Amy's Adventures in Darfur

I started this blog when I left for Darfur in June 2006. I was working as a midwife with MSF aka "Medecins Sans Frontiers" aka "Doctors without Borders" but this blog contains my own opinions and stories- not those of MSF. It is less political than I want it to be and I have been unable to post stories about certain topics due to the fact that this is on the internet and accessible to anyone. I wish I could tell you all of the stories but since I can't, I will tell you the ones that I can...

Saturday, October 07, 2006

a date with Habillah

pepe before

pepe after

i'm not kidding when i say that the frogs are everywhere. this was what i found in my mug one morning.

this was written and sent the day before "almost done", which is why i refer to my "email last night" as being so dark and down. my computer connection leaves much to be desired. read "almost done" before this one if you want to keep them in chronological order. not that this blog is even close to being in chronological order. nevermind.

i realize, as i start to write this, that by sending this email i am likely to start hearing the word "bipolar" being whispered as i pass clusters of people at family functions and social gatherings for years to come. thankfully i'm ok with that. it's just that today was SUCH a fantastic day. it was like i had a little date with habillah and we totally fell in love. i know, i know, my email last night was so dark and down and now i'm writing about this wonderful day i had. so i need medication. so what?
my day started early. really early. way before 4am, which i know because it's Ramadan. what does Ramadan have to do with anything? let me tell you.... Ramadan is the month where Muslims fast all day. this means that our staff don't eat or drink anything all day long, in this horrific heat, and then when night falls they get to eat and drink again. one way that they manage not to die is to eat their meals throughout the night. this is accomplished by eating their first meal at dusk, then snacking throughout the night (napping in between) and then rising really really early to make their last meal before 5am. i know how early they get up because they make very sure that everyone knows how early they get up. they accomplish this by walking through the village beating metal on metal at around 4am to wake up the women so they can cook their last meal of the night. they do this for at least an hour. most nights i lay in bed thinking that they are lucky i'm just too damn lazy to get up and get my slingshot out, because i'm a pretty good shot. last night i was already awake by then so i just debated going out to join them. i haven't slept much in the last three nights. three nights ago i was called to an emergency haemorrhage and for the last two nights i have lain awake, unable to fall asleep. they were those nights where you lie on your stomach for a few minutes and then you're not comfortable. you turn on to your right side for a few minutes and then you're not comfortable. you turn on to your back for a few minutes and then you're not comfortable. you turn on to your right side for a few minutes and then you're not comfortable. you turn on to... you get the picture. it's basically a never-ending quest for a comfortable position and a part of the bedsheet that isn't hot and sweaty. so yeah, i was awake for at least an hour before i heard the banging. this is actually good because on the nights when it wakes me up it sounds, through my earplugs, like gunshots that are right outside my window, which sends surges of adrenaline though me that keep me awake for another couple of hours. i far prefer being awake already. but i digress....
so i start my day by picking "a" up at the whc. we are going to go to the market to buy supplies for my farewell party tomorrow. we wander in to the market and it is like i am seeing habillah for the first time. i have never been in the market on a "market" day as we are always busiest on those days. i walk in and it's like the africa that i imagined as a child. the sights, the sounds, the smells. and i repeat... the smells. we get dropped off in the meat section of the market and the smell assaults my nostrils. i have to buy a goat or a sheep to serve at my party and "a" wants a friend of hers who is a butcher to pick out a good sheep for us. i trail behind her and stare at everything on the tables with a mixture of awe and disgust. one man is selling skin, another is selling lungs, another is selling stomachs, one man has rows and rows of intestines drying in the sun. at one point i turn around and almost trip over the recently removed head of a cow. i recoil in horror and everyone around me laughs. i think "a" told them that i'm vegetarian because then they laughed again, louder this time. as we walk away i say to her "do you think they would let me have that? i'm thinking of some really good pranks right now". she rolls her eyes and ignores me. it's probably for the best. we wander through the market buying all of the ingredients for the food that people traditionally eat during Ramadan. most of it is drinks, thin porridges and soups. i had thought that maybe i would be off the hook for the sheep but apparently they still eat meat. we stop at one stall and as aicha is talking to the owner i hear a frantic bleating sound. i look around the corner and see that a horse is pinning a tiny, baby goat in the corner with its huge head. i don't know if it was planning to eat the goat or not, but the goat sure as hell thought it was going to- it was terrified. i grab the owners sleeve and yank him to see and he chases the horse away and lifts the kid by the scruff of the neck. to my surprise, and delight, he deposits the baby goat in my arms. i hold him close to my chest and after awhile he calms down and nuzzles his head under my neck and i can feel his heartbeat slow down. at this point i am wondering how i am going to fit him in my luggage because i totally plan to take him home with me. the stall owner tells me that the mother had left the baby there and i now have visions in my head of bottle feeding it, taking it for walks, letting it sleep in my bed..... "a" tells me that the mother will come back for it and i can't take it home to canada- ever the voice of reason :) i reluctantly hand him to the stall owner with strict instructions to protect him from the horse. we continue on our way and reach the section of the market where you can buy fruit and vegetables. rainy season was good this year and there are suddenly many new food items on the market, stacked in neat piles in the sand. mangoes, watermelons, guavas, cucumbers, tomatoes, oranges, lemons. they are beautiful and colourful compared to a market that only contained onions and garlic for the last few months. a's mother is there in the market and she hands me a bag of lemons from the tree in her yard. i came home tonight and squeezed them to make fresh lemonade. my next wildlife encounter is when we are driving back to the hospital and i see something on the side of the road that makes me yell to mohammed "stop!!!". he stops the car and i jump out. "that goat JUST had that baby!" i tell him and "a", who fail to find it nearly as cool as i do. there, in the shade beneath the tree, is a tiny, slimy, bloody little goat. it's mother stood over it, with her bag of water and placenta still hanging out of her. i squat and watch this brand new little goat attempt to struggle to its feet as its mother starts to lick it clean. it keeps making it onto all four legs before toppling awkwardly over again. mama goat continues licking him, even as he burrows under her in search of a nipple. it was such a beautiful moment to witness. i know, i know, i'm such a midwife. i drop "a" off at the hospital and i head home. on the way home i stop to play with the small gang of munchkins who follow me for a certain number of huts before heading home. i start to pick them up, one by one, turn them upside down and tickle them. they giggle and squirm but keep coming back for more. as i walk home i look around me and notice that the yards are full of tall, green plants poking over the fences. not being able to leave habillah to plant has led the people to plant in every available space within habillah. each little yard is growing sorghum, corn, okra. when i finally arrive home our courtyard contains 5 beautiful little black bodies, enjoying a watermelon. nasra, our cook, has brought her 4 year old son, salah, and her 2 year old daughter, salheah to work. aziza, our cleaner, has her 3 year old son, anas, her 1 year old son, hassan, and a young girl, maybe 6, who straps hassan to her back every couple of hours and brings him to aziza at work so she can breastfeed him. the children are sitting around a pile of watermelon, half of them with no clothes on. they are grinning ear to ear as they devour it and drench themselves in sticky watermelon juice. to add to the mess i introduce them to popsicles. one of my recent packages had plastic containers for popsicles and i had made orange tang popsicles in the freezer. i take them outside and run them under the lukewarm water to free them. the children are unsure of them, but take them anyways. they put them to their mouths and squeal as they realize how cold they are. keep in mind that these are children who don't have refrigerators in their huts. they LOVED them. between the watermelon and the popsicles, they were all lost causes and had to be put under the tap and rinsed off. the boy who brings us the water arrives and his donkey, for once, lets me pet him. i stand there for about 10 minutes rubbing his head and his soft ears. for lunch nasra has fried some catfish that one of our staff has caught in the wadi. this is a new treat- i've never seen fish here before. i'm pretty sure it has about six thousand parasites in it so i don't eat it. after lunch "a" and i head back to the market to pick up the sheep that the butcher has found for us. i am horrified and traumatized to see him pick herbie up, toss him into the back of our car, hogtie him and close the door. yes, herbie. that's his name now. i spend the entire ride home apologizing to him from the front seat, then i get him a big bowl of cool water once we get back to the compound. i have told him that i don't want to eat him, nor do i want anyone else to eat him, but it's a cultural thing and i just hope he can understand that. he's pretty quiet so it's hard to guess what he's thinking. pepe, the sheep for andi's party, had A LOT to say and he said it so loudly and so often that the team was ready to kill him ourselves. now it's nighttime and the ground is alive. lately night has equalled frogs. frogs as tiny as the tip of my finger, all the way up to frogs the size of the palm of my hand. they are everywhere. i love frogs so i walk very slowly to avoid ever stepping on one and i spend much of my time catching them in our house and releasing them outside. i love all wildlife that isn't spiders or insects. at home i never get to hold baby goats or catch frogs or rub donkeys ears or pet camels. and yes, apparently i have become a 7 year old boy.
tomorrow is my last day in habillah. i am getting up early to get hennaed, possibly tattoed (more on that later), possibly corn-rowed again (haven't made up my mind yet, leaning towards no), and then it's party time. the goodbyes have already started. today aicha and aziza already cried. it's not going to be easy to leave them.


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