it is Friday, our day off. it is 830 and the sky is a disappointing blue. at this point, I crave clouds.
my plan for the day, after I finish this, is to break some ground
beside my tukul and make a garden. I am going to plant
carrots. I will leave before they are ready to eat, but I can
watch them start. and it seems like honest work. like
washing dishes. I am looking forward to it.
the child I talked about, the one with the blind mother, is somehow
alive. i took the tube out of his nose, and he is drinking.
he is still so very thin, his skin stretched tight over his ribs, like
paper over a wire frame, like if you turned your back, he could blow
away. but not for long. if I have my say, he will be
so fat he will be able to waddle through the eye of a
hurricane. and after him, the next one the same. in
fifty years, people will be writing about abyei’s epidemic of obesity,
and the graph will start in 2007.
I wrote “in twenty years”, erased it and wrote “thirty”, and finally, “fifty”.
maybe fifty. if I am alive, I will be an old man, eighty
three. I will walk down abyei’s streets, shaking my head. I
stop for a rest in an otherwise empty coffee shop. the man behind
the counter will take off his computer glasses, and smile. he is
in his 50’s, fat, pleasant. we will start to talk. I will
start to tell the story I have already told to five disinterested
strangers, how I was here once, fifty years ago. there was
nothing. only a hospital. and now, all this. he will
shake his head with me. he was born in abyei, lived here all of
his life. he too has seen it change. he lived in a tukul, made
from grass. there was no electricity, no trains. two
of his brothers died from diarrhea. he nearly died too.
when he was three.
“how old are you now?”
“fifty three. more or less.”
“was your mother blind?”
that is one version of the future. it already exists; it simply
needs to be arrived at, uncovered, rolled into place. another is
that this place remains forgotten, largely untouched by the best of the
best things in the world. your attention, like mine, turns to
other more personal matters. we read about abyei tipping once
again into war, about thousands displaced. we shake our
heads. in fifty years, as an old man, I will look at abyei on
google universe . all I will see are sticks and plastic bags
fluttering in an empty field.
but for now, we are here. I meant to say this before, but I
haven’t. whenever I write “we”, I don’t just mean the team or
msf, I mean the larger, more collective sense. you and me,
and everyone we know. I mean the “we” as a species that
has, through culture and nature, manifested a system of
humanitarianism. that support the idea that we should put
ourselves in the middle of the world’s worst places, the ones that
threaten to tilt into war or be swallowed by disease. or, like
I believe this sincerely. we are here, you me and everyone we
know, because there is something inherently valuable to our
presence. it is a manifestation of a quality we value in
ourselves as individuals, one that when exercised feels entirely
correct. the feeling of standing between two people who are angry
enough to fight, or stopping to help someone stranded by side of the
road, and once you do, you realize the perceived risk is less than the actual one. the mission in abyei, like the
ones in afghanistan and the congo and bolivia, is that feeling
multiplied a million times. we all share it, we all know
that it is better than the one we have when we turn our heads and
pretend not to see. so, that’s why I am here. because of
that part I share with you and everyone we know.
as one person, i can’t make either of those abyei’s arrive.
I only have a vague idea where they lie, and the world is too
heavy. it’s a rudderless ocean liner with six billion people on
it, barreling towards the future, full steam. we can’t even budge
it. all we can do is walk to the side that lies in best direction
and bring some friends. there is nothing to say we can’t make it
a bit of a party. and, maybe, if we want to be extra sure, we
lean over the railing a little bit.
i’ll bring the boy with the blind mother once he is fat enough. he’ll make for good ballast.