My first night in Africa was perhaps the most important evening of my time away. Having completed the day’s briefings and settled into the MSF staff lodging in Loki, luxurious by Pieri standards, I found myself sipping an after-work Tusker (Kenya’s finest quality lager) with some of the boys. At this point I had been away from Toronto for a little under a week and away from my girl for a little over a month. As the outsider sitting amongst my new colleagues, time teamed up with a twinge of melancholy for the first time and forced me to take in how long a nine-month MSF mission really was. What became very clear, very quickly was that the loneliness of being was not mine to own on that Friday night in September.
For the most part the south Sudan project is supported out of Kenya, although at present more and more of the support structure is moving west to Juba, Sudan. As our individual tales circled through the Kenyan evening I learned that everyone to a man had left his family and friends somewhere in Kenya to work for MSF in Loki. My own sense of sadness succumbed to a singular sense of solidarity with my Kenyan contemporaries.
Over the past five months my fondness and respect for my Kenyan colleagues has only grown. Expats come and go, but it is the Kenyans that keep MSF’s projects running in southern Sudan. In Pieri, our Project Coordinator (PC) Chris and our Laboratory Technician (Lab Tech) Sammy make up our Kenyan constituency. Chris is my direct supervisor and I think our team would agree that we hit the boss bonanza in Pieri. Sammy splits his time between Pieri and Lankien and is one of the most respected MSFers in our mission. It has been heartbreaking to witness these two friends—both fathers—monitor the Kenyan news for the past five weeks. At some point in time the trials of men like Chris and Sammy will become a footnote in the social history that makes up today’s current events. But that day is not now and tomorrow’s history is today’s misery.
By now the atrocities that have occurred in Kenya are well documented and as horrific as the manifestation of murder can be. There is an affliction of digital dullness and predictability to today’s world that turns global misery into Western melodramas played out on an endless loop every evening. Rwanda, Darfur, Zimbabwe, or the Congo melds with malaria, malnutrition and HIV to form a banality of evil and hardship that few care to distinguish. Kenya stands apart from this however as an erosion of hope and serves as yet another reminder in an already skeptical world about the brittle nature of life in this region. But the great people like Chris, Sammy and MSF’s “regional” staff stand strongly as a reminder that as long as a few good people remain committed to a life of meaning there is hope for all!
NEWS FROM THE FIELD:
1) The Schatzker Snake Report – brought to you by my dear friend and fellow snake fearer – Mark Schatzker: Last week there was a one-metre snake spotted in our OPD (outpatient department) tent. This tent is where we register our outpatients and get them prepped for whatever test or examination is forthcoming. The serpent in question slipped through our fence and slithered over and into a baby basket (That’s a basket where little babies sleep.) It was horrific. And in case you’re wondering, shrieking at a snake to STOP! does not amount to much in the way of swaying a serpent. As it turned out, the baby was getting an examination, the snake was harmless and I scared the good folks in OPD more than the snake.
2) It’s official: I now weigh less than I did when I graduated from high school! For those of you that missed that ceremony I wasn’t exactly confused for the school’s star football player or renowned for the maturation of my adolescent musculature. Seventeen years later I look like a sunburned hairball supported by two furry sticks. I had been living under the illusion that if I managed to shed those last few pounds I would find a set of Brad Pitt-like abs. The reality is that what I had thought were abs are actually ribs! What’s more unfortunate than my physique is that I still outweigh every Sudanese member of our staff by at least 5kgs.
3) Do you remember the scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when Paul Newman takes the Sundance Kid’s girl for a ride on his new bicycle? “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” is the song that accompanies that scene if I’m not mistaken. Well that scene keeps getting played out in Pieri as bicycles have arrived en masse. It’s hilarious to watch everyone learn how to ride and wonderful to see how happy it makes everyone race through our dusty village.
4) MSF’s Pieri project has our first female labourer. Maybe not the Jackie Robinson scenario of southern Sudan but progress nonetheless. Nyakol Nyang Puot was previously a water lady/cleaner who, over the course of my first few months in Sudan, I found poking around the generator and working with tools whenever the opportunity arose. The team admires her and the logistics gender divide has been bridged seamlessly.
5) It’s hot! How hot is it? It is so hot… I know the grass is always greener but for those of you that are currently enduring a harsher than usual winter please believe me that it is better than a never-ending succession of forty-degree days. My tukul looks and feels like a wood-burning pizza oven. It’s unbearable! You have no idea what I would give right now to make a snow angel.
Salutations from the south,