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...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

My Staff

This is an old message we just received...if you're wondering why it's being posted after we said you had to request it, we deleted the part of the story that is personal.

it's funny but, in spite of the fact that things are so tense and the country is on the brink of war again, i am loving it here lately. i think the only reason that i am able to find joy here is the fact that every day i fall more in love with my staff. i honestly think i have the best staff on the planet. they are amazing- each and every one of them. i can say this because the two from khartoum (my "problem children") are leaving soon and the ones who are staying are all tied for being my favourites :)
aicha is indescribable. she is our counsellor, the supervisor of the Women's Health Centre and a translator. she is in her early thirties and is the mother of 6 boys (she would have 7 but her first son died). she is, in so many ways, my hero. she is the representative of the masalite women of habillah, which is a bit like being the mayor of the women. she taught herself fluent english and was hired by the ngo's as a translator in her late teens. she didn't know what to do with her paycheque so she gave it to her father. he used it to buy her land, to build her tukuls and to buy her housing supplies. she is now quite wealthy by habillah standards as she owns 2 plots of land in the village, farming land outside of the village and a cow. her wealth would be far greater except that she is also the "social services" of habillah. as a single mother she financially supports her own children, as well as her mother, a handicapped brother, her sister and her sister's children, her niece and her niece's baby, a young girl who was raped and impregnated and whose family was killed in the fighting (and her baby), and anyone/everyone else who comes to her for help (and everyone who needs help comes to her). she never turns anyone down, even if it means handing over her last bill. when habillah was first overrun by diplaced people who were running from their villages, she took 6 families into her compound (actually, she came home to find six families sitting in her yard and she went "uh, ok" and let them all stay :) she also, along with 5 other people who were working for ngo's and therefore had money, bought huge sacks of food and they provided all of the new arrivals with meals until the ngo's could get themselves organized to deal with it. she is strong, she is brilliant, she is compassionate, she is generous to a fault. she is a devout Muslim and if she was the face of Islam that the world saw, people would have a very different opinion of Muslims.
leimona is my 19 year old timid little mouse of a village midwife. her aunt paid for her education and leimona now financially supports her entire family. when i first arrived she reminded me of a nervous ferret. she was incapable of doing deliveries so she had been relegated to helping with the prenatals (basically just taking the patients vitals, as she can't read or write). no one would let her do deliveries as she was so nervous that she nearly dropped the baby in the one birth that they had allowed her to do. i had enough staff capable of covering the birth shifts that i didn't care if she couldn't do deliveries. she is a fantastic worker and i was happy to let her just help with the prenatals during the day. that all changed when the new budget took my two khartoum midwives away, leaving me to find 3 women to do the birth shifts. two of my nurse assistants (hawa and mariam) are able to do deliveries unsupervised now, but i needed a third. i had the choice of training leimona or firing her and getting another, more competent midwife. i love her to death and there was no way i wanted to get rid of her- she's my hardest-working employee and has a heart of gold. my khartoum midwives were convinced that she could never be trained and told me i should never let her do deliveries. gustavo told me that there is no one who can't be trained and he encouraged me to put in the time and effort. so, in the last month i have gone on a "leimona training" onslaught. i started by making her be present at every delivery, and once she was used to them, i started to make her do deliveries under my supervision. she has completely come into her own and she gets more self-confident every day. the other night i had her do a vacuum extraction and she pulled it off perfectly. i also got her to help me train the new girl (we are training another girl to help with the prenatals and take leimona's old position) and she has proved to be a gentle, patient teacher. the more she trains houda, the more she realizes that she knows far more than she ever gave herself credit for. every time i look at her i feel a swelling in my chest- i am so proud of her that i could cry.
mariam is my nurse assistant. she is the picture of quiet dignity. she is the one in the picture i sent- the close-up of my face cheek-to-cheek with a beautiful woman, both of us with cornrows in our hair. she is the mother and grandmother of many. she is grace, beauty and silent strength. when i have staff meetings, trying to deal with the latest problems (that always arise from and swirl around my khartoum midwives) and create team unity, she is the first to apologize and ask for forgiveness. i love that she does that because she has never done a single thing to offend anyone and owes apologies to no one. it is her humility that leads her to apologize for any offense that may have been taken by any of her actions. no matter how much anyone else has wronged her, she is always ready to hug them, kiss their cheeks and renew vows of friendship. her work ethic is amazing- she never stops working (she and leimona) even when we have no patients and the rest of the staff are lying on the mats outside, being lazy and unmotivated. when she was in agony with a tooth infection that had caused half of her face to swell up, i had to order her home to take painkillers and get some rest. she didn't even tell me that she was in pain- i noticed that she was hiding her face and when i yanked down her scarf i found that she looked like a lopsided chipmunk. we sent her to el geneina for a couple of days to go to a dentist and managed to misplace her for over two weeks. she returned yesterday without any of us expecting her and she beamed as we all screamed and ran to hug her. she got off the helicopter and immediately showed up at the hospital to work. i suggested that maybe she should head home for the day to see her family as they had been asking us about her whereabouts for days and i had finally admitted to my staff that i thought we might have lost her.
hawa is my other nurse assistant. she is our plump, dramatic, jolly character. she speaks some english and manages to make me howl most of the time. she is the one who told me i "look like dying person" when i lost all the weight (note: to those who were concerned about my emaciated state, i am fine now. carmenza made me start drinking spoonfuls of cooking oil and i have gained some of the weight back. gustavo told me today that when i was sick i looked like (picture him sucking in his cheeks) and now i look like (picture him puffing his cheeks out). i warned him not to make me kick his ass in front of his girlfriend). when i first arrived and wasn't used to things yet, i was sitting with my staff when someone handed me a glass of tea. i didn't yet know that they drink it when it's boiling, so i took it and dropped it instantly when it burned my fingers. hawa says to me "you hands like new baby!". i tell her that in my country we are firm believers in oven mitts so i am quite uncallused and unashamed of that fact. hawa is the one who throws me over her shoulder when she thinks i am misbehaving, and has given me two "warnings" (when the staff get in trouble they are given 3 written warnings before they are dismissed) for annoying her. i told her that if she gives me one more warning i get to go home. any time that i stay still for too long, she braids my hair or pulls my head into her lap to stroke it. she is always laughing about something and is SO fun to be around.
and that is my staff. i could describe the rest of the staff that we have here in msf and each description would be just as amazing. each one of the people who work with us is fantastic in their own way. they are kind, noble, loving, funny and truly good. i was thinking the other day that we must have completely lucked out when we were hiring, because we ended up with the 70 best people in habillah working with us. then it occured to me that these people are representatives of habillah, and darfur. there is no way that we could have managed to hire the finest 70 people here- what we did was hire people who represent how beautiful most people here are. these people are darfur. they are the reason that we need to fight to save this place.


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