• Graduation speech to Ethiopia’s first emergency doctors….

    As you make that place for the sick and suffering, keep its lights on and door open, you must keep your heart open with it. That becomes your daily practice. Practice makes practiced, never perfect, only better, but you’ll see as you try to keep it open, the longer it stays that way, and soon you’ll see that it will be filled as brimming full as your stretchers. You will not just have a satisfying career, and a place in the history of your country, but food on your table, the company of fine people, and dare I say it: the true love that is only possible with knowing our one shared heart.
    (the conversation continues at jamesmaskalyk.com)

  • addis and all that.

    Mar 25.13
    Pulled the muslin gauze over the face of a fifteen year old boy, and walked away from the wails, down the hospital’s dark halls to find some air. In a doorway a woman with bright sequins on her hijab smiled at me, a beautiful baby on her hip. Framed by a window, two lovers held hands, looking at the city that stretched below. I put my hands on the sill beside them, and leaned out. The air was sweet.

    Welcome to the broken, beating heart of the world. Not Ethiopia, I mean, but the one inside this present moment. Thing is, you can’t hold it back even if you try, so you let it in and it does its thing, breaks you down, brick by brick, until there is nothing left between you and it, and just then, at your most vulnerable, it surrenders itself to you in a sweet embrace, holds you in the perpetual centre, moves you, whispers “it will be ok, even death, even that. ” Maybe, if you’re lucky, even that whisper fades. On that day: freedom.

  • Grand Challenges (text from a speech at 2012′s Globe and Mail festival)

    Though this may be my belief alone, I believe we are seeking something, each of us, in every sentence and every action, buzz around it like moths do a bright light. How honest we are with what we are looking for is how close we come to finding it. I believe, what we seek, is freedom from the ties that bind, that stop us from connecting fully with the source of all things, from letting love pass through fully, fearlessly. For me, that is what the Grandest Challenges speaks to. Framed in the language of health and the body, it is why we want to be well. Though the work is often at the level of particular diseases, it must also be at the barriers that stand in the way of people doing it for themselves, at the injustices that let the suffering of so many serve the purpose of a privileged few, holds them from joining their ranks as surely as their malaria does sick in bed.

    The largest example of this, for me, is in war. My first taste of it was as a brand new doctor, working with a recently surrendered group of Khmer Rouge in the south of Cambodia….

  • msf’d.

    one saturday night, in dadaab, we stood in a puddle around stacked soda crates, a goat sizzling over coals beside us, when the three, buzzed-out speakers in the canteen started to play this song and the same dozen cast of characters that i share my hospital days and compound nights with drifted to the tent, and danced, grinning, mud between their bare toes.

    soon, it was only me and one of the departing three for whom the party was held leaning on the red cubes of coca-cola, and we agreed that there was no club in new york city that was better than this one, none where you could dance so sincerely, freed completely from the fear that there might be another, better way to spend your time.

  • news.

    i returned yesterday, after two days of driving. as we drew closer, i saw green fade to brown, women’s faces framed behind bright beautiful scarves and soon, we were swerving on sloping sand, fishtailing in the dust. camels loped behind burnt trees, and between these, miles from each other, houses of rounded sticks. an impala stepped from the brush, sleek as glass. a young boy, six, waved an empty plastic bottle at us, and we stopped to give him all the full ones he could carry. they fell from underneath his arms as he tried to juggle more, and landed in the dust at his feet. he grinned, his tongue bright between missing front teeth.

  • from dagahaley:all along the water tower.

    i’m posting actively on the msf website, on mission again, this time in dagahaley, the world’s largest refugee camp.  hit me there if you’re interested. **** so little water.  it hasn’t rained here for two years.  we get ours from boreholes dug deep in the dirt, metres down where hidden lakes hover between layers of […]

  • frog prince.

    i’m told, that an hour after the first rain, the night is so loud with the jubilation of their croaked calls that you can’t sleep. these days, it’s silent. no rain, none for months. some mornings, there are clouds, but by noon, they are burned off by the sun’s blaze, harmless things.

  • Dial “D” for Dadaab.

    i wake up at 2 am every night, as the power cuts out and my fan grinds down. sweat starts to bead, and i push through the mosquito net. dust falls onto the sheets. i grope for my headlamp, click it and step outside. the compound, usually full of the activity and noise of the 70people who share it, is quiet and dark. the wind, violent earlier, has calmed. stones crunch as i walk towards a chair in the centre of the yard. i sit down, click off my light, stretch my neck back. above, stars are scattered in the blackness, thousands of distant jewels. somewhere, in dadaab, someone is looking at the same ones, staring at the open space above, hoping that if you can free your mind, even for a moment, with it, goes your soul.