Rain dripped from the trees overhead. There was a sound of sullen thunder in the distance; not the extroverted thunder that cracks the sky, but the other sort, which hangs around the horizon and gossips nastily with other storms.
Greta stalked through the forest, following Rapau who pointed in a direction that seemed to look like every other direction, but who was she to judge? She was the alien, the stranger, the white woman come in to nurse an ailing population.
Rapau, well that’s what he told her to call him, his name being unpronounceable to a tongue unfamiliar with the clicks and tocks of the language, forged on ahead.
“How much further?” Greta called.
“Not far, Miss,” Rapau said, as he pushed another large frond out of the way, standing aside to let her by so it wouldn’t hit her in the face.
Everything was strange for Greta – Sweden now 36 hours, three airplanes and a continent away. Ice, snow and grey skies were replaced by rain, thunderstorms and grey skies. Come to Central America, be dazzled by the sun!! Greta smiled to herself as she remembered the missionary recruiter painting a vivid picture of colourful, vibrant life in the Amazon. That was a whole lifetime and 6,000 miles ago.
She stumbled, and would have fallen had not Rapau grabbed her. He gently took her hand, “Let me help,” his gentle voice in stark contrast to his rough-hewn hands. Gratefully she kept her small hand in his as he moved towards a clearing.
In the middle of the clearing was a fire, so large the last remaining drops of rain were losing their battle against it, spitting in hatred at it, futilely trying to extinguish it. Small huts ranged around the fire. A small boy peeked from one of the huts, but a hand reached out and hauled him back.
Rapau grasped her hand more tightly as he sensed her discomfort, “Don’t worry little missy, they will like you. Just stand still; let them come to you,” Rapau instructed her.
Five minutes, ten and then fifteen minutes passed, although it seemed like an eternity to Greta. Then the little boy who first stuck his head out of the hut walked tentatively out; followed immediately by a girl, barely older than he, but one who clearly thought she was in charge. Their entrance caused a flood of people to emerge; people of all ages, some clearly suffering from the ravages of the disease that had permeated into the village, and others who were young, vibrant and healthy.
“What do I do?” Greta hissed at Rapau. “Stand. Let them touch you. You are the first white woman with yellow hair they have ever seen.” Greta needed no prompting as eager hands reached out and touched her fair skin, and her pale hair, blonde even by Swedish standards. Eventually Rapau chivvied the crowd back, admonishing them in their language. Greta understood the odd word here and there, and caught “nurse”, “mission station” and “foreign angel”.
I’m not really an angel. She wanted to protest, but didn’t have the words. All I am doing is fulfilling a vision I’ve always had!
Now she really took in her surroundings and as the sky lightened and the clouds and thunder took their squabble elsewhere, she examined the people she’d come to live with and work for. Rapau turned to ask her a question and for the first time she saw something she’d missed before — he was blind! He had led her through the forest, sight unseen! And then, as she looked more closely at the villagers, she saw several of the older ones had the suspicious milky eyes indicative of incipient blindness. Now she knew why the missionary had been so insistent that she come to this specific tribe – as a retinal specialist in Sweden, she was probably the only one with the expertise to help these people regain or retain their vision.
“Right – I know what to do,” Greta said, disengaging her hand from Rapau and fishing into her backpack for her cell phone. “Let me call the mission station and I can get all the necessary equipment sent there and we’ll be ready to go.” A cheer went up from the crowd as Rapau translated her words.
“God help me to restore sight to the blind,” Greta silently prayed as she set to work examining Rapau.
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