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Mohammed the Ghost

Well deserved rest

I was hoping to meet Mohammad again during our stay in Khartoum, but unfortunately did not manage to track him down. 2 years earlier, one morning as he picked me up at the hotel to bring me to work, he told me the story that had earned him his nick name. The day before I had heard a colleague referring to him as “the ghost”.

His story is still one of my favorites, funny and tragic as it is. Wanted to finally write it down, but cannot remember all the details and locations. I thus will have to improvise a bit.

It must have been about 5 or 6 years ago. Mohammad was at the time working as a driver for MSF. Regularly he would go for one and two week trips with his boss Luc, an MSF Logistician, to bring medical supplies to MSF projects in villages all over South Kordofan. So they would load their entire Land Cruiser with boxes full of vaccinations, syringes, pills and bandages and drive from village to village. They would drive the whole day, meet and spend evenings with colleagues, sleep in tents and continue the next morning.

One late afternoon, when they were on their way to a last village before returning home to Kadugli, they were stopped by a local militia group. This had never happened before, and Mohammad and his colleague were scared as hell when 10 wild-looking men pointed their Kalashnikovs at their car. They obviously stopped and were forced to get out of the car. Standing in the dust and shielding their eyes from the still intense late afternoon sun, they were trying to understand what was going one.

After the leader of the group had inspected their car, they were asked to get back in, accompanied by two men, and drove in a convoy for the next hour and a half to a village in the mountains they did not know.

Arriving in the village, they stopped in front of a hut. The two men escorted them into the interior where they saw a person lying on a bed, covered in sweat and obviously feverish. As it turned out, it was the father of the group’s leader. The rebel leader asked Luc to get medical supplies from the car and heal his father, or else they would kill him and Mohammad on the spot.

Photos from the trip to Kassala

Both he and Mohammad did not have any medical education; they had no idea as to what to do. I imagine them looking at each other with mounting, vaguely controlled panic. After a couple of seconds, the rebel leader hit the logistician heavily with his gun on his shoulder and started shouting.

This apparently woke Mohammad from his petrification. Not knowing what drove him, he went to the trunk of the land cruiser, opened the door and took out on of the coffers. He brought it inside the hut, opened it, took out a syringe, put a needle and filled it with one of the little ampoules filled with a transparent liquid, just the way that he had seen the MSF doctors doing it a number of times.

Probably sweating like never before, he went to the man on the bed, turned him around, pulled down his pants. He pushed the needle into the bum of the man, praying that it would be the right spot. It was in fact the first syringe he had ever administered, and he had no clue what exactly he had put inside.

They would then be escorted outside, and guarded nervously by three of the rebels while their leader stayed inside the hut. Mohammad and his boss did not dare to look at each other during the time they waited outside. 15 minutes later, the group’s leader came outside, and both thought that this would be their last moment.

Instead, two men went inside and carefully assisted the old man to walk towards Mohammad. The man said he started feeling much better, and thanked Mohammad. So the two were accompanied back to their jeep and let go.

For a long time, the two would not speak to each other, feeling the tension slowly leaving their body. They would finally find back their way to the next village, and needed to drive half of the night to get there.

Arriving in the village, they told the story to their colleague who was a medical doctor. When Luc asking him what exactly it was that Mohammad had put into the syringe, he replied: “Oh, you now, it was Prostaglandin. We use it to trigger contractions when pregnant women are overdue”.

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