Visa problems, national catastrophe and local events had reduced out international team to two. I wondered what this would do to the last two weeks of my mission. It turns it would make them awesome.
I had vaguely been aware that out team lead was a slightly legendary figure, casual stories of negotiating with the Taliban and facing off angry militaries for several months to advocate women’s rights. But then as you get to know a person well you start to appreciate the underlying characteristics that make for these stories. So I had been at our remote clinic a week, just feeling good again after another bout of gastro on the tail end of some flu. She appears out of the mountains, where she had been up and down on foot and, sleeping on floors and, unsurprisingly considering she was eating rural local fare, catching a much worse bout of illness than me. But after having only been there for 10 minutes she goes “I really want to start the new clinic before we leave.” There are some requests, made at certain times that you just can’t say no to.
The easy thing would have been to leave it for a few weeks, til the new team arrived. But out small team of two led to a dynamism that isn’t possible with more voices, who think up all the problems and objections. So our ambition went unchecked. With the help of the national team, she called up staff and mobilised camels, I went to the warehouse and pull medications of shelves, trying to guess the health needs of the village higher up in the mountains, estimating how many we would be able see and completely making up most of the calculations. The logistic team tolerated me for those two days, I reassured them it would be my last day in the office so they just had to put up with my unreasonable requests for a short time.
And we left, the office and the handovers and the reports put on hold once again. I find myself hiking deeper into the rebel-held territory, waving to the solders at informal checkpoints outside of caves and arrive in a half built clinic. The pharmacy was in the ladies bedroom, the consultation room was in a half open structure that looked suspiciously like, until very recently, it was a barn. And we see the people, the people who had so little healthcare they thought I might be able to cure there age related sight degeneration, who were so grateful we come all that way it was, once again, truly humbling. And amongst all the cases we can not help, there was the all those who it was worth travelling for eleven hours (including 7 on foot) to come and see. Malnutrition was endemic and, put a stroke of luck more than judgement, I had packed just the right amount of supplementary medical food packets to cover the kids until we could get another clinic going in a few weeks time.
So, how will I look back on time on Sudan? I have heard that, due to peak-end rule, you remember most the high points and then end. Successfully managing the chaos of a refugee camp field hospital and wrestling some positives outcomes out of the despair was pretty special. But the end! The end was a glorious expression of what is possible when you approach a problem with relentless enthusiasm and energy. I won’t forget that little misty mountain village at the end of the world that was so difficult to get to, but all the more unforgettable because of it.