July 27, 2010
I just got a comment from a blogging friend to the extent that he resents the fact that I have to go on deployment to such a dangerous place. That comment meant a lot to me, perhaps because when I posted a status update on Facebook about going to Darfur, only two people commented. Now I’m almost never on Facebook and I don’t blame people for not responding since I almost never comment on other people’s status updates either. But it did make me think about the kind of support I’m getting (and not getting) as I struggle with anxiety about preparing to go to Darfur.
One Colonel suggested that my official passport application will take another six months and won’t be ready by the end of the month as I was told. A major told me that I probably won’t be home for Christmas since a replacement is unlikely to arrive in December and the OC of the base there has to give his approval before you can get on the plane. A staff officer was telling me about SA soldiers who were ambushed and robbed of their equipment, their vehicles and their wallets by Sudanese rebels. And then there are the comments about the unbearable heat. 45C to 50C in summer apparently according to one Colonel (although he was making that estimation on the basis of his daughter’s experience in UAE). My sister sent me a very helpful two-page list of everything that I should remember to take with me, which also had the unfortunate side-effect of making me more anxious.
And so what I’m left with is anxiety that rises and subsides again but generally appears to be on an upwards trajectory. The effect is almost paralysing. I sit in my office and worry and worry. I make a few phone calls and I’m told that I have to wait another month. And then I worry some more and feel a mix of powerlessness, resentment, anxiety and dread.
My social work colleague suggested that I plan a wedding for December, which will necessitate being back in South Africa. Now that’s not a bad idea and not very far away from being a reality. Watch this space. But I don’t want to put off this deployment for any longer than I can. If L and I schedule a wedding for December there’s a chance that they won’t send me until next year, which is really not going to work for us.
In the meantime I have other work to attend to and I find that my ability to read and write is deteriorating. It’s not that I can’t read and write. It’s just that I don’t have the sustained calmness and attention to do so. I’m on high alert here. Loud noises make me jump. And loud voices (which are quite common here) make me jump even more. I know that if I was a dog I would probably be cowering in the corner of my office and shaking almost uncontrollably. Or perhaps not. Perhaps I would just bite the next person who steps on my already fragile sensibilities.
But I’m going to have to address this anxiety one way or another. Some more therapy perhaps. Whatever it takes.
July 12, 2010
Part of the Cape Town fanwalk with Table Mountain in the background
It’s been fun and it’s been (mostly) exciting. And it’s united the country like never before. So for these and other reasons I’m happy we had the Soccer World Cup in South Africa. No analysis of the tournament from me today. I’m sad that the Netherlands didn’t win it. But I’m happy that they came very close and that Robben didn’t dive in the penalty area the way that many many others players would have. Maybe the better team won. At the end of the day, does it really matter?
Of course my attention is massively diverted by my upcoming Sudan trip and so I probably won’t allow myself to post more than a few words before getting back to work. But the reality of this job is that a lot of the time it’s about “hurry up and wait”. There’s nothing pressing that I need to do in the next 30 minutes for example but I know that I will feel guilty about blogging for more than a few minutes. Something to work on I guess, those guilty feelings.
But while I’m here I want to show you a few images* I took from our trip down the fanwalk in Cape Town the other day. I loved the atmosphere and the colour and the flags. I could have done with less annoying vuvuzela blasts close to my ear-drums though. I would find myself whipping around in anxiety at an ear-splitting cry from a distressed hippopotamus to find that the sound was coming from a small 12-year old boy. No doubt he was mighty pleased that he could produce such a powerful sound. My rather uncharitable wish in those circumstances was that whoever bought him the annoying plastic trumpet gets to enjoy the sound of it as much as the rest of us.
More of the fanwalk
In the jungle, the mighty jungle ...
The t-shirt in the bottom picture shows the inside of a lion’s mouth. That’s another thing about this tournament – it really brought out people’s creativity. From a marketing perspective alone, this was phenomenal since the whole country now associates the word “Ayoba!” with the cellphone provider MTN. We don’t actually know whether this is a real word or not but we all know that it has to do with parties, massive excitement and the soccer world cup. Here’s hoping that the next one (in Brazil in 2014) is equally Ayoba.
* Click to enlarge
July 8, 2010
I’m waiting for the signal for my deployment to Darfur for three months. If all goes to plan, I’ll be in Pretoria on the 2nd of August and in Sudan on the 5th until the beginning of November, working as a psychologist with the South African peacekeepers.
“How are you feeling about going?” my supervisor asked yesterday.
“Mixed feelings” was my response. There’s excitement about the opportunity to work in a place which I’ve heard of in the news but which I actually know very little about. Anxiety about my safety. Sadness at being separated from L and my family for three months. And then a lot of little anxieties about whether I will cope there. What if it’s unbearably hot? How will I cope with the dust storms? Will I remember to pack everything I need? What if I get sick or depressed? Will L be OK in my absence? What about my bills back home? What if I need to do lots of trauma debriefing? Who will debrief me? I’m guessing there won’t be good internet access, which gives me a headache just thinking about it.
I’ve started doing some research on Sudan and Darfur and I’m hoping that the more information I have, the easier it will be to manage. I probably don’t want to read too much about the genocide before I get there. But I’ve ordered The Devil Came on Horseback by Brian Steidle and Gretchen Steidle Wallace. And then I looked for some personal blogs on Darfur and found that there were almost none. Two interesting-looking blogs which have subsequently gone quiet (I was going to say dead but that’s an unfortunate word-choice in the circumstances) are Sudanese Knights and the Notorious Echo-Victor-Echo, which I realised spells Eve.
I’ll post more on this in the days to come. For now, you will understand if I don’t make my usual rounds of blog-reading and if I don’t post some reviews here for a while. Life happens, I tell myself, and I need to deal with it the best I can. I just hope this headache doesn’t last for the full 12 weeks.
I’ve also been looking at images to give myself a mental picture of what it might be like. The first is of South African peacekeepers attending a funeral for fallen colleagues in July 2008 (taken from the UN). The second is taken from Sudanese Knights. (I hope she doesn’t mind.)