Sunday, April 19, 2009

Médecins Sans Frontières: A Documentary about "Living In Emergency"

The following is a trailer for the documentary film "Living in Emergency: Stories of Doctors Without Borders."

Living in Emergency Trailer from LivinginEmergency on Vimeo.

I had the privilege of seeing this film today with friends from my North Minneapolis Faith community. A small group of us from St. Philip's Catholic church were joined by the Northside Visitation Sisters at the St. Anthony Main theater, for this Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival screening. It blew my mind. It made me ask a lot of questions:

What does it mean to be a medical practitioner living and working beyond borders?
What are the frontiers of health care workers?
What implications does the work of Médecins Sans Frontières have for the rest of us?

How does entering a war-torn country resemble anything remotely familiar to your average US citizen?
How does a film like this push us all beyond our comfort zones and challenge us to step into the messy circumstances of conflict, terror, trauma, seeming scarcity, the absurd?

What does it mean to navigate the chaos of war -- the cruelty of the ridiculous and possibly insane?
Why even try?

I sat next to Antoinette Bennaars Lukanga. Behind me were Ann Shallbetter, Kristin Moffit, Carol Assiobo Tipoh and her cousin Adjo "Ellie" Amouzou. Sisters Mary Frances, Mary Virginia, Mary Margaret, Katherine, Suzanne and Karen were about five rows up and to the right. We were a crazy cross section of women from African countries and American states. Pink and brown-skinned; blond, brunette, black and grey-haired. Some of us work in the sciences with healthcare careers ; others were employed in education with classroom experiences. Still others had expertise in business, with human resource management and leadership roles. All of us were connected in one way or another to the film's central characters --the doctors without borders -- all struggling with the responsibility of trying to heal, mend - step in and witness what is bleeding and broken.

I cried watching this film. I laughed out loud at the absurdity of what I was seeing. I squirmed and squeezed my eyes shut at the horrific but ridiculous reality presented. (Drilling into a human skull to aleviate pressure on an already blown open-by-gunfire brain?!) I cursed alongside the isolated physician in Liberia without resources or support to do his job. I marveled at the arrogance and egos at play between the blessed humans doing this work. I wondered a lot about translating communication and culture in spaces like Congo. I thought long and hard about how connected we all are. I returned to the privilege I have to see such things and truly contemplate them. What exists at the heart of such war-torn spaces? Why do these conditions persist?

I invite all of us to see this film, support the efforts of such work, and recognize how we all might - as individuals and a larger global community --step into solutions.

In peace,
Your contemplative friend, (and catholic beyond borders),


Jill Timmer Teehan said...

Hey Missy,

Sounds like an interesting mix of people and subject matter. I just read "Left To Tell" by Immaculée Ilibagiza, a Rwandan Catholic Tutsi who survived the genocide of 1994 very much Anne Frank-manner by living in a 3 x 6 bathroom with 9 other women for 91 days, hidden by a Hutu Protestant Minister. All other members of her family were murdered, except her youngest brother who was in college in Senegal, by neighbors, past classmates, or coworkers from their small village... She went from her college campus where she was a Senior in Engineerging, to her home to visit her family for Easter to face chaos, and crazed murdering by people who family had know for 60 years; talk about "Living in Emergency." She is amazing, now works for UN in New York as a speaker for peace, forgiveness and cultural awareness.

This was my light Easter, vacation read... Highly recommend it, but it is an unnerving, horrible commentary on humanity's evil capability.


Did I tell you the young woman I tutored in Paris was the niece of Francois Xavier Emmannueli? - French physician, co-founder and president of the humanitarian organization, "Doctors Without Borders - Médecins Sans Frontières, " 1979-88.? Amazing family all those Emmanuellis. His brother, Jean Marc Emmanuelli, was my Ob-Gyn.

Jill Timmer Teehan
Newbury Park, CA

Joe said...

I can't wait to see the movie. It is mydream to work with MSF later. I am visitng Africa for the first time for a short rotation this summer and I hope it will be a nice intro

Maddi said...

Without question we must continue to act, and to reflect, and act again.

Anonymous said...

This sounds amazing. And I do want to/hope to see it. I would like to say right up front, I"m gonna have to be in the right space mentally to go there. It sounds intense, very intense and eye-opening. Yes, those of us who read and pay attention, like to think we KNOW what's going on in Liberia or in the Congo. But we don't have a clue. Yes, we care and want to do something/anything to make life better for those women and children caught up in this endless cycle of violence. But we also have to make sure we get the bills paid and can find a way to get our children into college and keep the lights on and the cellphones paid and hope with all the cuts coming along that we have enough cash to make it through the slow times, and finally...(having just lost two friends)...the energy to handle so much destruction.

Love ya, me

Anonymous said...


It always grounds me to see such documentaries, the son of a co-worker is currently doing similar work in an Ethiopian catholic clinic. He did his own video report, and we laughed, we cried, we saw hope.

Trish Kloeckl said...

Hey, thanks Melissa for passing this on. I have friends in this organization and they set up a "fake" refugee camp a few years ago at Loring Park to give the general public a (simulation) education about the work of Doctors without Borders. They also came recruiting at Wilderness Inquiry to see if those of us who have lead outdoor adventures- and are familiar with setting up quick camp and securing water - were interested in joining their mission.

Happy contemplating!

Trish Kloeckl