Hunger gap

14 April 2008 Comments

Watching a CNN documentary on untold stories is bizarre. Its odd to see an image of Darfur, one that more than just a few are striving to keep on the world agenda, and then realising that I am there. I am here. I am swimming so deeply in a pool of women clad with colourful wraps, camels and delectable children that I forget its stark desert charm is sinking under a weight of an impenetrable state of affairs. Its hard to pin the exact situation which is soaked with deaths of countless Darfurians and counted aid workers. The desert is a tough place. I take a look around this world and its nothing less than nuts. Food prices rising and so are the hungry. I try to present to you a face of Darfur. Not the one I watched on TV, but one that's idiosyncratic. You remember my 1kg baby? He returned to haunt me today when we had a 1kg girl arrive today, born to a 15yr old mom who is unmarried and whose grandmother wants to take her home. What's her chances here in the desert? What are the chances for the 3000 odd new arrivals to Serif Umra from their homes up North where they fled to a piece of land that's foreign in their own country? They don't demand the expensive extreme ventilator that minute poopsie does but just running water and FOOD. I'm sitting on a premature man made hunger gap. It's a population trying to cope with damaged infrastructure, looted crops, decrease availability, escalating food prices and a distressed migration. It seems like the brink of an irreversible breakdown of all societal character and a degradation of the nutritional status of the most vulnerable first, the non productive next and then the many men who are still home protecting what they have or those who have enrolled in any one of the scores of armies present.

Our TFC is within walking distance and we have a cadre called a Home Visitor who visit each household at least once a week, to provide information and screen the kids to pick up the ones that have tipped from healthy to malnourished. We provide plumpy to the bambino and a food ration of sorghum, lentils, oil, salt for families who are in the nutritional programme so that we help not just the one already afflicted but hopefully its sibling too. I talk about what we do, but its meeting a 3year old girl in our therapeutic feeding programme, who walked from Wostani 40km away for her weekly ration, that I realise her efforts cannot go unrecognised or acknowledged. Wostani is a 3 hour ride by donkey! This day no donkey taxi so they left home before dark, she accompanied by her 14 year old sister who testifies that her mom is 'busy', walked for 6 hours to pick up her packets of plumpy and to make the return homeward bound journey, blessed are they for arriving for the late summer sunset. How to characterise this? Just plain extraordinarily mind blowing! I'm bloody well sure her mom is busy trying to care for the 9 other kids she has at home who timetabled to amuse themselves with the daily labour of fetching water and wood. What to cook though? Not enough to go round that's for sure or I would not have had the chance to witness a testimony to pure grit, courage and tenacity packaged in the littlest of adults. This is just one piece in the puzzle though...is it enough?

Deep irony is lost on my staff as I ask the butcher about the cow who trampled him and who might have ruptured his femoral artery. It does not escape me though when I'm standing in the ward round midnight. When, the butcher and the quiet of this night that's makes its inviting, we meet up with our Nurse assistant Hussein who has returned from leave. Hussein is an old greying man and most of the grey on his head bears the name of each of his children. His son allegedly killed someone. I have been privy to bits of information about but which Jens as been more drawn into. Jens has found that soft spot that now bears Hussein's name. He has gone out of his way to accommodate the needs of a staff member who is desperately trying to keep his family intact. I however, standing in the ward this night saying hello and goodbye probe Hussein to see if he really ok. Of course not, he has managed to sell everything he owns to pay off the blood money demanded as retribution by the family of the deceased. It ties off somewhere around R100 000 or 10 000 Euros. Half in raw cash and rest in breathing cows. So he sold his house and now lives in a reed hut. His lucks extends to a family member accommodating him on his property. Its more than just the money that any Darfurian is hardly likely to see in a lifetime, more than the benevolent sacrifice but that's its an unyielding one. For Hussein its his daily heartache. For me, it's a raw moment of joy that seeps across my mind as I comprehend why am I here. This rare moment of being present in a rusty old nurses station sandwiched between 2 wards, tents and the sleeping sick; to share a warm handshake, a nod for mercy, and a sincere conversation about the butcher and cows, makes it all the clear why I chose this life.

  • Butcher fine
  • 1kg treasure's grandmother stole her and ran away from the dispensary
  • I'm devastated
  • Hussein still the epitome of dedication
  • New member of team- logistician from Norway
  • Staff still treating headaches as well as prescribing me one daily.
  • Woman permanently bent over 100 degrees who has never seen a doctor or dispensary
  • Adam our manic guard, who lights up everyone's day will now be accompanying me on the children's ward round.
  • Maybe I take him too to medical meetings?!
  • Confession: I had a whiskey in Khartoum
  • Something fishy about Jens these days
  • I have a small crush on a new stern shahib nurse supervisor
  • I cried with my assistant against the wall of the pharmacy
  • I give, I take and something is taken from me
  • 40 degrees in the shade and my cracked heels beg for a pedicure
  • 3 weeks left......

Just a quick note for those who have spared a moment to post a comment on the blog. These have managed to help nourish me at times when I'm lost wondering where in my reservoir do I hide the rage for the hundreds of thousands of lives lost and of the other silent ones that have fallen. There are those who despite the bewilderment that can cloud the present and make you distrust the future, still rise to the fight to right the ills with much concentration. Concentration of all their finest into their unstinted hearts and weariless bodies. MSF is renown for this. I guess we are here to fuel the useful longing we all need in our lives ......to be............present. Anyone reading this will surely nod a complicit yes. The loved one of those of us who choose this life will mourn its relevance but forbid its importance when loss replaces. I just wish more can appreciate that these sweet, powerful and sometimes vicious moments that I have related mean something to someone. I send you a heartfelt thanks for your moment to take note and then post one.