malnourished babies and sterilizing surgical equipment using a basic fire.

The book also details the author's experience returning to Melbourne, Australia and serving a short time in Mozambique as well as six months in Nasir, South Sudan. The book is truly inspirational and is my personal favorite read. I would suggest if you are in any doubt of buying it - just go for it, you won't regret it!
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on 18 October 2012
Beautifully written, fast-moving, this is a fantastic read that I found very difficult to put down.
Dr Brown's modest, understated storytelling effortlessly brings the people and characters to life, and provokes as many questions as he purports to answer.
Can't wait for the prequel!
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on 6 March 2013
If you want to do voluntary work abroad or ate in he medical profession it is a great read. It is written with compassion, humour and a sense of exasperation! Can't put it down.
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on 2 March 2014
From the dialogue to the descriptions of Angola, Mozambique and Sudan, the writing is so engaging. The personal conflicts and frustrations of an aid worker in the field were thought provoking. The author acknowledges he is parachuted into a place where he cannot relate to his local colleagues and patients who have endured decades of civil war and poverty and at times cannot understand his role. There are softer moments in dealing with the relationships between the small team of ex-pats and how they try to relate to ordinary society.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 June 2016
I have friends who work for aid agencies so I'm always interested in first hand accounts of what drives seemingly logical and rational people to put themselves in the way of serious physical harm in order to help others. Damien Brown's book is a great read - though if I were pushed to criticise, I enjoyed the first half in Angola a lot more than the second half in Mozambique and Sudan. Sadly, that's probably the same case for the author - that he enjoyed the first half and became a bit more jaded, frightened, exhausted in the second.

The book is filled with things that will baffle and amaze you, entertain and make you happy but also leave you feeling desperately sad that so many people have access to so little medicine. In every chapter there are deaths due to diseases that could have easily been fixed in a first world hospital but the more depressing deaths and injuries are the ones caused by clans shooting one another.

The ups and downs of life as an MSF volunteer are fascinating and the book is well worth a read.
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on 12 April 2013
Working for an organisation like Medecins Sans Frontier as a doctor caring for the sick in some desperately poor part of the world must at first sight seem the dream job for those of us who care about humanity. Yet here is the true story of such a life and rather than a dream it often comes across as a nightmare. While the book tells of the achievements despite the limited resources, it shows up not just the expected hardships living somewhere so remote and poor but also the frustrations and towards the end the anger at the suffering that is preventable but is not for many reasons, not least in one tragic example the sheer stubborness of a husband who refuses simple lifesaving treatment for his wife. This book is a powerful witness of life as a MSF doctor and I am left humbled at the dedication of the author and his colleagues for the sacrifices they make doing this amazing work.
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on 31 July 2013
A good read, giving good insight to another world. Wonder what his next book will be about ? Top marks :)
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