march 13. “whatever you do tomorrow, do not go to akor riang from where you will be. there are mines along the rode. it doesn’t matter what anyone says.
that’s the conversation I overheard as I was checking the satellite email for news just now. measles team talk. they are blanketing the countryside with vaccines. they leave at 7 in the morning, and are finished loading the vehicles by 11 at night. they are improving. at the beginning of the campaign, one week ago…wow, it seems longer…at the beginning, they were nerves on nerves, tracking back on the themselves, just unprepared enough for thing to fray by the end of the day. now they are moving more like a machine. and staying well away from the mines. that makes me glad.
it has been a test to have a new team glued to this one. the quarters were close enough by ourselves that we needed to watch for each others toes. but now, there are so many of us, you can’t move without stepping on some. shower lakes, empty fridges, no water for drinking in the mornings. we hold our breath and remember that their job is no easier than ours. and that they are holding theirs too until the job is done. once it is, I am sure they will wonder if it ever happened.
the other night, twins. they are fine.
i received the best news today. well, two good pieces. the first is that my mother is sending me not only a fan, but cookies. they will travel to Geneva, then wait in a plastic box labeled “northern sudan” that sits beside “southern sudan” that sits near “tschad”. it is a wall of such plastic boxes, each bearing the name of a country, and most holding packages for the field. if I am lucky, someone will be coming to Khartoum, and have the space to take my fan and cookies. luckier still if that someone drops it at the MSF office in sudan, and even more when someone takes it as part of their 15 kg of luggage to abyei. in the meantime, I sweat. it is 10 pm, and 38 C in my tukul. it was 46 C this afternoon. there is not enough power in the compound for fans. the only recourse one has is to minimize the surface area of his body in contact with the bed. for instance, the side sleeping knee-elbow maneuver. or the scapula/butt pillow wedge.
the second piece of good news, if not enabling my sleep, will allow me to lie contentedly awake. if you remember a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a child who was brought into the hospital so dehydrated, she tried to lick my shirt when it fell across her face. she was willing to drink. no one was willing to take the time to offer her anything. her mother had died weeks ago, and her father was uninterested. a neighbour took pity and brought her in. he didn’t stay long.
she was ours. a mother in the feeding centre offered to care for her, but her son improved, and yesterday she left with him. another mother has adopted her temporarily, but her son will also improve. none of the mothers, nor their children, would be there if they had enough food. another mouth takes more than they can give. these arrangements will not be a lasting success.
I have grown very fond of this girl. beautiful, and quiet. I would take care of her if I could. I cannot. i don’t think I can. no. I cannot. But I want to.
she is not improving as well as I would like. occasional fevers, not gaining much weight. listless. last week, as I was sweating asleep, a black thought crept in. “maybe HIV”. could be. how did the mother die? why the fevers, and the weight loss. I hoped not. I held my breath. I didn’t mention it to the other staff. in absence of consent and counseling, and particularly in the absence of treatment, we don’t test.
while I was away from the hospital today, she was tested. negative.
I spent months traveling Africa in 2005 writing about HIV, and I never understood how truly important it was to prevent and treat the disease until i felt that cool relief today. good news. may it happen more and more often to more and more people.