(by nggr and ahmadbas)

·     FRIENDSHIP

-Achor Achor refuses to leave whenever Valentino asked him. Insisted on staying till Valentino gets treatment

“I’ll stay. I’ll wait till they treat you…”

“It’s okay…I’ll wait till you go in.”

-Lino borrowed a car to visit Valentino and Achor Achor at the hospital despite the 20 minutes drive.

“He’s coming over. He’s borrowing a car.”

-Deb offered to fly Valentino to Hollywood and see her doctor if his condition was serious

“Call me after you get a diagnosis. If it’s anything serious, we’ll fly you out here and we can see my doctor. …”

·     SEX DISCRIMINATION (SEXISM)

-Women are graded by looks and status of the family

-The more attractive the woman and if the status of the family is moderate/above moderate, the woman has a higher bride price

-Women shouldn’t be graded by PRICE (no human should)

-Example: a girl is offered by her family for 240 cows ($20,000) and another for 140 cows ($13,000)

-No feelings or love involved between man and woman

-Equality of human rights

·     PROFESSIONALISM

-Julian ensures Valentino that he would treat Valentino himself but he isn’t a practicing doctor. Therefore has no rights to treat Valentino.

“…..I’m sure you’ll get stitched up soon. I’d do it myself but I’m not a doctor. They  don’t let me near the needle and thread. “

-Julian explained to Valentino that he nor the technician can read the MRI scans and only the doctor can read them as the doctor is the only one that can provide medical advices.

“…Right now there’s no one here who knows how to read the scans. The doctor doesn’t come in for a while…”

·     POOR HEALTHCARE SYSTEM

-Despite the emptiness of the emergency ward, there shouldn’t be a long wait to get an emergency treatment.

Deb asked “What? Is it busy? Is it some kind of madhouse there?”

“I tell her that it’s been quiet. Very quiet. “

-Valentino had to wait for long hours (approximately 9 hours) to get MRI done.

“…it has something to do with why it took 9 hours for me to get an MRI and why I am now being brought to a bed in the ER…”

·     HOME AND IMMIGRATION

-No where beats home. Some people see no hope if they are forced out of their home

-Happened to Lino’s family where his family remained at their home despite being asked to leave a few times. Refused to leave till the army came to take their lives

-Valentino left Sudan and his family for Ethiopia in hope for a better life there as was described and to avoid the conflict in Sudan

“As we drew closer to the border, my expectations had come to include homes for each of us,new families ,tall buildings, glass, waterfalls, bowls of bright oranges set upon clean tables”

-Ended up the place was no better than where he came from(Sudan) because it wasn’t as per described and he didn’t have his family with him

“This is not that place” – he said it many times again and again refusing to believe the distance he travelled left him with nothing.

·     PERCEPTION (pg282)

-Ajulo said that the white men are born knowing all of these things (smart, knows many languages, geography, skillful)

“He is very smart. He has things in his head that you would not believe. He knows many languages and the names of villages and towns, ad can fly airplanes and drive cars. The white men are born knowing all of these things.”

-Priest(Father Matong) said that the white man is a close descendant of Adam and Eve. (saying his skin resembles Adam and Eve , Jesus and God.)

“The white man is a close descendant of Adam and Eve… You have seen pictures of Jesus your books…Adam and Eve, Jesus and God all have such skin. They are fragile….”

-It’s all a matter of perception. No one is born knowing everything. The priest is preaching something he could not even prove and merely what he believed. He is technically preaching something false causing Valentino to be curious and hence circle closer to the man. Valentino then was curious because he wanted to ask the man whether he knew anything about Marial Bai and his family, their fates.

·     RESPONSIBILITY (pg 265)

-Dut is a high-ranking leader, he made sure Valentino and the Eleven’s needs were addressed. He wants Velentino to be in school instead of being a burial boy.

-He was worried about the boys who planned to return to Sudan(they were thinking the war was over)  and barge into the tent with rage.

“The war is not over! Have you lost your minds? Do you know what awaits you in Sudan?…”

-Peter or Paul representing the UNHCR to build the food storage containers

·     INHUMANITY TOWARDS THE WEAK AND UNFORTUNATE

– This could be seen during the event where the …

“government got serious about dealing with those living above the oil. … The oil fields would be protected by Baggara or private security forces … so the horseman came, as they would always come, with their guns and with their random looting and violence. But it was mild this first time … the message was : leave the area and do not come back.”

Page 251

-There were even more inhumanity shown in the story where a regiment of militiamen and army soldiers rolled into the village of Lino’s family. I think they were merely evil because they

“very calmly strolled into the town, as they had when they took the names. They said nothing to anyone: once positioned, they began to shoot. They shoot 19 people in the first minute. They nailed one man to a tree an dropped an infant into a well. They killed thirty-two in all, and then climbed back onto their trucks and left.”

Page 252

-The killing was very evil because they seemed to be on purpose not to alarm the people about their presence and intention to kill them. Perhaps they wanted the people to not run away, stay calm or try to escape from them. Thus the militiamen and army soldiers may have good chance to kill them. Besides, they even killed an infant who did nothing wrong and just had the chance to breathe in this world. Then, they leave as if they have not done anything terrible.

 

Reflection by (ahmadbas)

After reading the excerpts from the novel of “What is the what” by Dave Eggers, I was triggered to ponder about a person (Valentino Achak Deng) who was experiencing a life of being one of the refugees due to Sudan’s civil war. After he was forced to flee from his village, he walked for about months to Ethiopia with some of the other boys.

In my opinion, I believe that for the overall story, the author, Dave Eggers succeeded to bring Valentino’s voice and his life story even though Dave Eggers was writing an autobiography for him. This is because the flashbacks from the character of Valentino in the story managed to reveal in detail about the hardships and obstacles he had been through for the entire of life as a refugee since he was small boy. From the beginning of the excerpt, it seemed to narrating that Valentino was already settled down in the United States. He was waiting to be treated at the emergency ward for a long period of time. While he was waiting, he reminisced the events that happened to him since the civil war.

From the flashbacks described through Valentino’s character, I think that there are few themes and issues, which are significant to be highlighted. First and foremost, the theme of inhumanity is distinctly shown in the story. The theme of inhumanity is specifically towards the weak and unfortunates. This could be seen during the event from the following excerpt;

“government got serious about dealing with those living above the oil. … The oil fields would be protected by Baggara or private security forces … so the horseman came, as they would always come, with their guns and with their random looting and violence. But it was mild this first time … the message was : leave the area and do not come back.” (Page 251)

There were even more inhumanity shown in the story where a regiment of militiamen and army soldiers rolled into the village of Lino’s family. From the following excerpt; they

“very calmly strolled into the town, as they had when they took the names. They said nothing to anyone: once positioned, they began to shoot. They shoot 19 people in the first minute. They nailed one man to a tree an dropped an infant into a well. They killed thirty-two in all, and then climbed back onto their trucks and left.”

(Page 252)

To me, the killing was very evil because they seemed to be on purpose not to alarm the people about their presence and intention to kill them. Perhaps they wanted the people to not run away, stay calm or try to escape from them. Thus the militiamen and army soldiers may have good chance to kill them. Besides, they even killed an infant who did nothing wrong and just had the chance to breathe in this world. Then, they leave as if they have not done anything terrible.

The second theme of the story is friendship. It is described that Valentino and Achor Achor are having very close and strong friendship. This could be justified through the dialogue,

“ He said I’ll be treated either way. You can go now, “ I say. “You should get back to work”
“It’s okay,”Achor Achor says, …I will wait till you go in.”

and another dialogue that showed Achor Achor had been waiting for so long for Valentino to be called in until he was not able to get back to work. The dialogue is as follows,

“No point in trying to go back to work now,”Achor Achor says. “I’m sorry,” I say.
“It’s okay.”

Also, Valentino also had good friendship with Lino and Deb. This is because, Lino was willing to borrow a car to visit Valentino and Achor Achor at the hospital although the journey will take 20 minutes. This is justified from the dialogue;

“He’s coming over. He’s borrowing a car.”

Meanwhile, Deb offered to fly Valentino to Hollywood and see her doctor if his condition was serious. The dialogue is as follows,

“Call me after you get the a diagnosis. If it’s anything serious, we’ll fly you out here and we can see my doctor. …”

The third theme is sex discrimination. When Lino’s brother, Gabriel wanted to get married, he was like forced to choose between two future bride based on the bridal price. The first one was tall, attractive and well shaped but the bridal price was very high which is 240 cows (equivalent to $20,000) whereas the other one was less stunning, but appealing and the family offered quite high but lesser than the first one which is 140 cows (equivalent to $13,000). This has somehow reflected the sex discrimination theme because the more attractive the woman and if the family has moderate or above moderate status, the woman would be able to request for higher bridal price. The marriage plan was revolved basically on money and does not really count the matter of feelings or love between husband and wife.

The fourth theme is professionalism. This is because, Julian ensures Valentino that he would treat Valentino himself but he wasn’t the practicing doctor. Even though he’s also a veterinary (this I found out at the end of the story), he could possibly try to do it, but he realize his professionalism that he must not do what he was not trained to do, though career in doctor and as veterinar could possibly be similar. Therefore, he stressed out that he has no rights to treat Valentino. The dialogue between Julian and Valentino is as follows:

“… I’m sure you’ll get stitched up soon. I’d do it myself but I’m not a doctor. They don’t let me near the needle and thread.”

Another situation was also during the conversation between Julian and Valentino. It was after Valentino was finished with his MRI scan. Valentino was very anxious to know the results of the scan to an extent that he kept asking about the person who would examine his MRI scan results. Julian explained to Valentino that neither he nor the technician could read the MRI scan. Only the doctor is able to do so because the doctor is the one who can actually provide medical advices. The dialogue by Julian is as follows;

“…Right now there’s no one here who knows how to read the scans. The doctor doesn’t come in for a while…”

The next issue/theme is poor healthcare system. Despite the emptiness of the emergency ward, Valentino was not supposed to be waiting for almost 14 hours to get an emergency treatment. This issue of poor healthcare could be detected firstly from through the two different dialogues. The first dialogue was between Valentino and Deb. Deb asked,

“What? Is it busy? Is it some kind of madhouse there?” “I tell her that it’s been quiet. Very quiet.”

Another dialogue was between Valentino and a nurse.

“I am leaving now,” I say.

“But you haven’t been treated,” she says. She is genuinely surprised that I would consider leaving after only fourteen hours.

“I have been here too long,” I say.

Besides that, the poor healthcare system could be justified through the monologue of Valentino himself. “… but because this hospital is very quiet, the emergency room virtually devoid of patients, I am one man sitting in your waiting room with what I hope are minor wounds. It would seem to be easy to help me and send me home. I cannot imagine why you would want me here staring at you.

The theme of responsibility is also quite obvious in the story in which the character Dut, who was a high-ranking leader, he made sure that Valentino and the Eleven’s need were addressed. He also wanted Valentino to be in school instead of being the burial boy. This is potrayed in the following dialogue;

“I am sorry you have to do such work.”
I told him that I have become accustomed to it.
“Yes, but you shouldn’t. This isn’t the way I had imagined this camp, and our

trip to Ethiopia. I want things better for you here. I want you to be in school.”

(Page 268)

Besides that, another event that in the story that showed Dut’s responsibility was when he was worried with about the boys who planned to return to Sudan (as they were thinking that the war was over) and he barge into the tent with rage.

“ The war is not over! Have you lost your minds? Do you know what awaits you in Sudan? It’s worse there than ever before, you fools… Already we’ve heard of two boys who have left the camp in the dark of night. What happened to them, do you suppose?

– They were killed by bandits just over the river”

(Page 284)

Apart from the responsibility shown by the character Dut, the character Peter or Paul (who is a French) might also be justified as potraying the responsibility theme.

He represented the United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He was there to help the elders build food-storage containers. … After he left, more white people , and aid workers from all over Africa, began to descend upon Pinyudo…Supply trucks soon came three times a day; we began to eat at least twelve meals a week – it had only been seven before. … new wells were dug, medical facilities opened, more books and pencils arrived.

(Page 281 & 283)

In my opinion, the aids received by the refugees at the Pinyudo camp is due to the reports and perhaps paperworks done by Peter or Paul. This has somehow potrayed his responsibility towards the needy in the Pinyudo refugee camp.

All in all, I really enjoy reading the story “What is the What” by Dave Eggers. This is because, I learnt about so many issues and also lessons from the story. The most significant that I have learnt is to be grateful of what I have no matter what happen and what are fated to me.

 

YOUTUBE LINK

By now a thesis might be emerging: that the classic, one-to-one model of treatment that makes the doctor so important a figure in an individual’s life, and gives her such rich and fascinating access to private narratives, and has raised her up on a pedestal of sorts in the eyes of the privileged people of the Western world, is in some ways a moral grey area.  It puts the needs of the one above those of the many to an extreme. And so, while so much time & money is spent in that model of healthcare in the West, there are millions of people in the “majority world” dying every year because of the neglect that arises as a result, whose (clearly, “less important”) lives could be saved if even a fraction of the money, medicines and manpower that we put into our systems were diverted to them.

Next week, in our final session, we will see the two forces (the needs of the one versus those of the many) played out dramatically in the story of Valentino Achak Deng as fictionalised by Dave Eggers in his novel What is the What? I am thrilled that Colman Farrell, CEO of Suas, will be joining us to hear Niall’s presentation and chat about his own experience of some of the issues raised.