The staff and I laugh together about my unrelenting search for yogurt. I'm always soliciting it. The local version in Serif Umra is extremely acidic and so I look to our neighbour in Birka Sera for their softer version and if I'm lucky I get the factory version from far away. However, trying to make a bid for it is not so easy. On one occasion I implored our driver to try and get some in Zalingei when he was done with the referral, he came back with box cream cheese. I asked the other driver to please take some of our local baklava to the other MSF project as a small gift, but instead he brought me the baklava from Zalingei. So apart from most gone astray in translation it begs for my Arabic to be finer tuned. Yogurt seems universal though. So does New Year’s Eve for that matter.
I always regarded New Year’s Eve with an inkling of suspicion. Christmas's weak twin sister. So this year I thought that maybe the four expats could muster up a small party. In vain. I was called at 10pm and saw in the New Year in the dispensary debriding a gunshot wound on the sole of the foot of my midwife’s treasured son who made his way to town for a celebration. I also spent the night with the survivor of a gang rape… She too looking to welcome a New Year. She had to swallow her pride as well as the noxious cocktail of prevention – meant to deter an unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease and HIV. She came and that means something in a place we struggle to get women to present to us early, if at all. We need to understand it more closely, but usually women cannot come on their own; they have to report it and the family has to bring them and here they go to police first. Impediments galore. But when my staff cry at her story, unbearable circumstance – I wonder, are their hearts just a muscle that’s been well exercised for compassion? How close are they to it really? Whether they too know this moment long past… they are not young and nothing changes the past. Does the consoling hand sliding across the melancholy girl’s head mean anything? The hair on my neck stand to attention. How amazing is empathy. Is empathy enough? Is it worth anything? No dry eyes in this house this eve that beckons a New Year. The past behind, the future of little concern. I'm all for sadness. Now I'm beginning to be all for an off-license.