Thursday, February 21, 2008

It's All in the Mind

Khor fulus is a little hamlet by the Sobat River in central Sudan. We were standing at the jetty awaiting a boat that would take us across to this village, where we were to establish a medical camp. On the opposite pier was a group of people trying to get into an already teeming boat. Each one was carrying a small bundle of personal belongings and infants were clinging on to the backs of their frail mothers. The latest spell of fighting in the village had consumed twenty –two lives and the small rustic market was ransacked and reduced to shambles. Some villagers were abandoning their dwellings to seek out safer (but not greener) pastures. This was a supposedly poignant scene and I felt a slight lump in my throat. As we got closer I strangely realised that there were no signs of remorse writ on their faces. There seemed to be no qualms of an uncertain future. Instead, everything appeared routine and the people looked as jovial as ever. These people were raised in an era of invasive ambiguity, and so were two generations before them. Decades of civil war had perhaps habituated them to violence, robbed them of all desolate emotions and coerced them to look for the sunny side, even in the midst of calamity.
As the medical camp was being set up, the county commissioner arrived in his posh Land Cruiser escorted by two AK bearing sentinels. He wore an expensive watch and wielded a satellite phone. The solitary show affluence and clout amid blatant poverty was an odd paradox. We sought his permission to see around the village which he quickly accorded and walked off towards the “panchayat style” congregation which was awaiting his arrival under a nearby tree. We took a walk amidst the ruins and realised that almost everything had been plundered. A few children were foraging the leftovers and grown ups were still taking stock.

There was a group of children playing soccer, totally unmindful of the ruckus all around. They were conditioned to such carnage, I guess. The most striking factor one observed was the boundless energy displayed by the kids. They would wave at you, salute you and give a comic pose when they notice a camera. They wore torn clothes, ate a pittance, drank from the dirty river and still retained the spark in their eyes.

During our break for lunch, the Doctor narrated an incident that took place at a medical camp that he organized at a place called Akobo. A pregnant lady was brought in by two young men. She was bleeding profusely and needed expert care. On inquiring he was told that she hailed from a village around thirty km across the border in Ethiopia and that her husband and brother had carried her all the way to the camp. The doctor recommended that she be taken to Nasser County (a couple of days walk away) where an NGO managed hospital could provide her the medical expertise required. Her husband quickly calculated the provisions he would require to buy, to sustain them for the journey and promptly proceeded ahead as advised, carrying his wife on a stretcher.

When I set out for the day’s task that morning, I had a few worries of my own. By the end of the day my issues seemed trivial. I felt grateful to have what I have.


Anonymous said...

This is really so touching...we all read about the civil war and the humanitarian crisis in that part of the world & we can only lament & hope for a better future for the place. It all shows in the faces of these children who are just victims of circumstances...there look shows all...thanks for bringing them to light!

Gazal said...

sometimes it takes a moment to make us realize that what we have is a lot.

a touching post,naveen

How do we know said...

this is such a fantastic post!

Nanditha Prabhu said...

it was a very touching anecdote...a reminder to count on our blessings and to stop whining.. and to learn from those kids who still retained the spark in their eyes after going through hard times.

nandit said...

Naveen , I need to tell you that I'm very impressed by your writings. So keep it up. Mrs Murali