december 4, 2008
Darfur. The word stands out. It disturbs, if only a bit. Sometimes we recognise it as it sails by in the daily stream of news and information bombarding our senses, and flinch as it fires its guns at our guilty conscience. We know of Darfur, or at least it rings a bell, and it causes us unrest. Some would even give one or two facts about the conflict and sit with wrinkled foreheads discussing the state of the world. Usually it only holds our attention for a little while though. Soon our defence mechanisms kick in and helps us sort the unpleasant reminder into locked cupboards in the back of our heads.
Like with most news of human suffering we find it distant, difficult to comprehend and even more difficult to do anything about. Of course, we can only take in so much information about how people across the world are miserable. Usually we come to the conclusion that it’s sad an all, but unfortunately there’s not much we can about it, and ultimately it’s not really our business. It goes for me too. It was too hard to imagine, and not really my business.
Now I’m here, in Darfur. I’m inhaling its dust, exchanging phrases in staggering arabic with its smiling people and its sand fills my sandals. If it was previously hard to imagine, it’s now as real as a slap in the face and I’m trying my best to figure out how to deal with the impression. It’s a fantastic, rather sobering, feeling to find yourself dumped into reality like this. Ever since getting in involved with Medecins Sans Frontieres (I will use the abbreviation MSF henceforth) ten months ago, I’ve tried to picture what it would actually be like to arrive in the field. Well, this is it.
For some six months I will call this place home. This is Serif Umra, a community on the border between North and West Darfur. Following the conflict it has grown considerably from people seeking a refuge here. There is a small camp in the outskirts, but mostly people have been absorbed by a gradual expansion of the town, now holding an estimated total of 55,000. The population is now composed of internally displaced persons, in humanitarian lingo commonly referred to as IDPs, permanent residents and nomads from the bigger locality.
For MSF and its team here on the ground, the task at hand is to provide secure access to health care to these people. Though generally covering primary health care, emphasis in the project is put on woman health care and nutrition. It seems women and children will always be the ones to take the hardest blows when the structures and safety nets of society collapse. Every man should ask himself why.
So, I’m here, and I’m only just trying to digest the first impressions and familiarize myself with the structure of the dispensary. It’s not all that spectacular. The reality rarely is. It’s just real.