I think that the apparent security I mentioned earlier is a dangerous pretext to letting down your guard and then making a mistake. The reality I want to present and remind myself of, I guess, is that there are just too many guns about. For a while, before some incidents this week, we were walking around Serif Umra like it’s just downtown. The guy on his bicycle and his gun on his shoulder crosses paths with the 5 odd soldiers popping in for some smokes, there is a car parked with 10 odd armed forces--and nobody really flinches. Nothing out of the ordinary. What is noticed is a lot of new faces in the market. What is noticed is that SU is fast becoming a 'rich' town – camel market, gun market, crops and sugar market. So it is important for me to remember, I'm in Darfur. It's not normal to see guns and not tingle. This is the reality here. With the odd gunshot we hear nightly, I feel like I'm witnessing the conflict, in the most subtle 'non-alarming' way. The thunder of gunshots starts to feel as if it's nothing out of the ordinary. Weekly I have a gunshot victim in the ward; some minor, some major. The major gunshot to the head of the salt and peppered gentleman that I told you about remarkably missed his brain and this week he was discharged from our referral hospital. Somewhat intact. Unscathed enough to make it home to his family for a few more precious moments.
Oddly you'd think that being in Darfur with its potent conflict and our presence here, one could believe that things have merged, where everything is a part of something else, we are all part of the world where all seems fluid and seamless; but sometimes I feel the converse to be true for me. It’s as though I live in a small world that’s all our own here, one I share with the population and that we know of no one else, and no one knows of us. We go about our days. Instead of living in a linked world we just live all of life, all the time, in obscurity. Not the truth at all, is it? Not when there's an imminent war 200km to the west of us on the Chad-Sudan border.
Even though we find comfort in thinking that our actions protect us here, I realised the way to the heart of the Darfurians is not treating their coughs and runs, or awaking at 3am to tend to the breathless newborn or breathless geriatric – both extremes of life, when air seems particularly vital. It’s certainly not from shoving numerous medical equipment down orifices to get fluids into the woman, who bled out from an unclamped umbilical cord after she delivered at home, 50km away from the nearest clinic, or getting out urine from the old man whose prostate is too hefty and has not passed any in 5 days. Nah! It’s by calling the old man 'Shahib'. So simple. I called my dad 'old man' when I was growing up and over the years it’s been the term of affection I use for the few men who make my world. So when I enter the ward and find the adorable pudding of a geriatric with asthma who I have been trying, desperately, to have air again, and the first thing that comes to mind is 'old man', and when I cry out Shahib, everyone in eavesdropping distance smiles and laughs – amused as they lap it up like no other action of mine. No other action of mine has yet convinced them that I'm here and happy to be and that they are significant and valuable. When he eventually was meant to be discharged, he asked especially to see me to give me a hug. A hug for the locals from a man to woman is frowned upon so this meant something extraordinarily special, my nurse reminds me. I think he also knew that he had a long trip ahead to an area far outside Serif Umra and who knows when our paths will cross, who knows if he arrives, who knows if he gets to plan his day or brood about the woman he loved for years but never got his head screwed on straight about - the important stuff.