this is the part of the story when the character begins to get tired. when he walks his daily route, one that is so familiar he can do it with his eyes closed, he does it with his eyes closed.
yesterday, on the walk back from the hospital, a monkey loped past me. he cast a brief backward glance, then took a sharp left into the market. he was wearing the most amazing pair of sunglasses.
my morning run has been suspended recently so that I might concentrate more fully on smoking. unfortunately, I woke up over-early this morning, and could find no excuse to avoid it. my usual route, over a flat wide flood plain, has been made impassable by the heavy occasional rains. all that is left is to run along the red road that leaves town, and look nervously over my shoulder for over-full trucks. I take it to its first junction, and turn south. it is very early and I can see a corona form over the fields, much more clear than before, no refracting dust, and then in an instant the sun blazes, burns my eyes. people walk from the trees towards abyei over the cracked ground that drains rainwater like a sieve, and their white robes are silhouetted by the sun. morning ghosts.
everyone in our mission smokes furiously. msf. part of the reason is the isolation, the idle minutes. the end of a day, and there is no beer, no paper, no telephone, no email, no gym, no plans. as it has been said in many languages, when you have a cigarette, you always have a friend. the other part is that in the face of all the sickness and early death, one’s health falls from constant focus. you look around at the other passengers, and from all accounts, it looks like the plane is going down so you smoke 'em if you've got 'em. the other night we were talking about when we were going to quit. the question was posed to our admin. "me? when am I going to stop smoking? about here..." he said, pointing to the filter.
last night we had dinner with a man who has been in abyei for his entire life, lived through wars and famines as the only medic in the area. he told us stories of killings, how his friends would be woken up in the middle of the night, taken from their homes for no reason, and disappear. he told us that after the war, msf came to the hospital, and
found its beds full with dead bodies. he had so much work, he could not keep track of who was alive anymore. that was one year ago this month. I am the third msf doctor.
it was the end of a long, difficult day. earlier, a man, well-known in the community, died shortly after arriving in hospital from either botulism or guillan-barre. a young woman who remained feverish and unconscious despite both treatment for cerebral malaria and meningitis, had her blood pressure climb and climb and climb, until her heart
couldn’t bear it and stopped. probably a brain abscess. another severely malnourished child, two, eyes half open, stopped his half breaths, too tired from his last one to start another. I can’t figure out how to save them. look at them the wrong way, and they fall from the fence. these three in the past 24 hours, and at the end of a long, difficult day, I stood at the gates of the hospital with our national doctor. we looked
out at the rough football field. we were talking about paradise. he said that all religions in the world accepted that there was a place after this hard one. he asked me what I thought. I said that I wasn't sure. that if there was something after this it wouldn't be a place I could smell, or touch, or taste. in the same way I didn't know what it was like before I was born, I probably won't know what it was like after I leave. I said I thought this was heaven. this world. the one here, the one I can touch with my hands, and see move at a million miles an hour in a million directions when I open my eyes, the one that makes me feel so many different things. that somehow, each carbon atom in our body came from a star, and passed through millions of miles of cold space, and in a miracle too impossible to believe that we are here, made from stars, leaning up against this swinging gate, talking in the late afternoon sun.
he disagreed. too many people have nothing. too many eating grass. too many families leaving the hospital on ox-carts with daughters covered with thin sheets. what about them? I said I didn't know. maybe it's different things for different people. like a season with food, or one's short life with his daughter. maybe it's just that paradise doesn't last forever, and it's something we have to work on. he shrugged. we were through. we stepped from the gate and into the fading light. we walked the dusty road, both quiet, both lost in thought. at the intersection, we wished each other good night, and we went our separate ways.