The military prefect of Adré Province slaps his pen, broadside, on the map spread before us on the ornate coffee table. He sweeps it in a semicircle southeast of our location, through the Darfur region of Sudan and across the frontier into his country, Chad.
“Here, Janjaweed, some rebels, mostly Janjaweed,” he says.
He glides it in a curve to the northeast, again tracing an arc traversing the border between the two nations. “Here, Janjaweed also, but mostly rebels.”
Colonel Trika Rameslay is balding, barefoot, prim in his pressed desert camouflage tunic and pencil mustache. A small, slender man with skin the color of cocoa butter, he chain-smokes cigarettes of black, pungent Turkish tobacco. Now he moves the pen farther west, past our position, deeper into Chad. “Here, there are many raids. Janjaweed, rebels, everyone bad.”
Then Rameslay moves a slender index finger back toward the east. “We are here,” he says, drilling his manicured fingernail on Adré, a former caravan town straddling the border of eastern Chad and western Sudan that has become the center of a maelstrom of ethnic cleansing, rebellion, and counterrebellion.
“Very dangerous,” he says, the words soft, barely audible. Seated beside the colonel, General Morissa Sougue, commander of the Chad National Guard, grunts assent and mumbles in Arabic. Neither flinches — as I do — at the bomp-bomp-bomp of a heavy machine gun firing nearby.
I step across the thick carpet and kneel next to Rameslay. We are in the front room of his sandstone mansion, a jarring structure in a province of thatched-roofed stick huts. Outside, the midday sun blazes, yet the windowless space is dark. A single candle flickers.
“Here is also Médecins Sans Frontières?”
I ask, pointing to the same position on the map, which is less than a mile from the Darfur border.
“Yes, here is the MSF hospital. Very brave, MSF.” A wry smile. “Maybe very crazy, too.”
|THE DARFUR CONFLICT: A Primer|
|When did it begin? February 2003|
|Who started it? The Janjaweed, a militia group made up of Arab Bedouin herders who settled in the region in the Middle Ages. The Sudanese government has quietly sponsored their attacks.|
|Who are they fighting? The indigenous non-Arab, non-Bedouin people, who are mostly farmers.|
|Is this a religious war? No. Both groups are Muslim. The conflict is over land and the few natural resources in the region.|
|How many people have died?About 400,000, says the Coalition for International Justice — 200,000 in the conflict and the rest by disease or starvation. Two million others have been displaced from their homes.|
Yes, maybe very crazy. Médecins Sans Frontières — also known as Doctors without Borders — is the Europe-based aid group founded 35 years ago to provide health care to civilians trapped in wretched, lawless Third World territories. Since its international cadre of volunteer doctors and nurses ventured into the Afghan-Soviet battlefield, the organization has ministered to untold millions of sick, wounded, and dying men, women, and children in hellholes from Cambodia to El Salvador. Funded solely through private donations, MSF is the only aid group, or NGO — nongovernmental organization — operating amid what the Bush administration has labeled an African genocide occurring on both sides of the Chad-Sudan border. There are several Médecins Sans Frontières groups in the area, but only one, MSF-France, operates at the border, among the hundreds of thousands of refugees encamped here. In early May, I spent a week there with the medical personnel of MSF-France.
The MSF-France clinic in Adré is staffed by a French surgeon, an American doctor, a Canadian administrator, and two nurses, one Belgian and one French. The Republic of Chad, among the five poorest nations in the world, could not possibly provide adequate medical care for the hordes of refugees, predominantly women and children, fleeing Darfurian villages ravaged by the Sudanese government–backed militia called the Janjaweed. There are no Chadian doctors, much less hospitals or clinics, operating out here on the anarchic frontier. Even wounded soldiers are treated by MSF doctors. “Chadians are dying every day for these Sudanese,” Rameslay bristles. “The doctors from MSF are a fine start, but why is it that Chad should be burdened with this responsibility? Where are the developed countries? Médecins Sans Frontières is all we have.”
As we drive away from Rameslay’s walled compound, we pull to the side of the narrow dirt track to cede passage to several bullet-pocked Toyota pickup trucks brimming with child soldiers toting Kalashnikov rifles. The trucks are painted in camouflage and carry canvas sacks of rocket-propelled grenades, bound like stalks of asparagus. These “technicals,” with heavy machine guns welded to their flatbeds, are common in African armies. One is parked outside the entrance to the MSF-France clinic, a few hundred yards from the colonel’s home.
Before the MSF contingent arrived in Adré, the nearest hospital was a government-run clinic in the town of Abéché, 150 miles to the west. Now the focal point of all medical care in the area is the two long, single-story buildings of whitewashed, dried mud and slatted boards erected in the shape of an L. Beside them stand two large, open-sided tents. An unarmed security guard raises a flat wooden plank on a joist, and we drive onto the packed red dirt of the hospital grounds. Refugees, predominantly Sudanese, hobble about outside the wards; I count close to 100, including an old leper leaning on a cane, a teenage boy with no legs, a mother carrying an emaciated baby. Beneath the branches of a large banyan tree, the families of the sick and wounded brew tea and rest on colorful prayer rugs spread over the dirt.
Just inside the entrance, both sides of a small billboard are plastered with the photographs of 220 orphaned Sudanese boys and girls. “Help Us Find Our Family” reads a heading in Arabic. It reminds me of the placarded walls of Manhattan following September 11. Several preteen boys approach and point to the photographs, and then to themselves. Some are sullen, some smile.
“The militaries and the humanitaries, they’re all that’s left here,” says Peter Reynaud, M.D., a tall, fit 48-year-old American with short-cropped gray hair and penetrating blue eyes. “We often mix,” he says, flashing a laconic grin and motioning toward the skeletal remains of a helicopter gunship on the sand beside the hospital.
Go to the next page and follow Dr. Reynaud on his rounds….
I trail Dr. Reynaud as he begins his daily rounds. The concrete floors are bare, the walls adorned only with a picture of a blond Jesus, his blue eyes moist with compassion. “It got a little lonely around here after the other NGOs retreated,” he says, referring to the United Nations’ World Food Program and International Rescue Committee, the London-based Oxfam, and various Catholic Relief charities that decamped to more secure areas farther west as the Janjaweed encroached into eastern Chad over the past year. Moreover, the Janjaweed and various rebel groups have recently begun hijacking NGO relief vehicles, as well as committing armed robberies in the vicinity.
“But we leave and, well, what about these people?” He sweeps his arm.
These people, Dr. Reynaud’s patients, are helpless, jaundiced, some wounded beyond recognition. Many are destined to die. The doctor approaches the bed of a sallow, 12-year-old Sudanese girl. Her family is among the 200,000 Darfurians who have been massacred by the Janjaweed in the past 3 years. She tried to commit suicide by drinking a bottle of insect repellent. Lacking a stomach pump, the most the MSF staff could do to save her life was induce diarrhea. She is recovering.
“What she went through, can you blame her for trying to kill herself?” Dr. Reynaud asks. “Anyway, drop us a stomach pump in the mail when you get back to the States.” Dr. Reynaud’s insouciance, I would learn during my visit, is a kind of mental body armor nearly all the doctors and nurses here hide behind to protect themselves from the hopelessness of their jobs.
“You arrive with a starry-eyed, I’m-gonna-save-the-world attitude,” Dr. Reynaud tells me. “Can’t help it, no matter how many times you’ve done it before. But then, after a while, you figure you did okay if you saved just one person.” He gives the suicide girl’s forehead an absentminded caress. “Look at it any other way and it’ll beat you down and kill you.”
In the adjacent bed, an unconscious stick figure receives an intravenous line, which snakes through a tattered mosquito net. She’s a woman of indeterminate age — perhaps 50, perhaps 20 — who was raped and shot not far from the hospital. “I’m certainly not any braver than the next guy,” says Dr. Reynaud. “But when violence is directed against children or women, if you’re any kind of doctor, if you’re any kind of human being, it makes your blood boil.”
Dr. Reynaud steps over a pile of soiled bedsheets and asks me to follow him to the pediatric tent. Next to the sheets rises a mound of used bandages, bound, I assume, for the trash heap. Later, I am told that the least tattered and bloodied will be boiled and used again. Jesus.
Go to the next page and learn about the fighting…..
“You know, before Médecins Sans Frontières arrived [in May 2004], there was no surgery performed anywhere along the Chad-Sudan border,” says Jérôme Mouton, MSF-France’s administrative head. I met Mouton in N’Djamena, the Chadian capital, more than 650 miles west of Darfur, 2 days before arriving in Adré.
Mouton is tall, slender, with a mane of black hair and a 3-day beard. In his French-accented English, he orders a liter of the local Castel beer from the bartender at the Méridien Hotel and takes a swig. “We have the only surgeons in eastern Chad. Even now, however, when you give a wounded Sudanese a choice, ‘Surgery or death?’ all too often the answer is ‘Death.’ They’d rather suffer than face the knife.”
The Sudanese government in Khartoum bars journalists from entering Darfur from the east, so the only way in is via one of the daily flights the UN’s World Food Program shuttles between N’Djamena and Abéché. Mouton had agreed to meet with us before our journey to give us the lay of the land.
“I won’t even try to delineate for you the factions, tribes, and different ethnic groups all killing each other out there,” he says, before attempting to do just that. He flips over my map of eastern Chad and begins scribbling on the blank side. His finished product is a bewildering swirl of villages and refugee camps straddling the border, overlaid with arrows indicating the latest movements of the Janjaweed, as well as various bands of Sudanese and Chadian rebels with acronyms such as FUC and SCUD.
“Basically, the fighting, it’s all about land,” he says. “The Sudanese Arabs, the Janjaweed, are nomads who want it for grazing their camel and cattle herds. The Africans, also Muslim don’t forget, are farmers whose villages stand in their way.” Thus the government-sponsored massacres, where racism — Arab versus African — trumps religious tolerance.
Behind the Méridien Hotel, women beat clothes against rocks lining the banks of the muddy Chari River. Farther out on the waterway, fishermen in two canoelike longboats throw seines. The Méridien has the air of a run-down, midsize New Jersey shore motel. Electricity is supplied by private generator; water in the bathrooms runs occasionally.
The lobby and bar are dotted with local Chadian businessmen and government apparatchiks, Lebanese merchants, and western oilmen, two of whom wear polo shirts emblazoned with small “KBR” logos — the initials of the Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root. Large deposits of oil and natural gas were discovered in Chad’s southern provinces in 1975. At a table in the corner, four Eastern Europeans in muscle shirts share a bottle of vodka. “Likely out-of-work mercs hired on as oil-camp security,” Mouton says, turning back to his makeshift map.
“Two days ago, there was a big fight right here at Adé, where we also had been running a clinic.” He indicates a village a few miles south of Adré. The outcome had been a draw, but during the action, Chad president Idriss Déby’s favorite nephew, the Army’s chief of staff, had been killed. MSF volunteers in Adé radioed this information to Mouton, and it fell to him to inform the president.
“I pulled our people out of Adé,” he goes on. “Some for reassignment in Chad, others back to France. Sometimes, working too long amid all this violence, a person loses sight of the danger. Burns out or takes too many risks. It’s up to me to decide when they have had enough.” He shrugs. “We are just medical workers. It is not our mission to take sides.”
I order another round of beers and return my gaze to Mouton’s scribbles. Midway between the town of Abéché and the Sudan border, he had delineated a wide swath of . . . nothing. I cock my chin.
“No-man’s-land,” he says. He points to a small dot in the middle of this empty space representing the village of Farchana. “All the NGOs have pulled back behind here, except us. You’ll pass right through it tomorrow.”
Go to the next page and learn more about the doctors and patients….
The side of the young boy’s face is swollen to grotesque proportions. No one knows what to do. The boy’s father had flagged down a Red Cross vehicle on the dirt road somewhere between the border and here in Abéché, and the aid workers had dropped them both here at the government’s provincial hospital. Audrey Landmann looks stricken. Without the ability to administer proper tests, she says, the hospital’s medical staff has no idea whether the 8-year-old boy is suffering from a tumor, an infection, or something else. All anyone can say for sure is that the lump has been expanding daily.
“We could get a diagnosis if even the most modest medical screening technology was available, perhaps if we could get him to N’Djamena,” Landmann says, and then her voice trails off. This is her first glimpse of Third World medicine.
I had met Landmann, a 27-year-old French nurse, hours earlier, on the UN flight from N’Djamena to Abéché. Her ultimate destination is also Adré, for her first MSF posting, a 6-month commitment. She had worked for several years as a trauma nurse in her hometown of Strasbourg, in the Alsace region, and had traveled to Africa once previously, as a tourist. On the plane, she was inquisitive and somewhat utopian. “I’m sure Chad will be much more difficult than any emergency room in Europe,” she’d told me. “But I am also certain that this will be a much richer experience.” She is now experiencing that richness.
The government clinic here is a single-story, three-winged edifice covered by a tin roof. The patients are mostly women, young girls, and children — a mix of refugees from Darfur and Chad suffering from malnutrition, various infections, and bullet wounds. The stench is overwhelming. A sick baby, covered in flies, wails. An old woman empties a bucket of water into the gutter running down the center of one wing to wash the human waste down a drain. Landmann lifts infants to examine them, giving each a long hug before returning them to their beds. She could do no more. “Yes, much more difficult than any E.R. in Europe,” she murmurs.
From the hospital, we accompany Landmann to MSF’s modest guest house in Abéché, a dusty backwater that is the logistical center for the plethora of international NGOs and aid workers operating in eastern Chad. Here we meet Matthias Fayos, M.D., a general practitioner originally from Toulouse, France. Dr. Fayos is one of the doctors Mouton had pulled out of Adé. He is awaiting a bush plane that will fly him to another MSF clinic in Goz Beïda, farther away from the frontier, allegedly out of harm’s way.
Landmann and the 37-year-old Dr. Fayos are the sort attracted to the MSF life. Neither signed up for the salary, the equivalent of about $1,000 U.S. per month. Both are single, adventuresome, and tinged with an idealism bordering on innocence. In Dr. Fayos’s case, this is especially evident when I ask him about his work in the border territories around Adé. He describes how, after a recent battle, trucks full of Chadian soldiers pulled up to dump their injured compatriots onto the ground.
“I came to help the children,” Dr. Fayos says as a Dylan song plays softly on his laptop. “But I’m spending all my time pulling bullets out of soldiers.” Dr. Fayos sits surrounded by cartons of sutures, antibiotics, tourniquets, pain relievers, and syringes being readied for a convoy to the east. “I suppose there is some irony,” he adds. “Most of the soldiers I treat are themselves children.”
Go to the next page and learn about the trip from Abéché and Adré…
With a reliable truck and a fast driver flying over the massive ruts and sinkholes of the unpaved road between Abéché and Adré, a traveler can traverse the 150 miles in about 6 hours. We leave the following morning, and 5 hours in, stop at a small market in Farchana, a village at the edge of no-man’s-land, perhaps 30 miles from the border. When foreign aid workers pulled back from the frontier, they retreated to Farchana.
The dirt track through the center of the village is crowded with white Toyota Land Cruisers marked with the insignia of the Red Cross, the WFP, the IRC, the UNHCR — a Scrabble set of letters. Back in Abéché, International Rescue Committee volunteer Michael Griesinger, from Rochester, New York, had advised me, “Once you know what all the initials stand for, you qualify as a humanitarian-aid worker.” I do not qualify.
At the market, I meet a Canadian nurse working for MSF-Holland. Her name is Marie-Claude, and she offers to put our party up for the night in her organization’s guest house. Later she is heading to two nearby refugee camps to administer polio vaccinations, but admits she doesn’t have enough for all the children. When I tell her we are continuing to the MSF-France clinic in Adré, she frowns. Monitoring violence is a part-time job for everyone here. The night before, she says, the Janjaweed crossed the border and attacked the village of Katarfa, just south of Adré. “It’s hot there,” she says.
Twenty minutes later, inside a walled compound, the Congolese-born administrator of the WFP’s sprawling Farchana refugee camp explains that his organization is rapidly running short of grain to feed the thousands of refugees pouring in each day. Clad in a flowing, ankle-length, sky blue robe called a kaptani, the placid Sylvain Musafiri could have passed for a high-school social-studies teacher. He says that the WFP has stopped providing rice to the Sudanese in the camps because they would not eat the nonnative grain; they’d rather starve to death. They also ceased supplying sorghum after they discovered the refugees brewing beer.
A wan smile creases his face. Donations are running out, he says. “Millet, wheat flour, cooking oil, corn, soybeans — we are down to our last provisions before the rainy season. Not to mention local stores of firewood and water. But the people refuse to relocate to camps farther west. They all want to return to Darfur.”
As we share tea, a messenger delivers a scrap of paper to our translator, who passes it to me. It’s a handwritten note, in English, from Marie-Claude. She’s off to the refugee camps but will return before nightfall, because only fools and gunmen drive the roads after sunset. “It is better not to spend the night in Adré,” she writes. “There’s too much movement.”
We ignore the warning and push on.
Go to the next page to learn more about the wounded…
I show the note to Dr. Reynaud the next day, after we arrive in Adré. He laughs. “If anybody is shooting, they’re probably not aiming at me. It’s only the stray bullets you worry about.” I can’t help but wonder if that’s his emotional armor speaking.
As we accompany Dr. Reynaud on his rounds, it quickly becomes evident that what his organization lacks in modern technology, it makes up for in ingenuity. In the “nutritional tent,” Dr. Reynaud shows us a concocted mixture of milk and melted peanut butter the staff administers as a pabulum to babies suffering from malnutrition. In the “wounded room,” IV lines are supported by tree branches gathered from a nearby copse.
“You do what you can,” says Dr. Reynaud.
After the cross-border attack on Adé, the MSF-France staff in Adré had deemed it too dangerous to continue operating the mobile clinics that visited eastern Chad’s most isolated villages. At sunrise that morning, however, the Adré team’s field coordinator, Canadian Maryse Bonnel, had taken a truck to recover seven women and children wounded during a Janjaweed attack on the village of Katarfa. “Five of them needed emergency surgery,” says Bonnel, a former physical-education teacher at the University of Montreal now on her 24th mission for Médecins Sans Frontières. She is a sturdy, jolly grandmother who seems simultaneously appalled and energized by the carnage surrounding her. “But I think they’ll all survive.”
Inside the hutlike space that serves as the clinic’s operating room, French surgeon Christophe Boudard, M.D., strides back and forth between two rickety tables separated by a filmy linen curtain. He has been cutting nonstop for 4 hours, and his surgical frock is coated with dry, crusty blood. His two patients, women with gunshot wounds, are conscious. Dr. Boudard says he expects them to live, then steps outside for a cigarette.
“Anesthesia would be welcome,” Dr. Reynaud says dryly in French.
“You think?” answers Dr. Boudard.
Down a pathway, I meet 14-year-old Abakar Jacob, from the nearby Darfurian village of Melibedi. He is nervous, initially afraid to speak to me, fingering the amulet he wears around his neck to ward off evil spirits. Finally, through an interpreter, he says that he fled Sudan last year when the Janjaweed destroyed his village. He and his family took shelter just this side of the border, in the village of Atchien.
“I was feeling safe in Chad,” he says. Then, a week ago, as he and four friends gathered firewood, a party of Janjaweed on horse-back and camels attacked. History has accumulated, perhaps run full circle, in these villages that were once stopovers on the Arab slave-trade route to ports on the Red Sea. Abakar recalls the horsemen’s blood-curdling cries as they fell on Atchien: “Death to the black slaves!” The boy ran for his thatched hut and cowered. His three friends were shot to death outside. He was wounded in the stomach and left for dead. He lifts the white cotton blouse that reaches his knees to show me the makeshift catheter drain — it appears to be an IV bag — attached to the weeping bullet hole in his abdomen.
“With all these gunshot wounds, one of our largest problems is septic shock,” says Dr. Reynaud. “A minor problem back in the States, but here . . .” He shrugs and moves on.
After a time, the stories become numbing. Sisters raped on their way to the market town. Babies burned inside their huts. Mothers wondering if their sons are still alive. Darfurians die like cattle. No, not like cattle. Around here, livestock is considered a lot more valuable than human life. One old man tells me he was visiting a watering hole with his donkey when two Janjaweed on camels approached and sprayed him with automatic-weapon fire. They also hit the donkey by mistake, which angered them even more.
“I don’t know why they want to kill me,” he says. “Before, they just wanted to steal our cattle, sheep, and donkeys. Now that they have stolen them all, they just want to shoot us.” Bonnel listens as he speaks. Outside the ward, I admit to her that I would reel at facing this daily, relentless barbarism. How do the MSF doctors and nurses, who are allowed to request specific postings, handle it?
I can tell she is about to make a joke, to don her mental armor. Then her face draws serious. “Most can’t,” she says. “When their 6 months are up, they don’t come back.”
Go to the next page to see if Dr. Reynaud is willing to stay for another six months…
“Will I sign up for another 6 months in Adré?” Dr. Reynaud considers the question and passes me a cup of strong, thick East African coffee. “Is this a trick question?”
Dr. Reynaud is clad in his uniform of jeans, a loose-fitting polo shirt, and desert boots. We’re seated in the screened-in porch of the six-bedroom MSF guesthouse several hundred yards from the hospital, atop a small hill. Each volunteer has his or her own bedroom, there are showers, and the hole-in-the-ground outhouse is the most sanitary one I have seen yet in eastern Chad.
“I suppose the politic thing to say is, ‘Let me finish up the 4 months I have left, and we’ll see,'” the American says. “But the honest answer is, probably not. But that doesn’t mean I won’t work for MSF somewhere else. You reach a certain age and you have to stop thinking about being the kind of man you want to be, and start being that man. For me, I think probably for all of us here, part of that is taking responsibility for these international problems, and doing what we can to make some small difference.”
Bonnel, Dr. Boudard, and Landmann join us at the long dining table. Bonnel and Dr. Boudard nod in agreement. Landmann, in Adré only 1 day, already looks as if she has lost her innocence. A cook begins filling the table with bowls of rice, salad greens purchased at the local market, fresh-baked pita bread, and a viscous chicken stew. “Stay away from the vegetables if you haven’t been in the country too long,” someone says.
Over lunch Dr. Reynaud fills me in on his background. A specialist in pediatrics and internal medicine, he is a native of New Orleans who graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and received his medical degree from Louisiana State University. He interned and worked his residency at Metropolitan Hospital, in New York City’s Spanish Harlem, and St. Vincent’s Hospital, in Manhattan, and subsequently signed up with various volunteer medical-aid organizations. He has worked with Doctors of the World in Chiapas, Mexico, and with New York City’s Floating Hospital, ministering to victims of domestic violence. In the days after Hurricane Katrina swamped his hometown, he offered his services to FEMA. Two months ago he alighted at the MSF clinic in Adré. Aid work, he says, “gets in your blood.”
“Personally, being somewhere in the States and reading about what’s going on here, it would be much harder for me to deal with it than actually being here and being part of the solution,” he says as we clear the table. “In a way, I feel lucky. I’m here to contribute something positive. That’s not something everyone can realize.”
Médecins Sans Frontières has about 2,000 doctors, nurses, and administrative staff working around the world in underdeveloped countries. But, Dr. Reynaud warns, before I paint halos around all their heads, I should know that “NGO work is exciting, and that’s what keeps people like us, who like to take a chance on the unknown, coming back.”
“Experience exotic places and all that,” says Bonnel. “It’s a regular safari.”
Dr. Reynaud laughs. “Seriously,” he says, “it’s a great way to experience the culture of a country as a participant, not as a tourist. It’s also a much more interesting, more challenging kind of medicine. You’re really forced to rely more on your own diagnostic abilities, not on tests as you do in the United States. I think that working under these conditions, in a resource-poor environment, makes you a better doctor. I know it has for me. And you bring those strengths back with you to your work in the developed world.”
Dr. Reynaud mentions MSF doctors whose research on meningitis in India and Mali has led to more effective treatments of the disease in the developed world. And though most of the hemorrhagic viruses he is likely to encounter in Chad — Ebola, Marburg disease, yellow and dengue fevers — remain rare in developed countries, “you’re going to see more cases worldwide as the globe shrinks. So I think learning how to deal with those diseases here is going to be of ultimate benefit to people back in the more temperate climates.”
What about burnout, I ask, from facing a daily dose of bullet holes in blameless women and children?
Dr. Reynaud pours a second cup of coffee. “The war wounds — in a way they’re the simplest to deal with. You remove the bullet, clean the wound, repair the damage, and hope they get better. The hardest thing is the people you can’t help. Some problems are too complicated. You don’t have the facilities to rehabilitate a child who’s been paralyzed.”
Dr. Reynaud pauses. “That’s why you have to inure yourself.”
Go to the next page to read more about the trip…
A wide, spacious wadi — a riverbed carrying water only during the rainy season — runs nearly the length of the Chad-Sudan border. It begins a few miles southeast of Adré and continues south, an interconnected series of lush oases, to the sub-Saharan Central African Republic, about 375 miles away. A stark contrast to arid, dusty eastern Chad, this is the “land” over which Arabs and Africans are fighting.
As we approach the dry streambed from the north, our Sudanese translator warns us that the Janjaweed are camping nearby. Their positioning serves a dual purpose: to provide ample cover from which to launch their raids into Chad, and to serve as a barrier to prevent refugees from returning home. Our driver, from Chad, has to be cajoled to take us near. He parks a distance away, and we walk the last mile. “Do not stay long,” he says in Arabic, as we jump from the Land Cruiser.
Within moments the topography has indeed transformed into a veritable Eden. We meet a farmer tending fenced plots of tomatoes, watermelons, red peppers, cucumbers, carrots, corn, and alfalfa (for animal feed). Mango, guava, lemon, and banana trees sprout from the dirt above the shallow water table. The farmer says he’s Chadian but risks planting on the Sudan side of the border, because that is what the men in his family have done for generations. He offers us water, and gourds of some type, and introduces us to his wife and preteen son.
Yes, he says, he is aware that Janjaweed are bivouacked nearby. No, he adds, they have not bothered him yet. “They attack the villages,” he says. “Perhaps they leave me alone.” His words, sounding more like a wish, do not carry much conviction. “It is either this or the camps. What else is the choice?”
Death for you and your son? I think. Rape for your wife? Used bandages and a hospital cot at the MSF clinic? I say nothing.
The breeze picks up, and we bid the farmer good luck and begin the hike back to our truck. With temperatures rising past 100 degrees by early morning in this part of the world, any cooling effects of a rare gust of wind are negated by the curtain of red dirt driven before it. Unlike the Mideast, with its talc-like sand, the red, iron-laden soil of Darfur is gritty and pebbly; during sandstorms it embeds itself between teeth, scratches eyelids, encrusts nostrils, and fills every crevice and seam in clothing.
I’m covered head to toe by the time we arrive back in Adré a few hours later. “We were about to send out a search party,” says Bonnel, only half joking.
Despite the local distaste for Chad’s president, people believe that if some combination of rebel groups manages to depose him, Chad will quickly morph into Somalia West — a desperate and lawless failed state. And then, I could not help but wonder, what would become not only of the MSF volunteers, but of the hundreds of thousands of homeless and forlorn to whom they minister?
Before returning to Abéché, we detour into the vast refugee camp of Treguine, about an hour’s drive southwest of Farchana. Many of the Adré clinic’s patients come from this area. As photographer Max Becherer strides between small pup tents that house entire families, he’s followed by dozens — maybe 60 to 70 in all — of barefoot preteen boys drawn to his cameras. Soon, only the top of his torso is visible. I nudge our Sudanese translator, and a broad smile lights up his face. He is a member of northern Darfur’s Zaghawa tribe, known for its violent antigovernment inclination.
“What you are looking at is the next generation of rebels,” he says, beaming. “Soon they will all have guns in their hands.”
With this, I think back to Dr. Reynaud’s parting words: “One of the most important things we do here has nothing to do with medicine. We are bearing witness to what these people are going through. Understanding what goes on here is the first step to finding a way to solve these problems. Or else they’re never going to end.”
At that moment, watching the children surround Max, watching our translator inexplicably filled with pride, I finally understand. The doctors, the nurses, every volunteer with Médecins Sans Frontières and similar aid groups, serve a dual capacity. They are not only representatives of modern medicine, but also recorders of the human condition.
Two nights later, back in N’Djamena, rebels attack the city.
- Is Doctor Legg dying in EastEnders and when will his funeral be?
- Doctors could be missing important details on patients’ notes due to workload amid winter chaos, GP claims
- Fraudster doctor struck off after splitting £100,000 salary between 12 bank accounts to dodge child maintenance payments
- Doctors wanted to end care of baby boy tortured by parents until he lost his legs – but he fought back to life
- Laughter prescribed: Aoife’s Clown Doctors bringing joy to sick children
- Bob Geldof slams 'inept' British government as he receives honorary doctorate at University of Limerick
- Patients to bear brunt of chaos in hospitals next week as nurses' strike talks collapse
- Brexit 'chaos' rules out Irish election
- Christmas rail chaos to cause travel misery as South Western Railway workers stage MORE strikes
- Opinion: Doctors like me need you to listen to what we say about Brexit and the NHS
- Brexit a ‘grave danger’ to NHS, doctors warn
- 100 days to Brexit: EU, UK act to cushion no-deal chaos
The Doctors of Chaos have 5889 words, post on www.menshealth.com at August 1, 2006. This is cached page on VietNam Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.