Gino Strada, an Italian surgeon, knows war too well. He set up ‘Emergency’, the medical aid organization and its field hospitals in Cambodia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Jung follows his efforts, with Kate Rowlands, a Welsh nurse, to establish a hospital in Afghanistan.
It’s 1999 and, following the murder of a UN worker, all aid agencies have abandoned the country. The Taliban and the Northern Alliance are ‘fighting like rabid dogs, without coming to a conclusion’. The need is desperate: surgical facilities for the tens of thousands of civilians wounded by bullets, shells, shrapnel and landmines, are, when they exist, primitive and filthy. Rarely is anaesthetic available. It’s the ‘usual shit’, as Strada says.
Jung is sometimes shocking because it shows what modern weaponry does to the human body – Strada laconically appraises the sickening remains of a foot as a ‘mush’. But we also see that, for the survivor of a landmine explosion, the consequences and the anguish of disability, of being a liability to one’s family, are often worse. Yet Jung also shows that there can be hope, even in the most wretched circumstances. It’s a story of sanity and compassion in the midst of carnage.
There’s a great moment in the spring of 2000 when seven trucks carrying medical supplies arrive in the Panshir Valley. There are anaesthetics, equipment and supplies to construct a clean, well-lit operating theatre. A one-time police training centre becomes a hospital – and an alternative to war. The hospital bans weapons and employs the war-disabled. In one of the last scenes a brutally disfigured man, facing death, gives his visiting son an apple. It’s a gesture, against violence and alienation, of infinite tenderness, and says, simply, that we are capable of better things.