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, May 14, 2008

My thoughts on Darfur (written in October 2007)

Today is United Nations Day and it is the day that Amnesty International is going to the White House to hand-deliver a petition signed by almost 500,000 people demanding that something be done to end the genocide in Darfur. that sounds like a lot of people to be signing one petition, but when you consider the fact that there are over 300 million people living in the U.S. (and another 33 million in Canada), it's actually a pretty pathetic number.
A couple of weeks ago some friends and I gave a presentation at my school about Darfur and the atrocities that are occurring there. i did it because whenever i wear my "Save Darfur" shirt, people ask me "Who is Darfur?" or "is that a band?" i did it because there are SO many people out there who have NO idea what is happening in Darfur but who could tell me who Tom Cruise is married to (seeing as how he got 29X more press coverage than Darfur did last year). i did it because 10 peace-keepers were killed in Darfur this month and i sat in class fighting back tears all day when i heard the news, but life around me went on as usual. i did it because the other day the government of Sudan sent troops and Janjaweed into another village where they slit the throats of the men praying in the mosque and shot a 5 year old boy in the back when he tried to run. and then the A.U., the supposed "peace-keepers" retracted their statement that it had been a government attack, despite the fact that an international agency was there and witnessed it all. i did it because the peace talks are scheduled to start in Libya any day now and the people of Darfur are once again being slaughtered as each opposing side tries to gain an advantage on the ground before the talks begin.

It wasn't easy to give the presentation. i thought i was going to be nervous about the public speaking part of it, but that wasn't the hardest part. the hardest part, by far, was re-opening the floodgates. when i came back from Darfur the only way i could start to function as a somewhat normal human being again was to not let myself think about it. in time the nightmares stopped and i pushed most of what i felt about it far enough into the back of my mind that it had almost come to feel like i had been there in a previous lifetime.
going through the pictures was the worst part. when i was home in august my mom had burned me a CD with all of the pictures i had saved on her computer. she had accidentally included all of my Darfur pictures on it and somehow they ended up mixed in throughout the other pictures i had saved from the last year of my life. i sat on my bed and flipped through them. a picture of Abdel-Rhazid, a malnourished, handicapped little boy we discovered in a hut one day. then pictures of me at the park in Vancouver with my healthy, strong young nephews running around playing hockey. a picture of Houda, one of my staff, a young woman who had been impregnated by rape and whose family threw her out. then pictures of my girlfriends and i sitting in the sun on a lawn in North Van, laughing, cuddling. a picture of Khartoum, whose smile never reached her eyes. pictures of my little sister lying down in our backyard, giggling as our new puppy jumped all over her. pictures of the under-weight children in our feeding program, many of whom have fathers who will always wonder if they are his. then about 100 pictures of my 2 year old nephew, a desperately wanted child who is the light of his father's life, with ice cream all over his face. and on and on it went. all i could do was look at them and think why? WHY? why did i get to leave? why did they all have to stay? why would the UN send their helicopters in to get me if we were attacked but not let any of our Darfuri staff get on board as well? WHY??? when my best friend was at the genocide conference in Montreal last week a Rwandan woman stood on stage and told the world that they had failed Rwanda. she had watched as the Europeans had been evacuated with their f***ing PETS, but wouldn't take her Rwandan little girl. another man spoke about seeing the aftermath in Rwanda and how the one image that most impacted him was going in to a church (where many people sought refuge and were subsequently killed) and seeing the remains of a child with a machete buried in his skull. he said that the world needs to see these images and i agree. so many times i wanted to take pictures of the things i saw in Darfur but i was afraid of 'exploiting' anyone. i wanted to preserve whatever shreds of dignity they had left. but now i realize that i was wrong. i should have taken pictures and i should have MADE the world look at them. i should have taken a picture of that 6 year old girls shredded vagina. look at that and tell me that you don't have 2 minutes to spare to sign a f***ing petition.

and my stories.... i was afraid to try to read them during the presentation because the last time i did that i started to cry in front of my class. so i asked Shraddha to do it. and she did. and still i cried, just hearing them. to everyone else they're just words. to me, they're memories. they are memories of a time when i had an idea of what it was like to go to bed every night grateful and surprised to still be alive. it was millions of miles away from my safe, beautiful life in Vancouver, Canada. it was reality. and i couldn't change the channel, turn off the radio or skip that article in the paper to magically make it go away or not be true. i saw it and i know it's real.
so now what do i do? i told myself after seeing "Hotel Rwanda" that i would never let something like that happen again without my doing something about it. so i went to Darfur and i took pictures and i wrote stories and i did everything that i could to tell the world that what you're hearing on the news isn't nearly as bad as it is in reality. it's worse than you can even imagine. and still only a paltry half million people took the time to sign the petition. i can't even COUNT how many bullshit forwards i have been sent about supposedly missing children (who, it usually turns out, aren't missing at all), or not putting plastic in the microwave, or how drinking cold water is going to give you cancer. THOSE topics are important enough to forward information about, but the rape and murder of an entire people group ISN'T? that petition should have made its way across the world and back thousands of times by now. and everyone who thinks they can't be bothered to sign it or forward it should get to go live in one of the IDP camps in Darfur for a little while, praying to God that they aren't murdered or raped when they leave the camp to forage for firewood. it's sure f***ing easy to be US, isn't it? do you see any of us being hunted down like animals and shot in the back as we run for our lives with our children, knowing that we had to leave the rest of our family to fend for themselves because we only have 2 arms? when is the last time someone in North America had to choose which of their children they could carry as they fled their village? how often do couples here debate who should have to go get the firewood, because the husband runs the risk of being killed whereas the wife will just be raped? how many families have been pared down to only those who could run or be carried? would you run and leave your elderly grandparents behind? or your brother who broke his leg as a child and can't walk properly? or your wife who is in labour? (fyi, burning down the hut that the labouring woman and her birth attendant are still in is definitely done). and, if this was happening in North America, would people be not be taking to the streets, SCREAMING for help, protection and justice? remember the outrage over the slow response to Hurricane Katrina? yeah, that response was days. the people of Darfur have been begging us for help for the last THREE YEARS. that whole bullshit slogan "Never Again"? it's bullshit. we don't get to read about the holocaust anymore and tell ourselves that it could never happen in this day and age. we don't get to think of Rwanda as our one failure and tell ourselves that we have learned from our mistakes. we haven't. it's happening again and everyone is sticking their heads back in the sand where it's quiet and comfortable.

i have hardly slept in the last two weeks. i want to publish my stories somewhere that people will have to read them. i want them to see the pictures that i DID take. i want to tell them all of the things that they don't want to hear. i want to have a fund-raiser to raise money and awareness about the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world today. but it seems like people don't care all that much anymore. when i left Darfur i knew that once i stopped sending out my stories full of the horror that is life there people would let it fade into the background. people have their own causes and charities and there are times in the year when people are less likely to give etc etc etc. but i'm in school and i am only home so often, so it gets pushed back and back and back to the point where i know it will never happen.

and i wonder what it will take for the world to really care? will a caucasian aid worker have to die? is that what it will take to get Darfur on to the front page? because no one seemed to give a shit about the 13 aid workers that were killed while i was there and i'm pretty sure that's because they were African. well it's only a matter of time until a caucasian aid worker is killed. we found out we were targets in August of 2006. normally overseas we're seen as neutral, the third sex, somehow superior, or just not really there. international aid workers were spared in Rwanda as the Hutus murdered the Tutsis right in front of them. Monica, on my team in Darfur, told me that her friend had been there with MSF and that by the time it was over her hair had turned completely white. i asked her if that would happen to us and she shrugged and said they would either come in and kill just the Darfuris and leave us, or they would come in and kill all of us, or they would just kill us to make an international statement. no guarantee either way. but thus far they have managed to avoid killing a caucasian. instead, when they attack the aid workers, they rape the female aid workers. they aren't stupid. they know that if they kill her they will bring more international attention to Darfur. but if they rape her the organization will often just quietly pull out in order to ensure her privacy. they know what they're doing, these "gangs of reckless bandits" who the government has "nothing to do with".
and so it continues... and i can either lose my mind over the unbelievable injustice of it all or i can stuff it all back down and get back to "normal" life. and on that note... i have some exams to study for.


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