Iseul opened her eyes but continued to look down as the border guard went through her personal things. She was accompanying a group of physicians from a healthy baby program in Singapore. Although she was born in South Korea, she had migrated to Hong Cong to seek an education in pediatric nursing, and upon graduation she was granted a job within the World Health System.
“What’s this?” The officer held up her makeup bag - a simple one pocket-like purse with personal medication, toothbrush, and a cheap powder compact.
She did not lift her eyes, but responded in Korean. “Personal items, makeup powder for my bad complexion.”
The officer emptied the small purse and studied the contents; then he handed her the compact. “Show me,” he ordered.
Iseul took the compact from him, opened it and powdered her nose with the soft pad. Then she put the pad back in the case and handed it to the officer.
“You can go, but the pills stay here.”
She knew that to protest would mean she would not get in, besides she would only be in the nearby hospital for one night; she would survive without her vitamins. Luckily, the border police had not ordered her to disrobe, she had a tiny silver cross, imbedded in the inside fabric of her dress. She knew that her pills would be resold on the black market.
A cold rain began to fall as her group of doctors and nurses splashed toward the hospital. Iseul peered out the window at the faceless people and drab buildings. She pulled out her compact and lightly dusted her cheeks and nose.
“It’ll wash off in the rain, they didn’t put in any umbrellas.” Yi, a fellow nurse smiled at Iseul.
“Habit, I guess I am nervous.”
A Chinese doctor turned in his seat. “Hospitals are hospitals, this one is just a bit out of date, you’ll do fine.”
Iseul lowered her eyes. “Yes, sir.” He had addressed her in a paternal style, which made her uncomfortable, especially on a day when they were in North Korea.
The bus finally stopped in front of a worn building and the team piled out but was surrounded by armed guards. Then they were escorted into the hospital and walked up two flights of stairs to the pediatric department. Like mechanics the team began a process of looking at the bed ridden children. Each doctor had a team of two nurses. The nurses rotated following the doctor’s orders. A small donation of supplies and medicines were sitting on a pallet in the middle of the floor. Nurses ran like bees to and from the supplies as the groups worked their way around the ward. Finally, the head doctor held up his hand. The group had exhausted the supplies.
Iseul frowned. Only half of the floor had been treated. The unlucky ones in the next ward lost by the luck of the draw. She suspected that the children were arranged that way on purpose.
Before the team left she looked in a medicine cabinet mirror and dusted her face and nose. In the mirror she could see the reflections of injured and ill children.
The medical team was escorted to windowless rooms in the hospital. Blue mats decorated the floors. The doctors were sent to one room and the nurses the other.
Minutes later they heard a screaming voice. “Police, you are leaving.”
The policemen entered the room and began pushing the nurses toward the door. In the hallway the three doctors had already assembled. The group was literally pushed down the stairs and into a waiting bus.
The bus was cold and the dampness shot though the exhausted team. At the border they stood in the cold drizzle while a team of customs agents inspected everything they had.
Once again a guard looked at Iseul’s make up case and questioned the contents. He held up the compact case.
“Powder for my nose sir.” Her eyes never left the table.
Iseul opened the tiny compact and produced the soft pad, she touched the pad to her nose. Surprisingly, the guard pointed to his own oily nose. Iseul carefully reached across the table and put a tiny bit of power on his nose. He giggled.
Back in Singapore Iseul got a knock on her door. It was an old missionary friend.
“Great pictures Iseul, but who is the guy getting his nose powdered?”
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