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...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006



saying goodbye


i have never before been so aware of leaving somewhere. i have come and gone from a lot of places in my life.... different cities, countries, continents.... and i have always felt something about leaving one place and arriving in another, but never quite like this. i was SO aware of leaving darfur. i felt the gravel crunching under my feet with each step that i took as i walked towards the small plane that would take me from there. i felt my feet, one after the other, leave the ground as i went up the stairs into the plane. i felt the plane taxiing down the airstrip, and then the moment that we lifted off. i didn't have many specific thoughts at the time. there was a mixture of relief that i had made it out alive and guilt that not everyone else would. the relief didn't solidify until i landed in khartoum. there was a part of me that thought i wouldn't make it out of darfur alive and it wasn't until i arrived in khartoum that i really believed that i was out. leaving was brutal.

my last day in habillah i did get hennaed (my hands and wrists) and, despite my older sisters death threats, i did get tattoed. i got a traditional tribal tattoo to remind me to always pray for them. it is a simple tattoo. the women here cut them into their cheeks or their temples. as much as i'm about solidarity, i decided to get mine on my upper arm. it is 3 one inch vertical black lines in a row. hawa did mine. my staff convinced me to get it done with no anaesthesia, the tribal way, and i am just ridiculous about having to prove that i'm hardcore so i agreed (on the video you can hear aicha say "i hope you don't cry" and i reply "i hope i don't cry either"). hawa opened a new scalpel and made three slices, then wiped away the blood and rubbed in a mixture of ashes and oil. the one thing we hadn't thought of in advance was the fact that we had gone to the whc to do it and i had to get back to the compound immediately for the start of my farewell party. i had worn the traditional african outfit my staff had made for me for the party (a particularly hideous blue and orange outfit, with a matching hat that was so small it cut off circulation to my brain all night) and i had had to take it off to get the tattoo. i couldn't put it back on without getting it all bloody. aicha says "just go like that" (in my tanktop). i say "and get myself shot by your local mullah? tempting, but no thanks". finally they wrap the outfit around me and place gauze over my shoulder and i run into the car and slide down, out of sight.

the party was nice and relaxed. having a farewell party during ramadan guarantees that it is going to be chill as everyone is starving and dehydrated and exhausted :) the one down side was that aicha had been really quiet all day and aziza, our cleaner, burst into tears any time anyone mentioned that i was leaving. i gave my staff the presents that claire had brought and most of them cried. they, in turn, filled my bag with homemade gifts for me, my mother, my sisters, my family, my friends.

the next morning i woke up early and got out of bed for the last time. i went to my wall and put a line through the last empty square on my calendar. i poured a glass of water and went to sit in the courtyard as we waited to hear when the helicopter would arrive. it felt surreal. it didn't feel real to me, but it seemed to feel real to those i was leaving behind. aziza, who i can easily describe as pure sunshine, was subdued and withdrawn. nasra barely looked at me. joyce and josephina arrived and sat quietly across from me in the courtyard. finally word came that the helicopter was leaving el geneina, so we drove to the hospital to pick up my staff who wanted to come wave goodbye at the airstrip. leimona had to stay at the hospital with our patients so i had to say goodbye to her there. she clung to me and sobbed. finally aicha told her that i had to go or i would miss the helicopter and she let go of me, turned and walked away. on the drive to the airstrip i took in every detail of habillah that i could. every hut, every courtyard, every child, every donkey, every leaf. at the airstrip we waited. one by one my friends broke down. some of them hugged me as they cried, some of them walked away to cry in private. they begged me, one after another, not to forget them. to never forget them. to come back to them if ever i could. i told them that i prayed that i could, but that they had to be here- they had to survive this. i had managed to avoid giving a speech at the party, but i had written a letter for them and aicha read it to them and translated it. i told them that i would always love them, always remember them, always be proud of them, always think of them, always pray for them. again they cried. one of them asked me to tell you of life here- of the difficulties they face. i told her that you know. that everyone knows. i told her that i had told all of you most of what i had seen here and that many of you were actively trying to help them. i told her that we would continue to fight for them, even from halfway across the world. i pray that what i said is true- that we will all continue to fight for them until there is peace in darfur.

the helicopter arrived and i slung my bag over my shoulder. i walked towards it, stopped, turned back to look at them all. "i love you guys..... goodbye".


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