Jack Serle

A knockout, the mission junkies, pushing out further

In Suisse on September 24, 2011 at 2:45 PM

At a party a punch can change the whole dynamic of an evening. It can leave you waking bruised, muzzly and frousty. Night memories cutting across your mind’s eye like shards of morning sun through the curtains.

A punch can end a night. Or it can make a night. Either way a punch will set the seal on your evening. A good punch, a real brain bruising lip smacker, is something to behold. The Planter’s Punch served up yesterday evening was one such mix.

Unfortunately I was not the only one of this opinion. The deep bowl was drained dry twice, alas I was not quick enough to drink my fill.


Geneve is a company town, one of the biggest to be sure. In its siblings like Washington and Abuja, Canberra and Brasilia the business is that of the state. Here it is the business of the stateless. The transient peoples who traipse across the world, from the Horn of Africa to the Balkans, returning periodically to Geneve to make believe they have roots in the ground.

One organisation, an acronym almost as widely known as my own and probably more prestigious and respected, embodies this itinerant population more than the others. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) bring healthcare to the hottest of spots across the globe. They are the ones driving into the most forsaken shit holes of the world when everyone else is getting out. Their reputation is well deserved.

The work of MSF has been committed to celluloid in the film Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders.

Embedded from upload by MSF 

More than enough has been said about Mark Hopkins’ film. It deserves the superlatives. The catastrophic scenes are sadly no longer as arresting as they should be. This is not to say what is depicted of life in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo do not shock, do not disgust, but a small understanding of what MSF does means they are not unexpected.

Still, the work that must be done by the staff of MSF’s missions is astounding. The young Australian doctor on his first mission running a rural clinic, working at night in a head torch as he is without electricity. The brain surgery performed without oxygen on an elderly man with a drill resembling something I used in my woodwork classes at school.

Most of all the medics themselves, the MSF staff, are incredible. Not only because they can work in such conditions but because many go back. They return time and again. These heavy smoking, grizzled veterans are astonishing. These are the mission junkies. They feed on the danger like combat addicted war correspondents; fiending for the adrenaline, the challenge, the fear.


So while Geneve is a company town, you do get to mix with some interesting company. Not all of the transients are members of a renowned acronym like MSF or the ICRC it is true. But those that venture out into the field for a stretch before returning to base accrue experiences that are rather recherche. And more than a bit alluring.


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