the truest piece of advice offered to aspiring writers is this: put ass to chair.

the truest piece of advice offered to aspiring writers is this: put ass to chair.

some times are easier than others. often, i sit in my hot and dusty tukul at the end of a long day, and try to coax a sentence, one measly measled sentence, from a thousand things that happened. once i do, it sits there lonely and bored, with no friends, and no help at all. more rarely, the story can't tell itself fast enough. it's like a clear radio signal where there is usually only static, and i just have to transcribe what i hear. those are easier days.

today is not one of those easy days. but my ass is in the chair. it is in a chair because i am in the khartoum airport departure lounge. i am leaving for addis ababa, the capital of ethiopia where i will attend a TB workshop. after my time in abyei, ethiopia seems, in my mind, as sweet as canaan.

some abyei news. the measles campaign may finish sooner than we anticipated. the ministry of health is encouraging us to stop the campaign so that they can begin one of their own. i will reserve comment. i am wondering if the Spanish emergency team leader feels any pangs of guilt, because i am sure given the chaos of last week, he was praying that the end

would be soon. actually, we all were. it was a chorus of prayers.

i have been a bit troubled about some of the things in the hospital, and have been perseverating on the feeding centre. i couldn't understand why some children would not gain weight. and why, in particular, was it the sickest and the skinniest? the ones who are so starved, they have lost their taste for food and need to be fed by a tube in their nose?

I will talk about severe acute malnutrition another time, because it is

interesting and worth knowing about. suffice it to say, we calculate calories very carefully and provide exact amounts. too much, too soon is little better than too few. we treat infections even if they children manifest no signs because the body is so shut down, it can't even rub sparks together enough to start a fever. but, once you treat them, and you feed they, they grow. that is why it is such a wonderful place to work. sick child + food = healthy child. it is the best piece of math i know. but some of ours wouldn't grow. they lied listless in their mothers arms, tubes taped to their ears, while we plotted their weekly weights... "6.7 kg, 6.7, 6.7, 6.7, 6.7...."

after some sleuthing, i think i've got it. the ministry of health

staff in the hospital is on strike. they have not been paid in months. msf is, in effect, running the hospital alone. the measles outbreak has

doubled the work, and the strike has halved the staff. our nurses are running from place to place, and the nutritional assistants have to cook for a hospital that needs twice as much beans as one month ago.

some of our nurses have been too busy and not recognized the importance of the night feeds. our tfc staff have not been checking to see if they were

administered. of the eight meals, the skinniest have been getting seven, sometimes six. not a big deal for you and i, but when a child is one or two meals shy of his calorie count, he is in debt. in essence, one begins to run a starvation centre.

so, I changed the regimen this morning. six meals, more calories in each.  if that won’t work, five.

then I stood on the cracked dirt strip that is abyei’s airport and

waited for the world food program plane to take me towards khartoum. we took off two hours late, missing the donkey below by about four feet.

pic 1.  runway


pic 2.  planespotters.

after several delays, a broken fuel pump ("ummm....excuse me? isn't that important?"), three different routings, three different airports, i arrived. my impression of khartoum had changed. on my first way through it, towards abyei, it seemed a backward place. archaic. now, with abyei eyes, it is one of the most cosmopolitan places i have ever seen. what is that stuff? concrete? amazing. lights? spectacular. fan? this is heaven. perhaps we did hit that donkey. maybe i should walk towards the lights.

outside there is a haboub, a sandstorm. it is so thick, you can not see the sun. people are holding their hats, and covering their eyes.

will send further word once i am in ethiopia. rest well.