Dr. Henry Reitzug of Puyallup, a member of the board of directors of Lakewood’s Northwest Commercial Bank, is on a mission to Darfur, Sudan, as part of Tearfund, a leading relief and development charity, working in partnership with Christian agencies and churches worldwide. Dr. Reitzug has been sending his observations of the country and people and we are reprinting them (in a series) with his permission. Read the other installments (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen)
Nyela, South Darfur, Sudan – Wednesday, June 11, 2008
There are surprisingly many clocks on walls in Darfur. Not surprisingly, most of them are right a twice a day. No more than that! Broken clocks seem appropriate here because time is wasted as generously as all other resources in Darfur. Waiting is a huge part of life. So, no surprise, I am waiting again. My flight to Geneina was delayed, but with a legitimate reason. The flight I am to take originates in Khartoum where all flights are delayed today.
Yesterday evening a Sudan Airways Airbus 310 burned on the runway at Khartoum airport shortly after landing, with horrific loss of life. Earlier in the evening Khartoum had been hit with a sandstorm followed by torrential rains and winds. Supposedly the weather was better when the plane landed, but who knows. We’ll read about it I am sure. The Khartoum airport is right in the middle of town, one runway, neighborhoods on either side, downtown buildings nearby, and not much margin for error. The town is on the edge of the desert, is very sandy, excruciatingly hot (115 degrees regularly), and subject to violent sandstorms this time of the year, and high winds in winter. Honestly, in my heart I am looking forward to being done with my work and out of here. It is a challenging place.
Earlier yesterday evening I found out that WFP will curtail its schedule of flights to Darfur ‚Äì immediately ‚Äì due to funding difficulties. One helicopter in the Darfur area will be taken out of service, I don’t know what the scheduling impacts will be, and two fixed-wing UN planes will be taken off their routes. Instead of flying the Khartoum-Nyela-Geneina run 6 days a week, it will be cut to 5 a week. Currently there are no Friday flights on that route and this will probably extend to Saturdays as well now. My return flight to Khartoum is on Saturday June 21. Moving that up to Thursday would mean moving my return from Beida up to Monday (that route is 3 days a week currently), which means I will be parked in Geneina for several days and then in Khartoum for several days. And we are back to time, and its liberal wasting in this land of few resources.
It will be as God allows it and I will roll with it. Although I can’t get myself to say it, my friends here would say, “Inshallah.”
Meanwhile, the heat and the conditions are grinding on me a little. I am getting athlete’s foot and also am afflicted with some bedbug bites on my chest, neither of which I brought medicine for. In retrospect, I made a colossal blunder‚Äì having to choose which shoes to leave behind in Khartoum due to the weight limit, I left my shower shoes and packed the ‘sensible’ shoes. I also have the wrong kind of socks for this environment. So, I have joined the stinky-foot club.
Some time later: I just found out that the flight from Khartoum to Nyela and then on to Geneina has been canceled for today. I suspect it might be days before the airport in Khartoum is open again. I also found out that my flight from Geneina back to Khartoum on June 21 has been canceled for sure. This, along with limited flights per week from Geneina to Baeda, the locality where my expertise (what little I have) was most desired, makes it look like the window of feasibility for getting there is blowing shut in a haboob of typical Sudanese circumstances and ill timings. “Malesh”, meaning sorry, I have heard them say often around here ‚Äì with varying degrees of sincerity.
If I am still not able to fly out tomorrow, then making the Baeda leg of my journey becomes impossible logistically. If that happens, I will be stuck here through the weekend (Friday and Saturday), unable to move anywhere, and I will be looking to redefine my purposes for being here. But tomorrow does not belong to us, it belongs to God, I am learning from my friends here. Same for our purposes in life they would tell me. I knew that already, didn’t I?
With waiting rendering me useless, Gillian, the director of the Tearfund base here in Nyela, invited me to attend a regional nutrition coordination meeting with her at the UNICEF offices during lunch hour today. In my work in Ed Daein I had made some observations about a nutritional gap in a segment of the breast-fed children less than 6 months of age. She asked me to share my observations and recommendations for extending supplemental feedings currently available for nursing mothers. It was politely received and it sparked a lively discussion. There were knowledgeable people at the table. Since Nyela is the state capital, the state Minister of Health, pontificating from the head of the table in hard-to-decipher English, weighed in at the end with how new information should be presented and by whom. I was not sure if I was being thanked for my astuteness or scolded for my temerity. After the meeting I met with one of the UNICEF Nutrition Advisors, Talal Mahgoub, in his office and he shared some relevant data that he allowed me to load unto my USB drive. All in all, it was a worthwhile exchange and meeting, made especially so by the exquisite air-conditioning in the UNICEF compound. (Let’s keep meeting like this).
If I am still here tomorrow I have been invited to visit the local hospital’s Pediatric Unit and discuss this whole topic further with their lead Pediatrician who is very knowledgeable on the subject of infant nutrition. But we know who tomorrow belongs to, so I will see.
Blessings from Nyela