Saturday, May 26, 2007

Saying goodbye...

My radio call sign is November Zulu Yankee 1. It has been for nearly a year. It is how we know and find each other on the VHF radios. Losing it is something akin to losing part of myself. No one in the ‘real world’ knows me as NZY1. This is just one more reminder that I need to find myself again in the ‘real world’. Remember how to walk and talk – remember what ‘normal’ people talk and laugh about. Remember what it is like to not have to listen always for your call sign on the radio.

I have exactly four days left in Darfur. It is harder to leave than I thought it would be. Not because I am not looking forward to leaving, but just because I feel like the work is not finished – like I’m leaving the game at half-time. Hardly anyone ever asks you when you’re leaving if you’ll miss Darfur because no one I know has ever missed this place very much. Just like, if you’re supporting the losing team, no one would ask you if you were saddened by missing the last half of the game. It’s just not the sort of thing people miss.

However, there are things that I will miss. Things that were formative and changed my perspective on living and my outlook. Auden said: “Somewhere there are places where we have really been, dear spaces, of our deeds and faces. Scenes we remember as unchanging – because there we changed.” I think particularly of moments, even if they were few and far between, that struck me because of their blinding beauty and grace. Moments that stand out simply in contrast to the stark ugliness around them. They are not necessarily happy moments – as we have become accustomed to counting happiness - but they are beautiful:

The old blind man, led around town by a small boy with a begging bowl;

the time at dinner when a street child approached our table and the people around us tried to shoo him away and a friend turned and said, in Arabic, ‘No, it’s fine. He’s a friend of mine. We’re talking.’;

Jasmine the stray dog who lives outside a friend's compound who has adopted and guards all the expats who stop by;

the silly conversations that people carry on with when there is no pop culture to relate to - like what our super-human power would be if we had one.

Of course, there is a much longer list of what I will not miss. But I hope that, in retrospect, I will find that just one of these moments is enough to cover over a multitude of ugliness..

This is November Zulu Yankee 1 out.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

In case you wondered…

Thunder sounds exactly like a low-flying MiG. I’d forgotten that. I’d forgotten about the apocalyptic downpours of the rainy season in Darfur until a rain storm came early last night. I say early because I am insistent that the rainy season is not yet upon us. I am insistent that the rainy season is not yet upon us because I need meningitis vaccinations and a lot of them.

Meningitis, because I know you’re interested, comes in different strains. And, unless someone is willing to shell out the big bucks for the vaccine that covers all strains – which we are for aid workers but aren’t for IDPs – then there’s no way to stop an outbreak of the disease without getting it typed. In order to get it typed you need to send it to the Ministry of Health in Khartoum. Now, the MoH maintains that the slower they work the better job they’re doing (not unlike some UN agencies that shall remain nameless) – no matter that we’re talking about life and death issues like outbreaks in IDP camps.

In order to not spread the meningitis we have had to stop all our health promotion clubs. Thousands of people gathering together when you have the outbreak of a highly contagious disease is simply a bad idea. Exposing your staff to a highly contagious disease is also a bad idea.

It came to my attention that the World Health Organization was in possession of a large number of the expensive sort of vaccination. I thought this was good news. We want to vaccinate all of our health promotion staff since the vaccine takes two weeks to go into effect, they would need to be involved in the vaccination of IDPs, and they also need to be getting ready for the expected outbreaks of Acute Watery Diorrhea (better known as Cholera) that the rains bring with them.

I went to a Watsan meeting wherein WHO asked us why we weren’t using our clubs to spread AWD messages.

‘Ummm,’ I said. ‘Because we’re waiting for meningitis typing and vaccines so that we can reconvene them.’

‘Well,’ WHO said. ‘We’re sending the vaccines back to Khartoum because the rains are going to come soon and the meningitis outbreak will end.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘But when the rains come cholera outbreaks start. You need the clubs to spread health messages about cholera but we can’t conduct the clubs prior to the AWD season because of the meningitis outbreak. Can we not get the vaccines now and vaccinate as many people as we can?’

‘The vaccines are being sent to Khartoum and the rains are coming.’

‘I understand that. Perhaps I should come by your office and we can sit down and discuss this some more,’ I said. What I didn’t say is that if I carry on with this circular conversation my head would have exploded!

Is it just me or has the world gone crazy? Are you and I the only sane ones left?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Why we let mass murder happen...

from: Paul Slovic's, "If I look at the mass, I will never act": Psychic Numbing and Genocide:

"Most people are caring and will exert great effort to rescue individual victims whose needy plight comes to their attention. These same good people, however, often become numbly indifferent to the plight of individuals who are “one of the many” in a much greater problem. Why does this occur?...Why, over the past century, have good people repeatedly ignored mass murder and genocide? Every episode of mass murder is unique and raises unique obstacles to intervention. But the repetitiveness of such atrocities, ignored by powerful people and nations, and by the general public, calls for explanations that may reflect some fundamental deficiency in our humanity – a deficiency that, once identified, might possibly be overcome. One fundamental mechanism that may play a role in many, if not all, episodes of mass-murder neglect involves the capacity to experience affect, the positive and negative feelings that combine with reasoned analysis to guide our judgements, decisions and actions…The reported numbers of deaths represent dry statistics, “human beings with the tears dried off,” that fail to spark emotion or feeling and thus fail to motivate action.”

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


I like to think of myself as a calm and rational human being. I like to think that, while I am easily angered and annoyed by ineptitude and incompetence, I generally have the capacity to smile and pretend things are ok. I have completely lost that capacity.

At 9am today, my day began with a sit-in at UNICEF where I situated myself in their guard/waiting room and refused to move until someone met with me and straightened out all the issues that they seem to have a special tendency to perpetuate.

Then, when they agreed to let me in I launched into, what can only be described as, a tirade. I began with a calm explanation detailing their uselessness, ineffectiveness, ineptitude; added to that the reasons why I think that it is futile to partner with them; building to a crescendo with my step-by-step plan to persuade every one of their donors in Darfur to withdraw their support; and concluding with my plan for a hunger strike in solidarity with the children that are starving in our field site due to their internal bureaucracy.

One of the best kept secrets about men is this. There are only a few - maybe five - on this entire planet who know how to deal with hysterical women. Thankfully, none of those men were in the room and the ones who were went immediately into the classic, "pacify at all costs!" response. "Good God!" the looks on their faces said. "Make it stop! Someone please give her what she wants!"

So, I have finally won with UNICEF. It may seem like a minor victory. It may seem petty and unprofessional...but I don't care. It was a beautiful moment that still makes me smile just sitting here reflecting on it. That, and I don't have to start a hunger strike.

Friday, May 04, 2007


I woke up at about 4am this morning in a cold sweat. Headache, fever, nauseous, diarrhea, stomach cramps. I last until about 8am, by which time I feel like dying, and then text a friend who's a nurse and ask her what I should do. She tells me to drink water, mixed with ORS and juice and hope for the best. If I'm not better by the afternoon I should go to the clinic. I hate going to the UNMIS clinic. They diagnosis everything as typhoid. I go back to sleep, or try - it's about 118 degrees (47 C) today. I don't get out of bed until about 5pm and decide to do some self diagnosis on the internet. The problem with the internet is this. If you ever want to freak yourself out try diagnosing a medical problem with it. With my symptoms you could pretty much have everything - typhoid, malaria, food poisoning, ebola. It's not much help. So, I am going back to bed with my disgusting ORS to - at worst - slowly die of ebola or - at best - to lay there and sweat and count the days until I get to leave and wonder if I should have just gone to the UNMIS clinic for my Typhoid diagnosis.