Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has been working in Darfur since December 2003,with 180 international and 3,000 Sudanese staff operating in 32 locations across the region. They run the operating theatres, train staff, provide surgical care, and manage the emergency departments in hospitals. Teams also work in the pediatric wards, where doctors and nurses provide nutritional care. In addition to this, MSF has set up women's health clinics in West Darfur and mobile clinics to provide medical care for displaced people. Currently there are a large number of displaced people in the region and they are still afraid to return to their villages. Darfur continues to be one of MSF's largest operations worldwide. With MSF again - Diary in Darfur, Sudan "Hey Arthur, this is Alice from MSF, MSF Operational Center is looking for a doctor to go to North Sudan next week, are you interested?..." "Dr. Tung, can I take a month no-paid leave to work for MSF?" "We will arrange the application of your Sudan visa in Europe. Here's your air ticket to Geneva headquarters, leaving Hong Kong on 22 August. Your visa should be ready when you arrive in Geneva..." Off I go again, for my second mission with MSF. It has been almost one year since I last worked for MSF. The experience was wonderful and the memory was bittersweet. It brought me new perspective on myself, on the people around me, and on the world. After coming back to Hong Kong, I settled down again. Life became routine, but my inner voice told me to leave. After a few months of waiting, MSF finally arranged a mission in Darfur, Sudan for me. Was the name of the place familiar? No. But of course Africa was never the focus of international news in Hong Kong. I started reading background information about the country... Sudan is the largest nation in Africa and its most western part, Darfur, is even larger than France. The place I am heading to is called El Geneina. It is located in West Darfur, near the boundary of neighboring country, Chad. It has an estimated 100,000 residents and 80,000 displaced people. Sudan has been plagued by a civil war between north and south for nearly 21 years. An estimated 1.5 million people have died. After two years of negotiation, the central government reached a peace agreement with the rebels in January 2005. However, peace has not come. Rebel groups in Darfur fought against the central government for more autonomous power. Since February 2003, there has been an escalating conflict in Darfur between rebel groups and the Government of Sudan. A systematic campaign of widespread and extreme violence has been perpetrated against the civilian population of Darfur. More than 1.5 million people have been forcibly displaced within the Darfur regions, tens of thousands have been killed and around 110,000 have fled to neighboring Chad. In Sudan, the focus has long been years of civil commotion between north and south, the powerful and the powerless, the ones with land and the ones without, the Arabs and the native Africans, the Muslims and the Christians, the nomads and the settlers, the pastoralists and the agriculturists, the janjaweeds and the rebels.. The more I read, the more interested I became. After saying goodbye to my family, I headed for the airport shortly before midnight on August 22nd . I was a bit agitated, a bit restless leaving HK this time. Firstly, I didn't have much time to prepare myself mentally to go. In contrast to the last mission, this time I only had 5 days to arrange things before I left. I couldn't see all the people I wished to say good-bye to before leaving. But hey, it's only 4 weeks, I tried to convince myself. Secondly, it would be my first real African experience. My last African experience was in Cape Town, South Africa, in a very poor township. Yet the city was modernized and the infrastructure was all there. This time the mission would be in the bush, close to refugees, in remote areas, war-torn, with no running water or electricity. Would it be too hot to sleep at night without air-conditioning? Would I get sick if water got into my mouth during a shower? Would I even be able to shower? Despite all these concerns, I slept the whole flight from HK to Geneva, no in-flight movies, no book reading. I was tired, and had still been working the day before my departure. Arriving in Geneva on the morning of the 23rd, I was a stranger in a big city. The weather was nice, not too hot, not too cold, a lot of sunshine. But I was tired after the long journey. I just wanted to check in to the youth hostel, settle down and take a hot shower. But unluckily for me, the room was not to be ready for check in until 3pm. So off I went to MSF headquarters for a briefing... "Your visa is not ready yet, so we have to delay your flight to Khartoum(capital of Sudan). The consulate is on leave and nobody can sign your visa..."the office staff said. So I had to wait in Geneva. I checked again the next day, no news regarding my visa. Checked again on 25th. "OK you are leaving for Khartoum on Saturday." So I left for the airport at 5am on the 27th. A Norwegian nurse, who was in fact born in HK and lived there for 11 years, was my traveling companion. She still remembered a few words of Cantonese -"Nei ho ma?" She was also going to work in Darfur, but on another project. As the plane flew across the land and sea reaching into the African continent, I saw a big piece of yellow earth, sand actually, of the dessert. I couldn't see anything remotely resembling human activity on the ground. I asked myself, had there been people fighting and killing each other down there, with blood shed, coloring the yellow earth red. An hour or so later, the clouds turned yellow and it was very hazy outside. Had I crossed the border of Sudan? I knew it was famous for dust storms. Touch down. Almost six in the afternoon. There were many Chinese men in factory uniforms going through immigration. Were they here to work for an oil company in this country? Picked up my luggage. Glad to see the MSF driver in sight. I would arrive at the capital residence safely. Khartoum looked run-down, depressing. Buildings were not maintained. The roads from the airport were paved. But all the side roads were sand and mud. There must have been rain recently since all the muddy roads were divided by ditches and pools of water. The air was dusty and sandy. I could feel sand in my mouth as I breathed. Many people, men and women, children, in shirts and pants or Muslim dress, were walking on the sidewalks. After a 10min drive, we arrived at a house with the MSF logo. This would be my residence for the next few nights. It's an old traditional house. I was told there were times electricity went out for a few hours, a few times per week. Household generators were the solution. I slept very well that first night in Sudan, with heavy rain all night hitting on the zinc rooftop. I thought it was gunfire. The next morning I was woken up by the morning Islamic call to prayer. I tried to shower, but no water. God was preparing me for the bush. It was very hot; no wonder people here didn't want to move much and just stayed indoors during the day. MSF depended on carriage provided by the World Food Program (WFP) to fly between Khartoum and Darfur. But owing to unforeseeable weather and fuel problems, flights sometimes had to be cancelled. I wasn't able to go to Darfur until the 30th. ' My heart was anxious about what would happen in the field. Arthur
Dr Arthur PANG obtained his first degree in Biochemistry in Canada in 1991 and graduated from Faculty of Medicine of University of Hong Kong in 1998. He started his first mission with MSF in December on an HIV/AIDS project in Xiangfan, Hubei, China. In August 2005, he packed again and left for another mission in Darfur, Sudan.