the speaker above me clicked on.
“ladies and gentlemen, we have started our descent towards
Khartoum. we ask you to ensure that your seats and table trays
are returned to their upright position and that your luggage is stowed
in the overhead bins or safely under the seat in front of you.
the weather in Khartoum is …um…blowing sand. the
temperature is 32 degrees celcius. Local time is 150 am.”
I am once again in the land of blowing sand. I am sitting in the
msf office, five minutes away from the guest house where I stay, just
past the garbage mound, and down the road. there is a small
desk near the entrance. it is surrounded by boxes of drugs and
equipment destined for the field, but there is just room enough for
me. I can hear the squeal of the HF radio as it picks up signals
from abyei or darfur. I wonder what they are saying.
addis ababa is behind me. it was, as I hoped, a welcome
respite. I spent a week learning about tuberculosis from some of
the most experienced people in the world and sitting beside colleagues
from all over the world. some, like me, were visiting from the
field. others were waiting for missions, or on their way
home. each had their own story and their own reasons why it met
ours at this point in it.
on our last night in addis, some of us went dancing. there were
about ten of us who became fast friends. we shared a
similar enthusiasm for what we were learning about TB, but also about
what there was to learn about addis. after the long days, we
discovered Yemeni restaurants, king meliniks old castle, got lost in
africa’s biggest market, found traditional music, and little holes in
the wall just down the road. we were dubbed “the addis ababa
the last thing we found was the dancefloor late on Saturday
night. I was surrounded by people I had come to know, respect,
and like. every hour our number would dwindle as someone left for
the hotel to pack for rural Ethiopia, or Mozambique, or
Geneva. I was talking with my friend, maria, an
Argentinean doctor who had last seen me throwing my backpack on top of
a crowded bus in Zimbabwe the day I finished with msf last time.
she said she often wondered what happened to me.
“james, answer me something. this life, where you get to meet
people and know them, and become friends, and then in a few days or a
few weeks, either they leave or you do…we say ‘well, that’s msf’, but I
don’t know. is it worth it?”
I am not sure. I think so. maybe having your heart broken a little bit like that is what keeps it open.
now maria is back in Buenos aires. mohammed ali (the great) is in
mozambique. Anthony in Uganda. all blown like sand.
I am looking at the departure and arrivals board. on it names,
destinations, and dates are scrawled in felt pen. mine is
James KRT ? AB 28/03/07
but there are others. my field coordinator is returning to
Khartoum on the day I arrive in abyei. she is exhausted and
needs a break from the field. on the same plane is the other
abyei MD, ali. who is also taking a break. when I left from
abyei, I shared the plane with one of the two Sudanese medical
technicians that work in the hospital and who, with ali and me, make up
our four person medical team. I learned today she is not
returning to the project. the doctor who I replaced left after three
my field coordinator is leaving in two weeks, and there may be someone
to relieve her. our logistician is leaving at the same time, but
as of yet, there is noone to take his place. in Khartoum, there
are similar problems. we have been without a medical coordinator
for several weeks. I saw our logistical coordinator in Ethiopia
and he told me he resigned. our head of mission wants to be gone
by the middle of april. no news on their replacements.
I mentioned earlier that the mission in sudan is the most expensive in
the world, for both the UN and for MSF. talking with my colleague
about their different projects and countries, it seems that it is also
one of the most difficult. the departures board
speaks to this truth.
I hope for the people of abyei and darfur that we find a way to work as
long as possible in the country. i will contribute as much
resolve as I can. i think i will need it all.
I will send word from abyei. love the spring for me.
p.s. for each of you that posts comments, my gratitude. I get
them forwarded to me by msf every now and again, and they are a source
of comfort. thank you for them.