‘Introducing the idea that people can help themselves to have better outcomes was clearly a challenge to be overcome’
Title: Letters From Yemen
Authors: Jean Mondon and S Elliott
Publisher: Suzanne M. Elliott
Reviewer: Kate Jack, advanced virology nurse, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust
What was it like?
Letters From Yemen is a beautifully compiled collection of diary excerpts and letters sent from Jean Mondon to her family when she spent two years working as a midwife in the Arab Republic of Yemen during the 1980s. This was a relaxing and enjoyable read that conjured up clear images of the landscape and people she met.
What were the highlights?
Jean was part of a team who opened up a women’s health clinic in a remote village near the Saudi Arabia border, with the aim of improving the health of mothers and children. Introducing the idea that people can help themselves to have better outcomes was clearly a challenge to be overcome. At times the sense of frustration at being a foreigner who was unable to speak fluent Arabic, but nonetheless trying to teach the women that the high rates of maternal and neo-natal deaths could be reduced by their actions, as opposed to being passively accepted, was palpable. The recounts of stories such as preventing obstetricians from conducting unsafe interventions, for example delivering a baby while smoking a cigarette, and refusing a request to undertake female genital mutilation illustrate the grittiness of working in a different clinical and social culture. However the professionalism and advocacy of good midwifery shone through.
Strengths & weaknesses:
There were vivid descriptions of a dusty landscape, rich colourful fabrics, donkeys, restaurants with scant attention to food hygiene, and cans of pop being opened with a Kalashnikov rifle. The book concentrates more on her experience of travel and adjusting to the environment rather than the clinical stories, although perhaps Jean was sparing her family of the reality of childbirth in the absence of free healthcare and Western technology.
Who should read it?
Anyone, particularly those with an interest in foreign aid work, overseas travel and fans of Call the Midwife.