Jamal is the Blue Nile grampa I never had. He is a slight figure, even in his size 42 gumboots. He wears an Islamic cap and always comes early to work, perching on a chair to my right. While there are many younger men on my team, none compete with Jamal’s vigilance. Most mornings at the outreach worker meeting he pulls me aside at the end to tell me of people he’s concerned about from the village he visited the previous day. One day he told me about a man who was killing many goats in the village of Ayouk, scaring the other refugees. Last week he brought out a tiny scrap of paper with his Arabic-scripted note: there was a sick woman in Soda Amol who hadn’t been able to walk because of swollen legs for two days. He wanted me to go find her because thought she should come to the hospital. He was right – she needed urgent care. Read the rest of this entry »
Easy enough for me to tell my latrine sob story, but let me give an even stronger piece of advice: really, really try to avoid being a refugee in a newly created camp that only has trench latrines. As an aid worker I’m supposed to encourage all refugees to use only the designated camp latrines. Getting, and keeping, human shit away from food and clean water is about as central a public health intervention as you can get. If you can do nothing else for a bunch of displaced people living in the middle of nowhere, establish a shitting field and make sure the community leaders enforce it. As a human being, and fellow lady to many of them, however, it’s pretty hard to push the trench. Read the rest of this entry »
My feet but NOT my pink Crocs!!! Borrowed from a friend!
I have one key piece of advice for female aid workers on their way to Africa: once you get there, get a potty. This might even be more important than my earlier advice about underwear. Displaying your undies in full view of your boss only happens once a week – the potty issue comes up every night.
In my first semester of public health school I took a course on refugee health. One of the nutritional programs my instructor talked about was “blanket feeding.” Every time she said the word “blanket” I imagined a huge Iowa-sized quilt descending on a refugee camp in the night, stretching to cover each tent. This week, more than ten years later, I finally saw one in action.
There are feeding programs for kiddos in many (but not all) of our emergency medical programs. Most of the time they are targeted to malnourished children only; the rest of the kids rely on general food distributions done by the World Food Program (WFP.) Once in a while WFP can also offer blanket feeding, which is like a general distribution but only for kids in a specific age range (usually under five years old.) We don’t usually do them since food distribution is a specialty in and of itself, but we stepped in this time since no one else could do it. Read the rest of this entry »
Timoty belongs to the Maban tribe. When he was 15 one of his lower teeth was removed, as is the custom for teenaged boys in that community. He is not part of the love triangle.
Both of my translators were an hour late for my morning meeting with the 40 outreach workers. When Timoty and Anur arrived – after I’d been desperately (and unsuccessfully) pantomiming a short message about which teams needed to fill out new HR forms for the past 45 minutes – I asked them where they had been. Anur explained that their friend had become sick in the night and they had to bring him to the traditional healer. Had they gone to the hospital first? No.
This was more than a little defeating for a couple of reasons. The first, of course, was that I had lost an hour of my meeting. The second was that a large part of the training on Saturday was about how to convince the refugees to come use our health services before going to the traditional healers. We were all on board: Sick people should come to the hospital. Yes!