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...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

News that makes me want to vomit

in the newspaper....

"Also on Friday a group of six aid agencies said they had been forced to withdraw from Darfur because of the "unprecedented difficulties" of working in the region.

The group - which included Oxfam, the International Rescue Committee, Goal, Concern, World Vision and the Norwegian Refugee Council - said they were becoming direct targets of violence."

just what the people of darfur need right now....less humanitarian aid and less witnesses.

i came across this quote the other day and now, more than ever, as i think of the people i left behind, it rings true...

"De Corde totaliter Et ex mente tota, Sum presentialiter Absens in remota"

translation "with all my heart/ and all my soul/ I am with you/ though I am far away"

-Carmina Burana

Monday, December 11, 2006

Better stories...

if you are a newcomer to this blog, you will find the more personal stories back in the june, july and august archives. after that they tend to become a bit more general (and a lot more angry). i'm also going to post more pictures as soon as i become less lazy (any day now...seriously...)

Team Life

another old one that accidentally wasn't posted. it was written in the end of july.

one of the most important aspects of being overseas is your team. i have been insanely blessed in the past, making life-long kindred-spirit friends with the girls on my teams in the philippines and in afghanistan. it was often those friendships that kept me sane and that made the situations there bearable. it was those teams that made me fall in love with working overseas, and that made me expect to always have a team that was a port in the storm.
when i first arrived here i wasn't sure what to expect. steffan (who was going to kerenek) and i had been briefed together and each time it was the same "in kerenek the team is GREAT, everyone gets along, they're all good friends, etc etc. in habillah.... uh, not so much". i was told that the two girls got along with each other, but not with the one guy, and we had no fieldco yet, so it was just going to be the 4 of us to start. when i arrived here i found that i clicked with milena and carmenza, but clashed with andi on a regular basis. it was so weird for me to be on a team that wasn't totally close and loving. it definitely made it that much harder to be here, and i spent a lot of time with my ipod on. shortly before andi and carmenza left for their vacations we welcomed gustavo, our new fieldco (aka our boss), who was a breath of fresh air. his girlfriend, monica, is based in el geneina but she joined us for a week as she's in charge of the medical activities in the project and came to check things out. those days were heaven. gustavo and monica are so funny that it's exhausting to be around them for too long. every day we worked our insane, stressful jobs, and each night after work we would sit outside and they would smoke like chimneys and entertain us with stories from their previous missions- "and then they kidnapped us, but very politely" (somalia) and "there they don't involve civilians in their disputes. if they are going to fight they go out to an empty field and kill each other like gentlemen". eventually the vacationers returned and everything was different- andi was a new man. he was rested, he was relaxed, his face had filled in (he had lost so much weight here that he was actually gaunt) and his sense of humour was back. i was like "who are you and what have you done with andi?". the next two weeks were amazing. we all laughed so much that it hurt, which is the best therapy imaginable. as we got more and more comfortable with each other we all acquired nicknames- i'm 'the beast of beasts', which sounds a lot like the nickname my older sister calls me, which is 'monstergirl'. milena is shtroumpheta, which is smurfette in french, gustavo is 'moustaffa the palestinian' as everyone here is convinced that he is arab and/or palestinian, carmenza is 'carmencita', and gustavo calls the girls, collectively, 'the squirrels' (andi has no nickname but we tease him mercilessly for being 10 feet tall and hitting his head on everything. he does, however, have a stuffed bat who we named 'ignut the coolcool'). when we had guests arriving from the headquarters in geneva gustavo turned to carmenza, the calm one of the group, and said "try to control the beasts, will you?". whenever i would tackle someone (let's be honest, it was almost always milena- what can i say, i miss my sisters) gustavo would start chanting "fight, fight, fight", and then he would ask us to pause while he wet the sand. one day, after we had broken yet another piece of furniture, he laid down the law- "there will be no more fighting..... unless there is mud and i have my camera". milena, who is the weaker one in a set of identical twins, always just took it when i harrassed her, but by the end of her time here she was fighting back and starting to hold her own- i'm so proud :) we were all, also, given characters from the movie 'madagascar'- i'm the king of the creatures in the woods, who sings 'i like to move it move it' but i'm not sure why other than the fact that he's apparently crazy.
we got so close and so attached to each other, and i would have been completely happy to keep things that way until december, so i tried to forbid anyone to leave. alas, this last monday milena finished her mission and went home. it's strange how much it hurt to see her go, and what a huge hole she left in the team. it was also strange how jealous i was of her getting to leave, and how often i got caught up in the fact that someone was leaving, forgetting that it wasn't me. our new nurse is a girl from switzerland named corrine. she's nice and seems quite mellow but, as carmenza reminded me, "you were quite normal for your first week or two, and now you behave like a badly-educated boy", so maybe she'll turn out to be as fun and wacky as milena was :) andi and gustavo leave in early september, which means that we have to have a new logistician and a new fieldco, and those are the only other changes that will happen before i leave. i can't imagine life here without gustavo and monica- our next fieldco has some mighty big shoes to fill.

it occured to me as i was writing about how i tackle and harrass milena that several of you readers were probably thinking "thank GOD she's in sudan". then i started to try to think of everyone who has suffered from my boredom and, aside from my sisters (obviously), i made a list: jaana (who has a quote in my quotebook where she says to me "remind me to never marry anyone like you"), hil (who has a quote in my quotebook "if i was married to you i would divorce you"), em (who holds her own by subjecting me to the goblin, which scares the crap out of me every time), kate gem (who told me once that it was confusing to have someone who was so nice cause her the most pain), kate dubensk (who i have great footage of when i tied her up), sarah naiman (who i have so many quotes from i can't even list them here), kate van (whose skull i accidentally fractured), hannah (who has no siblings so i was just filling in), jill and allison (who made the mistake of sitting next to me in class), lina (who told me once "i love you more than cockroaches, but only just"), mandy (who looked shocked when i bit her the first time, but edwin explained by saying "it just means that she likes you"), lou (whose pregnant belly i used to jostle just before we fell asleep in the midwives quarters, so the baby would wake up and kick her all night)....and the rest of you who i'm sure have many, many stories to tell, which is why if i ever get married none of you are invited to my wedding :)

milena and adam

gustavo and monica

andi and corinne

mere moments before i started vomiting on the airstrip :)

carmenza and abdel-razid

milena after losing a pen-fight with me

amy giving milena "chest pains"... a beloved osborne-smulders family tradition

doctor monica

gustavo, whose most common expression was "i feel lazy..."

explaining the cast of madagascar to monica (who is the hippo)

ok, so occasionally we danced in the rain...

Saturday, December 02, 2006


regaiya starting to fill out

this one is the second half of an email that i couldn't post. this is the part of the email that you can read....

the other woman in my life lately is one whose story is far more affirming. her name is regaiya and she's two years old. when regaiya was first admitted to our pediatric ward she haunted me for days- i would see her face before me at night as i tried to sleep, no matter how hard i tried not to think about her. she was 2 years old and was the most emaciated being i have ever seen, which is saying a lot. she was a skeleton with bones- she didn't even have the swollen belly. there was no flesh. her eyes were sunken and the skin on her face was pulled so tightly across the bones that her mouth was open in a permanent grimace. her eyes were huge in her tiny face and were the picture of suffering. each time i went into the ward i would stop to check on her progress and say hello to her mother. she started out lying, completely still, on her side, and being fed through a nasogastric tube. she never moved and couldn't sit upright. slowly, painfully slowly, she started to move a little. then, she could sit up with help. one day i walked in and she was sitting propped up in her mothers lap, holding a protein bar in her tiny hand. over the last couple of weeks she has come so far it's amazing. she's sitting without help and she's feeding herself. she's still painfully thin but she's filling out and has reached the point where it doesn't hurt to look at her. she's now caught up to the size of most of the children who come in severely malnourished. more than that, she has started to smile. i don't know that she's ever smiled before, or that she even knows what she's doing. when i tickle her feet her lips twitch, then curl up at the corners, but she looks so confused when she does it. she greets me now- i'll go up to her and put out my hand and say "salam" and the last few days she has slowly reached her hand out to hold mine. her mother, like all the mothers here, is thrilled when i take pictures of her and show her on the digital screen. i don't have any of her when she first arrived because i honestly couldn't bring myself to take her picture. it was one of those situations where you want a picture so that people can see that this is reality, but you don't want to be the one to take it. these days it is a joy to see her and to take pictures of her newly chubby cheeks. her existence, her recovery, gives me hope and reminds me of why we are here.

regaiya on her way to recovery

The human suction-machine

this story contains a moment that was, simultaneously, the funniest and yet the most disgusting moment in my entire 5 months in darfur. it was one of those moments that isn't funny at all when you really think about the situation it occurred in, but we were so tense and so stressed out that when it happened all we could do was laugh. and laugh we did (and by "we" i mean "me". milena wasn't laughing nearly as much, or at all really :) i was literally doubled over and couldn't stand up because i was laughing so hard i could barely breathe. we had a four year old boy arrive at our hospital, unconscious and febrile. his symptoms didn't point specifically to any one thing so it was a bit of a process of elimination. it was late, we were exhausted and we were tense. it didn't look like he was going to make it and no one wants to watch a four year old die. he started to choke on his secretions so milena went to suction out the back of his throat. our suction machine was broken so i had lent the pediatric ward the delee suction device from the delivery room. note: the delee is used by au naturel midwives, or those of us who work overseas and are ever at the mercy of sporadic power-supplies. it is a simple contraption, consisting of one hollow cylinder with a lid on it. there are two holes in the lid and each hole has a tube running out of it. when the baby is born you place one tube into their mouth and nose and you suck on the other tube. when you inhale through one tube you are creating a vacuum in the cylinder which then creates suction in the other tube and it sucks the mucous from the baby's orifices into the cylinder. milena had never used a delee before and it hadn't occurred to me that she may need some instructions on how to use it. she put one tube in the child's mouth, the other tube in her own mouth and she started to suck in. it was all going very well until the cylinder filled up with mucous and saliva- i guess sick four year olds have much more secretions than a newborn. what milena didn't know was that once the cylinder is full of fluid, when you continue to suck on your tube you are essentially using it as a straw. that straw brings whatever fluid is in the cylinder directly in to your mouth- and you are sucking hard to create suction so you end up with a huge mouthful before you realize what's happening (it's never happened to me, thank God). i was watching milena suction him when suddenly her eyes went wide with horror and she dropped the delee and ran from the room. i found her outside spitting violently and repeatedly filling her mouth with water, swishing it around and spitting it out. i am now laughing so hard that i have to sit down. milena is screaming with disgust between each mouthful of water. she asks me what she should do and i say that if it had been me i would be gargling with bleach by now. then i tell her that she can gargle with the vinegar we use for sterilizations, because vinegar is acid. she runs to the sterilization room, grabs the vinegar and takes a huge swig. it did NOT look like a pleasant experience, let me tell you. i, on the other hand, was having a great time. not only did i laugh about it for days, i took pictures of the entire episode. and yes, before my older sister points this out to me, i know that i am a terrible person and there is a special place in hell reserved for people like me (the same place that is reserved for people who swallow live unborn ducklings, apparently even if they didn't know it was alive and were tricked into doing it. long story).

gargling with vinegar