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Last Updated: Friday, 12 November, 2004, 16:34 GMT
Aiding Darfur: A nurse's story IX
Trauma nurse Roberta Gately, who works for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) aid agency, tells the BBC News website about trying to help some of the 1.6 million people who have fled their homes in Sudan's war-torn region of Darfur.

Roberta Gately with children at the Kalma camp
Roberta (pictured) has found laughter among the tears in Darfur
Saying goodbye is never easy. It is especially difficult to say goodbye to the people of Darfur.

I have been in Darfur for the last three months. This most recent posting followed another stint here late last winter and spring.

I have come to know this region well. I understand its troubles and its people, and I call many of them my friends.

I know how the sun sneaks up quickly in the morning and then disappears just as swiftly in the evening. I know the sounds of the call to prayer, the almost dream-like melody of the chant.

With my eyes closed, I can see the haunted, hungry eyes of the children here. I can hear too the sound of a dying baby's cry. There is no sadder sound in the world.

But I can hear too the unforgettable music that the laughter of Darfur's children creates. For even in their deepest misery, they somehow manage to find joy.

Lasting memories

It is the staff and the displaced in the camps too that I will always remember. Their names and stories flow through my memory like pearls through a string.

The janjaweed's bullets tore off her right hand before settling in the heart of the baby she held so tightly
There is Dr Mohammed, in charge of our clinic in Kalma, busily caring for his countrymen and women with a tireless energy, ceaseless smile and unwavering humour, especially appreciated here amidst the sadness and gloom.

And I will never forget Abdullah, a resident of the Kalma camp who works with us as a medical assistant, or the time I saw him cradle a dying baby as though it were his own.

There is Maryam, a nurse, whose home is a tiny hut in this sprawling camp. Despite her own misery, she somehow manages to care for her patients and her family with a quiet grace that takes my breath away.

And Ali, our outreach worker, who also calls Kalma home. He knows every inch of this sprawling, squalid camp. His own escape from his burning village was not so long ago. His memories of his family's torment are fresh wounds but still he tends to the wounds and needs of others here in Kalma.

He lives in a small hut with his wife, three children, two sisters and a mother. His job here at the clinic helps to support them. He stutters when he tries to speak English but he calms himself, takes a deep breath, and continues on.

There are Hawa and Kosar, two gentle midwives who live here in Kalma. They never speak of their escapes or their desperate lives. They simply tend to their patients, the babies and mothers of Kalma, with concern and love.


There is Abdul, the tailor, whose horrific burns inflicted by the Janjaweed [Arab militia], mean that he will sew no more. Neither will he cradle his children. He is unable to even wipe away his own tears.

There is little Mohammed Hossein, whose burns have scarred not just his body, but his young spirit as well.

There is Aseena, the young mother, who tried to escape the attack on her village cradling her two-year-old daughter as she ran. But the Janjaweed's bullets tore off her right hand before settling in the heart of the baby she held so tightly. Her baby died instantly.

And Melha, a widowed mother of 10 when her village was attacked last spring. During the ensuing chaos, she was separated from seven of her children. She has not seen them since that mournful day. She has no idea if they are dead or alive.

And so she holds her three remaining children close. And she waits.

How can I ever say goodbye to these people, to this place? The truth is, I simply cannot, and so like a precious string of pearls, I will carry their names and memories, tucked safely into my heart.

And when I need to feel their lustre, I will take them out and there I will linger over my memories of these noble, graceful people.




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