I am having my first real night of solitude since this whirlwind began. My roommate (a wonderful Canadian nurse), is ‘on outreach’, and sleeping in one of the villages where we have our medical clinics that are primarily run by our South Sudanese ‘National Staff’. She is a remarkable breath of fresh air; much younger than me and a spirit that makes me happy to share my (her) bedroom with her (me), despite the lack of privacy. She is our party planner, puts together the Sat night dances and pizza parties and makes coming back to the compound a welcome end to the day.
My other roommate has been sent elsewhere, and I am sad, very sad about that. She is a Kenyan nurse, and knows everything about all the things I know nothing about. She has nursed in Africa for as long as I have doctored in Canada, and has been teaching me so much in the couple of weeks I have been privileged to work with her. She helps me when I am uncertain what to do next in a medical situation, and she knows when I need some guidance in order not to do something that is culturally inappropriate. I have depended on her in more ways than I had realized, and now MSF has sent her off to work somewhere else where there is need for her expertise and amazing skills. I will be lost without her, at least for a few days, and then I will have to get my bearings again.
So, I have my own room for the first time for a few days, and I am enjoying the quiet. Solitude is a difficult thing to come by in this land of hope and turmoil and quiet desperation. A land I know so little about that I am ashamed not to have done more research into the country, and not just the diseases, before I came. 20 years of war, 5 years of unsteady peace and 6 months of being a brand new country have left a population just waiting to see what will come of the unpredictable changes now occurring. Players are jockeying for power in the new political climate here. Old scores are still to be settled. There are rivalries that endure despite reconciliation, and borders are drawn on paper, but some are still being debated in the meeting rooms and fought about on the ground.
I hear the stories of fighting and trauma in other areas of South Sudan, but where I am now, the gunshots are usually just singular, in the night, someone playing with their Kalashnikov, or celebrating a birth. I am learning from my fellow MSFr’s how to tell the difference between ok gunfire and bad gunfire. At least my bedroom is the ‘safe room’, the place where everyone goes, with the supplies stocked under the beds, to hide out for a while, if we hear the bad gunfire.
My first born child gave me a letter to open once I arrived in the field. In it she said, (and I will have to paraphrase, because it has become one more thing lost on this journey), that she is so proud of me, and that she knows there will be challenges and there will be days when waking up to face the day will be difficult, but to try to remember that ‘tomorrow is another day‘and that the tribulations that are difficult are what make you strong, and the events that occur, although they may be overwhelming at the time, will make a mighty fine story once I am home. I have raised pragmatic children, I think. I am trying to absorb her wise words, and go forward into tomorrow with some confidence, a little anxiety, and retain the good anticipation that I want when I wake up each day.
To do this, I need to remember the success stories we have in the Clinic. I need to acknowledge that the events that dig deep into my brain and make me doubt everything are the ones that keep me awake and wondering and worrying at night. The events I don’t dwell on are the children who go out the door with their mothers, with a smile and a wave and a thank you in one of 10 languages, off to walk for 2 days to get home, but this time healthy and well. I need to remember that the oh so terribly painful 10% of my job is much less than the wonderful 90% of my job. I will tell you about ( not their real names), Tabitha, a beautiful 5 year old little girl, and John, a strapping and now healthy 17 year old boy/man.