Dear Steamboat Local

<This piece originally appeared in the now-retired Steamboat Local paper, January 2011>

A group of Lankien clinic team members, late 2010. You can tell which one is me.

A group of Lankien clinic team members, late 2010. You can tell which one is me.

On a hot, dusty day in early September, deep in the bush of South Sudan, I sat cross-legged on the floor of my mud hut and rooted through the duffel bag full of letters and candy and Dr. Bronner’s soap sent to me as a giant care package from friends in Steamboat. Tucked neatly into a side pocket was a copy of the Steamboat Local. Flipping through the pages was like looking through a family photo album – the pages even smelled familiar, like a mixture of Freshies’ cinnamon rolls, SST bus exhaust fumes, or the scent of the air when you first step into Double Z. I have lived in the Boat for a few years now….but it wasn’t until I moved thousands of miles away that I was finally able to face my Inner Local.

Reading The Local (Steamboat Springs) paper in front of my  tukul  (mud hut) in Jonglei State, South Sudan, early 2011.

Reading The Local (Steamboat Springs) paper in front of my tukul (mud hut) in Jonglei State, South Sudan, early 2011.

Every day here in the MSF clinic in Lankien is a mental, physical, and emotional struggle. Not only for me – but more so for the patients who have walked for 8 hours through the heat to arrive at our gate – with a 104-degree fever they’ve had for 3 weeks, or an emaciated sick child in their arms, or supporting the weight of a woman who has been in labor at home for 2 days running. During my early days here, I’d look in the proverbial mirror and shake my head with the psychological whiplash of going from Colorado ski-bum self-indulgence to this “pit of misery” (quote, end quote, a journal entry from July 2010. I think I was in a bit of a bad mood). Not an easy transition to make! There are hard truths out here in the corners of the world – and some are still too much for me to face.

MSF nurse Letitia during morning rounds in the clinic, Lankien, late 2010.

MSF nurse Letitia during morning rounds in the clinic, Lankien, late 2010.

    But for all the toughest lessons figuratively beaten into me while here, I have also reached a level of clarity on my life that I’ve not ever felt before. First of all – that a vast amount of integrity and unadulterated passion for whatever you do in life – is paramount. Nothing else matters.  You know that feeling you get when your alarm goes off at 7:30 AM on a snowy morning in February and it’s been dumping all night and after skiing all day it’s actually only your face that is sore just because you’ve been smiling all day and those muscles have cramped? THAT is love. That is passion. I have searched far and wide for that kind of feeling, and been unable to find it. I have come across the world in search of a part of myself yet unknown…..and in the process lost one of the most important pieces of me that I’ve ever had the pleasure to possess.

Stalking the next shipment on the Lankien airstrip with a crowd of intrigued locals just before my final week on project, late February 2011.

Stalking the next shipment on the Lankien airstrip with a crowd of intrigued locals just before my final week on project, late February 2011.

    Yes, my job here in Sudan is rewarding in its own right. It is an adventure unlike any other – and I most definitely wouldn’t trade it for anything. Flipping through the pages of this paper, though, I felt homesickness like a vise to the heart – for a place that has been instrumental in shaping who I am (and where I am) today. It’s in that sweetest of valleys that I drank beer while floating down a river on an inner tube. Ran a marathon through rain and hail and ended it sobbing that I’d never do it again. Been chased by black bears. Given myself 3rd-degree burns while skiing down See Me with torches in each hand. Fallen head first into a tree well. Learned to appreciate a good “whiskey blanket” on a cold day. Made friends who are now soul mates. Nursed a broken heart. Fallen in true, all-consuming love that I never imagined could be held inside me without spilling over.

Nightfall in Lankien's expat compound, 2011.

Nightfall in Lankien's expat compound, 2011.

    Increasingly, I am getting the feeling that the further I have spun away from Colorado, the stronger its pull on my heart has become. Soon, the very passion and lust for life that brought me all the way to Africa will end up being the forces that carry me back home. On that day, I’ll envelop the entirety of the Yampa Valley in a snowy bear hug.  Light the torches – I’ll be home soon.
 

Laraine Martin