Sunday, June 18, 2006


Every now and again I’m stopped by a phrase that I can honestly say I never expected to hear in my lifetime. (Tops among them are, “I’m really crazing a non-alcholic beer” and “Don’t forget about the wildebeest migration.” This last one really cracked me up. ‘Don’t forget’ would imply that I knew anything about the migration in the first place and that I knew whether it was something to be seen? Avoided?) The most recent was at a UN coordination meeting where it was announced, “the acute watery diarrhoea meeting will be held directly after the camp coordination meeting.”

With a straight-face my base manager looked at me and said, “I don’t want to go to the watery diarrhoea meeting.”

“I’m not going,” I say. “You go.”

This exchange took place in unsmiling solemnity.

There is a cholera outbreak in Darfur. Only, we’re not allowed to call it ‘cholera’. We have to call it ‘acute watery diarrhoea’ for a whole number of political reasons that I won’t go into because they infuriate me. Cholera’s a water-borne disease that begins with watery diarrhoea, leads to severe dehydration and ends with death. It’s normally spread through groundwater – the one common element that links every human being in Darfur. Cholera is a poverty disease. People only die of cholera because they are too malnourished, too physically weak, or too poor to get medical attention. If I suffered from cholera someone would make sure I got antibiotics.

I’m often struck by how lucky I am but none more so than with cholera going around. We might have spent a large part of the past few weeks without electricity, without running water, without internet access or phone network, but we also don’t have cholera.

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