i wrote this post 2 months ago, after 3 of our staff were killed in kismayo, somalia. this post is about my own feelings, and i didn't want to post it, because i didn't feel that it was fair for me to comment, when there are so many people for whom this loss is so much more personal. for the teams in the field, for the people of kismayo, and for the entire worlds of family and friends who loved these 3 men, and whose grief is uncalculable to me. i didn't feel it was fair for me to speak, and to have such a platform, when there were people who had so recently lost of peice of themselves and their hearts with this attack.
but maybe now i will post. and i'll apologise ahead of time if the writing is totally stupid and wrong. something like this post, i don't even know how to make it appropriate, how to edit it.
dhaka, 1st of Feb, 2008
this is the post i don't know how to write. this is something i'm not sure i can put into words properly. i don't know if i can put into words that will make sense, but worse, i don't know how to put in words that will honour those people, and those families affected by what's happened.
i was on the phone monday night, talking to the project coordinator in teknaf, a question about contracts and staff and we were working something out. and as the conversation wrapped up, i did what i often do, i glanced at the news webpage that is up on my computer screen. aid workers killed in somalia it read. and i clicked automatically. as i read that it was msf, that it was my section of msf, i started swearing. out loud. repeatedly. trying to say what i was reading, trying to make sense of it. there were no details, there was only witness statements. aid workers killed in somalia. when i managed to regain any sense of my brain, and return to the conversation, it took me a few seconds to remember what we were trying to talk about.
and somehow we managed to conclude the conversation. i knew i should just sleep and by morning, there would be something from amsterdam, something that wasn't conflicting and different, and vague. i should sleep.
but instead i spent hours refreshing news webpages, and waiting and running through names in my head. who. why. and sobbing. and it's threatening to start again right now.
but in the morning i got up, and went out to the office. i was the only management team member there, as the rest were in the field. there was official notice, three msf workers had been killed. and so i went to each office, and sat down with the teams, and told them what we knew so far. told them the name of the logistician, damien, the surgeon, victor and the driver, bidhaan, who were killed. i didn't know what to expect, or what people would bring up. but we talked.
not knowing how the incident occured, and not knowing if it was on purpose, the recurring question was 'why would someone do this to them? why would they do this to msf? to us?'
and it's never been more evident to me that we are a family. it's a different country, a different continent, and while we could not know the great pain of those across the world, it was still grief, and shock, and confusion. and it was us.
as i sat outside talking with the drivers, i had one of the worst moments when i spoke the name 'bidhaan'. as i did, one staff member quickly asked 'the driver?'. a driver, a person who no matter how limited out access, or how dangerous it may be, if there is a program, if there is a team, there is always a driver. and the staff member who asked, a driver, knew that. so many media outlets didn't seem to realise though, that a driver is an aid worker. so many media outlets spoke of 2 aid workers, and a driver. how can i explain such a simple concept, that our drivers are aid workers. our drivers go everywhere msf goes. our drivers act as translators, liaisons, negotiaters. our drivers are essential. please honour that our drivers are aid workers. please don't only name those of us who work in countries that are not our own.
and what do you do with all of this? talking with the staff was hard, but it was concrete. it was something i knew i had to do, something i knew how to do. so really, it was easy.
but this is hard. i don't know how to say to the team in somalia, i'm so sorry. i don't know how to say to the families of the people killed, my heart is breaking for you. i don't know how to say to the people of kismayo, you live with this, you endure this, and i don't know how you do it.
but i will say again to the media please realise our local staff are aid workers. please respect this, and report their profession and commitment, especially when they have lost their lives while working to benefit others. and while i'm pretending that reporters will read this, i will ask that you do not mistake our work, you do not mistake us for heroes. we are trying to provide services to people in crisis, people who are marginalised, and we do so while trying to keep our staff as safe as we can. there is always risk, but we are not careless cowboys. we are simply trying to do the best we can.
many staff told me that their prayers would be with the families of those killed. while i don't presume they will read this, i will write it here just in case.
my thoughts are with you too.