After a long stay in Abyei, a disputed region between Sudan and South Sudan, James arrives in Amsterdam

so. it was like Maurizio said. the sights, the noises, the days that surrounded me so completely, they collapse. they collapse, but they don't disappear. it is as if you have shut off an old tv and all the images and sounds are compressed into that one bright point in the middle of the screen. incandescent, it just lasts and lasts.

abyei is still real. i am positive. i know that right now, as i type this, the people who remain are working their way through familiar struggles i have left behind, that the call to prayer will happen soon, that someone just looked at the thermometer and is scanning the sky hopefully for clouds. it has collapsed into a tiny white dot, but it is still too bright to forget.

time is different here. hours are eaten up by little tiny minutes, almost instantly. they just disappear. days too. in abyei, time felt thick like molasses. each action was deliberate, even the small ones. eating food had a slow importance to it. this is dinner. now i am done. i will go to bed.

the days since have been like water. bright, clear, diaphanous by comparison. so many mini things have happened, but their inertia is different. i don't know how many times i have eaten today. or quite where i have been. i could tell you if i thought about it, but i am not likely to.

since i last spoke at you, i have left sudan and passed through geneva for my debriefing. i am now in amsterdam, considering ending my relationship with some parasites. you have to understand, it is not them, it's me. there are some things i have to figure out on my own.

the debriefing in geneva was interesting. aside from the usual talk about objectives, accomplishments, and future plans, there was considerable discussion about my blog, and about blogs in general. there are some who feel that they hide the slipperiest of slopes, that they are akin to voyeurism, a commodification of the MSF experience. others, like myself, are convinced that its immediacy and combinations of media allow a story to be told in a new, powerful way and that there is a benefit in their telling. the more people who know about abyei the better. the more first time volunteers who understand what it is truly like in the field, the better. the more of our family members who know we are alive, who get a chance to feel like they hear from us every day, the better.

i am not sure what will come of it all. it is true to MSF's spirit that there will be a heated discussion that will give way to cool consideration, and finally firm into a resolution. i can read the wisdom on both sides, and hope to participate in the dialogue.

i can't speak to all the merits and demerits of blogs, but i think i know why they work well; they are personal, immediate, and available. they make a window in the world, and when they are at their best, it is almost clean. though i can for the first time, i haven't looked back through mine yet. not quite ready. too many little mines, memories that need to lose some of their colour before they are recalled.

because i did not have easy access to the internet, i wrote post to post. i never got a chance to see this as a larger thing, if it manifested any particular themes. i wanted to tell the story of abyei as someone who came to it knowing nothing, and then found himself woven into it. i wanted to tell the story of MSF, an organization that manifests a particularly pure version of the humanitarian spirit we all carry around. and, most importantly, i wanted to make more real a world that is happening right now, just now, at this very minute. someone just set down the thermometer, and scanned the sky. no clouds. no rain today. good for the hospital. the roof on the feeding centre has started to leak and the mothers are complaining, threatening to leave. it is important to know not just because it provides perspective, not just because the contrast makes us realize we have the tools to do something about the world we live in, but also to remind us that we are doing something about it. we could just use more hands. maybe yours.

there are other missions. dozens of them, going on right now. people are waiting for visas, passing through customs, counting days until their R&R, coming home. my experience was not remarkable. there are forty others like it right now, some harder, some easier, some longer, all different. i once said MSF is a treadmill. one person gets on, runs for six months, and it is someone else's turn. maybe its more like the major leagues. dozens of teams, hundreds of games, a thousand people criss-crossing. but the multiplication is dizzying, so i just focused on my small corner because it is the only one i know.

a friend of mine came to visit me in amsterdam yesterday. we drove around in the rain and looked for tennis courts. he asked me what it was like, sudan. i didn't have much to say. "intense", i said, "not quite over." still that bright, burning spot.