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Story Publication logo June 5, 2007

"Tradition" and who we are (continuation)


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Gabriel Deng, Koor Garang and Garang Mayuol, Southern Sudanese "Lost Boys" in the U.S., were forced...

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Multiple Authors

David Morse, for the Pulitzer Center

I followed the woman in her bed.

The bed, built of clunky orange wood and strips of leather, was being carried by four people, one at each corner post, at quite a fast walk. It was all I could do to keep up. As Garang and I hurried after her, the import of Koor's project suddenly loomed before me. They were no longer abstractions, no longer twenty neatly wrapped packages boxes that we had shepherded from Nairobi. Our antibiotics might save this woman's life.

She was being taken, as it turned out, not to the new clinic - the one now in its final stages of completion, built by Jumpstart Sudan, which our twenty boxes would help supply - but to the place under a great shade tree where medicines are sometimes dispensed to the sick in lieu of an actual clinic here in the village of Akon.

I asked Garang to send someone to get Jen. This moment belonged in the film. in the meantime, I got his help interviewing the man who dispensed the medicine. He was John Akot Bol. He showed me the tukul in which the medicines were stored that did not require refrigeration. Others, requiring refrigeration, were kept in the WHO compound. Patients told us that often the medicines were simply unavailable.

We spent some time filming. Chris/Koor gave the woman an antibiotic to be taken every six hours, as well as a pain killer. We gave her a biscuit to eat, to help her keep the medicine down. She had come from a village more than two hours' walk away. This is the problem we are encountering again and again: the delivery of even the simplest medical tools of survival.

We don't know the woman's fate. Similarly we do not know the fate of the three year old snake-bite victim brought to the new clinic, where workmen were plastering sills and painting walls. The girl had been playing at the base of one of the great trees and put her foot in a hole. The bitten foot contained a large open wound the size of a mango skin that seemed to go to the bone. It smelled of gangrene.

"What do you think?" I asked Chris.

"I think she'll lose the foot."

Traditional remedies don't seem to have much to offer under such circumstances. "If it is to continue like this," said a relative of the snakebite girl's mother, "women should stop giving birth. We have babies and only feed the soil."

And the having of babies goes on by tradition. Birth control remains as sensitive an issue with the Dinka as with the born-again Bush administration. The woman whose baby had been cut up by the traditional midwife had lost six out of seven babies born to her.

The answers become more complicated the longer we stay.


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