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Dispatches from a midwife in Darfur

By Archives December 4, 2007

Darfur, Sudan
Blog entry, JUNE 28, 2006
“This morning a man brought his wife in for an appointment. He explained that his wife was pregnant and he wanted to know exactly how pregnant she was. He had been away until a month ago and if his wife was more than one month pregnant he had orders from his family to kill her and throw her body in the wadi (river).
It’s times like this where I’m glad I don’t speak the language. It’s probably good that I can’t say to these men ‘Do you really think your wife willingly cheated on you? You wouldn’t have married her if the women in her family hadn’t held her down as a child, cut off her genitals and sewed her closed, not only denying her any sexual pleasure, but also causing her pain every time she has sex.’
Just one more example of how the women here have no right to their own bodies.”

This passage was written by Amy Osborne. Originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, Osborne is a medical student who has worked as a midwife for the past eight years in the Philippines, Mexico, Afghanistan and post-Katrina New Orleans. In 2006 she did humanitarian aid work with Doctors Without Borders in Darfur for seven months. She shared her experiences, some graphic and some tragic, on her website www.amyosborne.blogspot.com.
Now 33 years old, Osborne is studying at the St. James School of Medicine (based in the Caribean, after which she plans to work as a general surgeon in Africa.
Osborne hopes that by sharing her stories, she will encourage others to care about a nation of people desperately in need of help.
After an uprising in 2003 of rebel African groups over social justice issues, the Sudanese government enlisted Janjaweed rebels to suppress the rebellion. The Janjaweed attacks quickly escalated, and now, four years later, the UN estimates that 450,000 people have been killed and as many as 2.5 million have been displaced from their homes.
After witnessing the need in Darfur, Osborne found it difficult to return home and enjoy the everyday luxuries we take for granted. For almost a year, Osborne was unable to go into detail about what she had seen and experienced. Her tears and her grief made it almost unbearable.
When she returned home to attend the University of British Columbia (UBC) for further training last year, she was surprised to learn that so few people knew about the crisis in Darfur.

Blog entry, AUGUST 4, 2006

“She was fourteen when they invaded her village. She was fourteen when they came in and began to kill indiscriminately. She was fourteen when they murdered her parents and all of her siblings, save one small sister. She was fourteen when they raped her. She was fourteen when they impregnated her. She was fifteen when she went into labour. She was fifteen when she pushed for days, to no avail. She was fifteen when her baby died inside of her. She was fifteen when she was finally taken to a medical facility. She was fifteen when they put metal instruments inside of her to crush her baby’s skull.
She was fifteen when they pulled her baby out of her in pieces. She was fifteen when the trauma suffered during her delivery wore a hole between her vagina and her ureter. She was fifteen when urine began to leak from her vagina all day long. She was fifteen when her offensive odour turned her into a social pariah. She was fifteen when she started to deny herself water so she would leak less… smell less. She was sixteen when she came to us.”

AUGUST 9, 2006
“I sense that there is something about this death that I’m not getting, Aicha (a translator and councilor) tells me. She tells me that this is the third child that this mother will bury this month. One son was killed a month ago, she doesn’t know how. Her teenage daughter had committed suicide by drinking poison two weeks ago.
And now today another son. All in one month. Suddenly her silence, her vacant look, the deadness in her eyes makes sense. She collapsed at the news. A woman near me begins to wail. She is saying something through her sobs. Aicha tells me that this is their aunt. She had no children of her own and had lived with them, helping to raise these children. ‘Our children are gone.’ She is sobbing. ‘Our children are gone.'”
After spending seven months delivering infants, watching many die, and dealing with the constant rape and mutilation of young girls and women in Darfur, Osborne knew she had no choice but to bring her story to the public. “I want people to be aware. I want them to know what’s happening,” she said.
She also encourages everyone to do something and insists helping others doesn’t cost a penny. “Everyone thinks they can’t do anything because they’re just one person. Write letters, call your representatives, write to your newspaper editors, demand coverage. Demand that it be out there and that people know about it.”
Osborne said the lack of public awareness is one of the biggest obstacles facing those trying to end the crisis in Darfur.
Frustrated at the lack of action, both by the government and at the public level, Osborne wrote a public missive and sent it to everyone she knew, hoping the message would spread.

OCTOBER 24, 2007
Today is United Nations Day. It is also the day Amnesty International is going to the White House to hand-deliver a petition signed by 500,000 people demanding that something be done to end the genocide in Darfur.
A couple of weeks ago some friends and I gave a presentation at my school about Darfur and the atrocities occurring there. We did because whenever we wear our “Save Darfur” shirt, people ask “Who is Darfur?” or “Is that a band?”
We gave the presentation because there are so many people who have no idea what is happening in Darfur; because 10 peace-keepers were killed in Darfur this month, because the government of Sudan sent troops and Janjaweed into another village where they slit the throats of the men praying in the mosque and shot a five-year-old boy in the back; because the peace talks are scheduled to start in Libya any day now and the people of Darfur continue to be slaughtered.
“‘Why did I go to Darfur?’ I told myself after seeing “Hotel Rwanda” that I would never let something like that happen again without my trying to do doing something about it.
So I went to Darfur and I took pictures and I wrote stories and I did everything that I could to tell the world that the reality is much worse than what is in the news.
It’s worse than you can even imagine.
Still only a paltry half million people took the time to sign my petition. I can’t even count how many forwards I have been sent about missing children, or not putting plastic in the microwave, or how drinking cold water is going to give you cancer.
When I came back from Darfur the only way I could start to function as a normal human being was to not think about it. In time, the nightmares stopped and I pushed most of what I felt far enough into the back of my mind, making it feel like I had been in Darfur in a previous lifetime.
When I was home in August, my mom had burned me a CD with all of the pictures I had saved on her computer. She had accidentally included all of my Darfur pictures. All I could do was look at the people in Darfur and think, ‘Why? Why did I get to leave? Why would the UN send their helicopters in to get me, but not let any of our Darfuri staff get on board as well?’
As for my stories… I was afraid to read them during the presentation because the last time I did I started to cry. So I asked my friend Shraddha to do it. I still cried.
To everyone else they’re just words. To me, they are memories of a time when I knew what it was like to go to bed every night grateful and surprised to still be alive.
It was miles away from my safe, beautiful life in Vancouver, Canada. I couldn’t change the channel, turn off the radio or skip that article in the paper to make it go away. I saw it and I know it’s real.
I have hardly slept in the last two weeks. I want to publish my stories somewhere that people will read them. I want them to see the pictures. I want to tell them all of the things that they don’t want to hear.
What it will take for the world to care? And so it continues… I can either lose my mind over the injustice in Darfur or I can stuff it all back down and get back to ‘normal’ life.”