Limited internet access and time meant I didn’t get to post another blog while I was in Sarajevo, and it’s been a whirlwind since I got back. But it means I’ve had a few weeks to recover, and been able to reflect and consolidate my thoughts and feelings before writing again.
To cut to the punch line, am I glad I went? Yes, definitely. It was a powerful experience, with highs and lows, and I learnt a lot in a very short time.
|With Nadija, the Healing Hands|
Manager in Sarajevo
The way of working is very different from home. All the booking of appointments and other admin is taken care of by Nadija, the manager, and Enisa, the outreach translator. So the other therapists and I just had to turn up in the morning at the clinic, or meet our taxi to the outreach centre, and the clients “magically” arrived. All we had to do was treat them – which was why we were there, and why I, and I think everyone, became a therapist in the first place. It seemed very straightforward and simple, and allowed us to focus on giving the best treatments we could. The flip side was that we gave a lot of treatments! Before I went out, I was worried how I’d cope physically. Would my hands be up to seven massages a day, nearly non-stop? Would I just be exhausted? Actually, I managed much better than I’d expected. I made sure I did a fair number of gentler massages like Indian Head and Thai Foot Massage in between the deep tissue work in order to look after myself, and was very careful with my posture and technique. It was a good feeling to realise just how much I could do, although I was always glad to put my feet up for a bit when we got back to the house in the evening!
|Enisa at Hadjici Outreach centre|
It was also an interesting experience to work with a greater range of bodies than I see at home, due to the injuries some clients had. It was a challenge as a therapist to work out how to treat a partially amputated or paralysed limb. The whole body is affected due to the imbalance that the injury causes, so sometimes the work needed is away from the most obvious problem. One lady had lost her left arm, and I was working mostly on her right inner thigh, which was in spasm.
Tuesday of my second week was my low point. I’d had one client on the previous day who’d really got to me – Eminna is only 28, and had been 8 when she was put into a concentration camp. She’d been shot, then her father had committed suicide. And then she got multiple sclerosis. Of course, that’s nothing to do with the war and happens to many people all over the world, but I couldn’t help wondering, hadn’t she been through enough? She spoke very good English, so I was able to communicate with her more easily than most, so I related to her more readily. That, combined with her age, was I think why her story touched me.
|The treatment area in the clinic|
ready for my next massage
Add physical tiredness on the Tuesday morning, and I was a little vulnerable to start with. It happened that I had a lot of clients with physical injuries that day – amputations, shrapnel, paralysis and horrific scars. One lady had injuries from a mine, and I knew from her file that she had lost half her right foot. I massaged her right leg, thinking that was the “bad” one, then moved on to uncover the other one. I then saw that her left leg had multiple scars, and gouges where tissue had obviously had to be removed. It shocked me more as I hadn’t been expecting it. It’s difficult to see that and not be moved by the suffering that had so obviously been endured. Of course, physical and psychological damage are not mutually exclusive, and we also saw people who were still carrying a lot of anger or anguish. Being low, I wasn’t shielding myself sufficiently from those emotions, and so was picking them up. As a result, at times that day I was struggling to hold back the tears as I worked.
That evening, I stayed in and rested, cooked something nourishing and read a very easy book that I knew would have a happy ending! So by Wednesday I was feeling stronger again and able to cope with my next seven clients.
|At Ilijas Outreach centre|
To counter balance that, on the same day I had a client who had lost her husband in the war, and been in a concentration camp. She had suffered from depression, which had worsened when her daughters left home. She told me she hadn’t wanted to have treatments when she was first referred to Healing Hands. Nadija had persisted and badgered her till she came in. Now, she says she doesn’t think she’d still be here if it wasn’t for the treatments. You can imagine how amazing it felt to hear that, and to be a small part of that process. Eminna also said that she had been in a wheelchair a few years ago; she is now able to walk with a stick due to the help she’s received from Healing Hands. In general, the people we saw were really appreciative of the treatments they receive, and all of us who travel to Sarajevo to give them. We received little gifts of fruit, pies or cakes most days from grateful clients.
At times it seemed that the problems in Sarajevo, or Bosnia generally, and the suffering of so many people, were too huge to comprehend or to begin to tackle. That was dispiriting, having gone out to help. Now I’m back home, with a bit of perspective, I prefer to think of the 65 people I massaged while I was there. For an hour or so at Healing Hands, they were looked after and cared for, listened to and tended. For many, I hope most, their pain was eased and their bodies soothed. I can’t help but think that that’s a great thing, and I’m proud to have been able to do it.
|The view from outside the|
clinic, across the old town
I don’t know yet if or when I’ll go back. I’ll just see how things pan out, how I feel next year and what opportunities arise. My commitment to Healing Hands Network remains strong though, and I’m keen to get involved with some of the exciting projects they are developing here in the UK.
I didn’t quite raise the full £750 for the charity I needed to go out to Sarajevo, so it’s still possible to sponsor my trip through mycharitypage, or get in touch. You could also have a Healing Hands Massage – half of the price you pay goes to the charity; details are on my website. Any funds I raise above £750 go to the charity’s central funds to help develop their work further, so every penny is put to good use.
Find out more about the Healing Hands Network on their website - www.healinghandsnetwork.org.uk