Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: TRAVELER (01/28/16)
- TITLE: Rocks, Restrooms, and Automatic Rifles
By Dannie Hawley
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Within our tent city, I felt safe, part of a family. No one cared that I had white skin. Would things be the same away from camp?
The screams of a child interrupted my musing. Stepping up my pace, I moved toward the open door. Tashalli ran towards me.
“Sister! The child’s burned all over,” my Ethiopian friend said, sweeping his hands from neck to legs. “Should he be bandaged or leave him?”
Twenty minutes later, just as I began the final wrap of the bulky bandage, I turned to Tadessa, the chief nurse. “Please, ask Mr. Tolero to arrange transport for us. This boy needs to get to the hospital immediately.”
“Oh no, Sister. It’s too dangerous to travel that road. It passes through rebel-held villages. Look; he’s sleeping.”
“Without special IV fluids, he’ll die. Please, ask for a vehicle.”
At last, the loaded vehicle moved onto the northbound road to begin the 100-kilometer journey. Ten passengers crammed into the Land Cruiser by the time of our mid-afternoon departure.
“Why are these people crisscrossing the road in front of us,” I said to the chauffeur. “Don’t they realize we could hit them while they’re running?”
“Yes; that’s why they do it. They believe it’ll bring them good luck if they cross and aren’t hit.”
“There are so many rocks on this dirt road. One of these people could easily slip and fall.”
“That’s why I’m driving twenty-kph,” the smiling man said with a tip of his head to the road. “Otherwise, the law says we’re responsible for their medical care.”
Hours later, with patients deposited at the Admitting Office of the regional hospital, we drove over to the nearest hotel for supper. I wanted to see my little guy safely in a bed; but sadly, military authorities granted a travel pass for only that day. We had to be back in camp before midnight.
Seated at the table, sipping lukewarm Coke, I asked Esther if she knew where to find the restroom. Admitting her need, she accompanied me to the squatty-potty behind the hotel. Here, to my dismay, skin color mattered.
I moved to cross the threshold when a shriek froze me in place.
“No! No! You can’t go in there!” The uniformed hotel employee grabbed onto my arm and whirled me around before I had a chance to move voluntarily. “You don’t go here!”
“It’s okay, really. I’m used to squatty-potties at the camp,” I said, chuckling and pulling to free my arm.
The woman showed no concern for my protests of urgency. Switching to a loud, angry spewing forth in the local language, she yanked me through the turns of the hotel corridors. I bit back burning tears.
Finally, she opened a door to a long narrow room, and flung me inside, slamming the door. A lone porcelain toilet sat at the far end. I turned the knob; Esther had gone.
An hour later and well-fed, we started for home. I longed for the familiar tents of camp.
While clear of the daylight pedestrians, the return travel felt as arduously slow.
Approaching the outskirts of a village, the driver switched on the dome light. I cleared my throat, and he said, “The rebels need to see you’re with us. Maybe, they won’t shoot us right away if they see you’re white. Just until we’re through the village.”
When the illuminated vehicle came to a stop in the middle of one village, the driver lowered all four windows. I turned toward the opening, startled to see only the end of the automatic rifle between my eyes.
A heated discussion ensued with the heavily-armed men. I didn’t dare turn away from the rifle obscuring my view. I prayed earnestly, but silently.
Finally, the travel resumed; no one spoke.
Then, from the backseat, Adam said, “They wanted you, Sister.”
I looked over at the driver, who explained with a shrug, “I told them you were only a doctor for kids.”
At 11:45, we exited the vehicle to cheers from our co-workers. They’d spent the entire evening praying for our safe return. Esther smiled, “Wasn’t that a fun first adventure, Sister!”
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