It’s a wrap – done and dusted!


A guest blog by Jesta

Urumuqi airport – where coffee costs more than wine

I write this sitting in the departure lounge of Urumuqi airport. We left the hotel at 6 am (well, the local equivalent which is 6.30am, or “Whenever the coach turns up”). We arrived at the airport to discover that despite being booked on our early flight Air China (official motto: “We don’t care”) had decided in all its wisdom to move us to a later flight. This was also delayed so it looks like we will miss out connecting flight to Singapore…

The check-in was… interesting… The previous day quite a few of our group had bought wine from the places that we had visited. Unfortunately, Air China had decided that wine was obviously incredibly dangerous in the check-in luggage so wouldn’t let anyone check it in. This meant that we all ended up at the Air China counter with a corkscrew and 6 bottles of wine. So, there was a good deal of raising bottles and drinking as much as possible before we had to go through security.

The second security screening also made some odd decisions. Apparently, if you were male then you could get by with lip balm and other cream products, but women couldn’t. Conspiracy theorists decided that it was because the security staff were all female and so were going to get the products that they confiscated.

The body search was also slightly more than intimate. Fortunately for me I had a female security running her hands all over my body, which was the best thing about the whole process. Other people were ticklish, which made for some amusing scenes of a security guard trying to thoroughly check a woman who was laughing and wriggling…

Once we got through I went to look for coffee. They promised us cappuccino, but then said that they couldn’t steam the milk – so would we like just milk coffee… It cost 120 Yuan for two coffees – S$12 per cup. The day before we had bought a bottle of wine for 55 Yuan. So coffee costs more than wine.



The end of the road, ’til next time, anyway

We made it onto our connecting flight, by running through Beijing airport so we have finished the mission – the team screened 110 patients of all ages from 3 day’s old to 51. In the end the surgical team performed 140 procedures on 88 patients. The last ones were discharged on the day that we left.

We had hoped for more, but it appears that the security situation had meant that we didn’t get to see all those who we were told were on their way. Some had come from as much as 1700km, but they had to have special papers from their local party officials and were repeatedly stopped along the way. It’s possible that some either gave up or decided that it was too dangerous to travel, we just don’t know.

Sanati and her grandfather have started their long return journey, but when I said goodbye to her she was starting to smile again and was more playful.

As a parent of a child with a cleft lip and palate joining an Operation Smile mission was a no-brainer. When my daughter was born my whole life became focused on repairing the damage and giving her a normal face again. When there are parents who do not have access to the same level of medical care that I do, parents who have to watch their children grow up without the chance to help them, then there is no way that I could stand aside from that.

I also asked some of the team why they do missions like this. They do this work for free. They are all highly skilled medical professionals: plastic surgeons, doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel, none of whom have any financial reason and most have no personal reason to be here either. Here’s what they said:
Dr Y: “Because there are people who need us. We bring top quality international plastic surgeons into areas that would ordinarily never have the opportunity to access this level of care.”

Nurse J: “We have the chance to help people who can’t afford it. It’s tremendously fulfilling work.”

“Because it’s meaningful.” Dr YC

Can’t say it any better than that.

Operation Smile is a wonderful charity. They don’t treat the patients as second-class simply because they are third-world. The charity screens all its volunteers – even top-class plastic surgeons like Dr Y and Dr YC have to apply for their places – they ship in the best medical equipment and take the time to train local medical staff, they make space for a Child Life Specialist (essentially a person who plays with the children to make them more comfortable in the hospital environment) and they change the lives of the people they work with.

There are many, many deserving causes around the world, and all of our pockets are constantly being asked for donations to help. Please don’t feel that Operation Smile is the only deserving cause, but if you want to make an immediate, tangible difference to a family, then Operation Smile is one of the best ways to do it.

3 thoughts on “It’s a wrap – done and dusted!

  1. Avatar

    It’s really a weird experience. Coffee is always very expensive at places like this (due to economic reasons).

    congrats. Mission complete.

  2. Avatar

    Haha. Sounds like you had quite an experience at the airport. I was half-expecting to read that you guys got rip roaring drunk from the 6 bottles and were refused entry to the plane. lol.

    Anyway, I’m glad you’re safe back home and I’m glad there are now 88 happier families in China.

    I applaud Operation Smile and its volunteers! :)

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