I have been in sudan for over three months, but I have yet to fully arrive. I wonder at times if I ever will, if it is even possible. it seems part of me remains in canada, watching my friends and family through a thick glass wall, unable to hear them or touch them. another part of me is waiting on the plane, looking at his watch, ready to leave as soon as the rest of me shows up. it is an uncomfortable feeling, one I am not accustomed to, having parts missing.
at home, I spend as little time as I can in the past. the parts that I need I carry with me. I rarely look at photos. I have a box in which, out of habit, I throw in all the cards and letters I have received over the years. I have never opened it. I broke my rule last night and went through a series of old emails. Halloween plans, last minute trips to brazil, new york tips, party invitations, love letters. each memory that they revived seemed embedded in a nostalgia like in ancient amber, static and irretrievable, varnished with a sad certainty that would never again be alive.
this morning, I opened the honey jar, and inside floated an ant. I held the jar up to the sun, and his wire frame swayed gently. for an ant, the sweetest of deaths. amber.
I also work on avoiding the future because I will never catch up to that part of me that is already waiting on the plane. when I make it there, he will already be through customs, and on the cab ride home, he will already be having a glass of wine on the roof, watching the sun set, surrounded by friends. if I spend my time running to catch up, I find myself only running.
so, I work on here. 11:09am, Friday, May 18, 2007, in my tukul, compound one, abyei, sudan. the sky is mercifully cloudy. a bird is tapping for termites on one of my posts. a small lizard poked his head around the corner, and just now, ran underneath my clothes trunk. a larger one, a foot long or more with a yellow head and tail, is clambering up the brick wall of another tukul, and is doing push ups, peering around the corner, looking for locusts.
every now and again, it rushes in. not just for me, but for all of us. we arrive, completely, even if for a short time. we sit in the middle of our compound, reading, and the donkey boys show up with our water. the glass falls away, and you remember, right, I am in Africa. donkeys deliver our water. a boy walks to the hand pump, waits his turn, grabs the hot, sweaty handle, and pulls up cool water hidden underneath the sand. he collects it in dirty plastic buckets, heaves it onto the back of his donkey, and together they walk to the msf compound, through the gate, to our water tank. there they stand now. such hot work… and someone calls your name, and you are gone.
I lead a medical meeting once a week, and this most recent one, I talked about how I partly manufactured the fatigue that I felt. I explained that some of it was due to a belief that I needed to help this project arrive to a new, better place. that the goal was constant and swift progress. towards what, I didn't know. for every inch i drew closer, it moved an inch away. but, I recently realized, with some relief, that we are doing what we came here to do. we are putting the correct medicines in appropriate amounts into the hands of people who otherwise would have none. at the end of a day full of frustrations, radio calls and illness, we are doing what we came here to do, and in my opinion, we are doing it well.
i asked them to follow me, and walked into the emergency room. inside was a child who was so dehydrated from diarrhea he needed an intraosseous catheter. earlier that day, I had taken his limp leg and showed my team how to drill the cannula into his bone. the child was so near death, he didn't flinch. six hours later, he was alive, clinging to his mother.
so, that's what we are here to do, I said. this is the success, this little boy. if all of our ambitious goals never come true, and in the six months that we are here, we never reach that vague ideal future, at the least we have this boy, and the one exact world he carries inside of him. tomorrow, a little girl. the day after, a woman will deliver twins.
it is a constant work to be where one is, and if one arrives at all, it is never for long. what I know today may be lost in the static of tomorrow's busy-ness, but, like all things, practice makes practiced.
thank you all for your wonderful words in the past week. I am the lucky recipient of more kindness than I can hope to repay. my sincere gratitude now, and always.