last night, at 4:30 in the morning, I woke to the brrrrrr… brrrrrr… brrrrbrrrbrrr of gunfire. it was difficult to sleep after. I expected a call on the handset, another dead body, or someone wounded. or worse, more gunfire. it never came. I turned on a rusty fan that clacked so loud no brrr's could be heard above it, and eventually fell asleep. in the morning, I asked my team in turn. no one had heard. my imagination? finally, I asked the guard. he heard. it a birthday celebration, he said.
it hasn't taken many rains for abyei to dust herself off. the cracked, dry expanse that raced away from us to all sides is now a verdant green. I have been told that the grass will grow so high, it will be taller than a man. right now, the countryside looks like a sparse fairway, every bit of green so new, it is the same size.
we have started receiving more measles cases in the hospital again. the first few arrived earlier this week. I went to the hospital with my field coordinator to see them. from down the hall I said, "yeah. it's measles". my field co asked me how I could be sure. I told him we had seen 150 cases in march.
the man had come with his measled sons from north of abyei. they were nomads, and were moving north with the rains when his children became sick. the boys were ill, but they would be alright in a few days. the father was very nervous. he kept on pointing to where the problems were. the rash, their chest, their eyes, their throat. I said, ok. ok. ok. we'll take care of it. how long will it take, he said? five days. he was aghast. they needed to move. I pressed, said that not only would I need that time to make sure his boys were alright, but the measles would spread, that it would make others sick. he was reluctant. he asked if he could use traditional treatment to put on the rash, and pulled two sachets from the pocket of his white robe. I took them from his hand, and smelled them. fragrant herbs. sure, I said. we shook hands.
the next day, my field coordinator and I went to the area the measled family came from. it is the only the third time in more than three months I had left abyei for the countryside. I have never moved so little in all my life. I watched the ground blur beside the landcruiser and was struck by an overwhelming pleasure to be travelling so fast again. I stuck my hand out of the window into the hard current of air and the world whipped by. we passed by women balancing white buckets of water on their heads. back and forth they went, sometimes for a kilometre or more, balancing. I wondered if they felt a pleasure to be back on ground after stepping out of a car, a relief to resume their familiar cadence.
we made several detours, from small village to small village. in each, we would shake hand after hand in a growing crowd determined to participate in the day's most interesting event. after several minutes, we would sit down only to stand up to shake more hands. at our third stop we were pointed in the right direction. several people, we were told, were sick with measles, just down the road
we drove where we were told, parked the landcruiser on the side of the road, and walked into a forest. a month ago it would have looked like scrub, but now, the floor was thick with grass, and there were green buds on the trees. through them, we could see families gathered around brightly coloured tents. they were a different tribe than the ones we most commonly see around abyei. muslim nomads, moving north with the rains, likely missed by the measles campaign. their children ran back and forth between their scattered camps and dogs followed them, barking. it was a pastoral scene, sharply contrasted to abyei's crossroads of cluttered busy-ness.
we went from one tent to another. beside the family's possessions, all carefully packed and tethered, ready to leave at any time, we often found a sick child. "we're going to reach Khartoum if we keep on following the measles", said my translator, surveying the bright swatches of color through the branches.
we offered each family, in turn, transport to the hospital. they all refused. it will pass, they answered. we need to move.
I treated the patients that I could, and we promised to return on saturday, to see if there were more cases. in the meantime, they should isolate the sick patients, make sure that only adults with measles should be in contact with them. I watched the children run back and forth, throwing sticks and chasing dogs. the prospect of them staying still was small.
we climbed back into our landcruiser, and roared back to abyei kicking up a tail of red dust.