Friday, February 3, 2012
Just Like That
The American had really enjoyed the flight in the single engine craft until over the horizon he saw it. Stretching for excruciating miles over the dust and sad vestiges of vegetation. The refugee camp.
The noise of their approach had scarcely raised a head in the heat, exhaustion and brilliance of mid-day. Deceleration across the dirt track had been surprisingly quick. The Agency's Rover was already there with the Belgian, Andreas and his one very thin nurse Miranda, standing at attention and shielding their eyes.
"Welcome to the new nation, my friend; it's a far cry from Fort Worth, isn't it?"
"Greetings Andreas, your arrangements have all been meticulous, really. I am thrilled to be here. I must gather the data and the photos and the interviews to make a convincing pitch back home. What I see here is really overwhelming!"
"Not so fast. First a humble lunch of welcome at the main tent. I want you to meet the key doctors and water specialists. Four of the fifteen are from the States. They have all read about your comparative success in two other camps and they are very hopeful. Then an introductory drive around the camp and to the admissions sector where things get tense. So many, my friend, so many..."
The meal had been surprisingly tasty and entirely local. The conversation heightened, yet comfortable. One doctor knew the American's brother from college. He had taken eighteen months off already from a successful obstetrics practice in New Orleans.
The tour seemed like miles of the same thing. Mothers shielding babies from the sun. Young children still trying to run in short bursts from one shading canopy to the next. Fathers sitting in small circles with the ubiquitous pipes and a look of sad accountability for the perplexity of their families.
On the hour different tents opened for different health needs. All faces would turn with a noticeable frequency in the direction of the food dispensaries.
The American took one of his new doctor friends on a short walk. They noticed an elderly man, shirtless, gaunt and sitting against a tripod of sorts with occasional use for supporting washing pots. This was a place of water, but it was apparent that the commodity was so much in demand and dwindling. He spoke some French and they were all able to understand each other.
The doctor was called away briefly by an acquaintance, one of the sector councilmen who had chosen to stay behind to help after two exodus movements from the camp.
The American continued his chat with the old man. A knowing twinkle still in the eyes. A hint of education and poise from a former life before the insurrections. His breath came in short, raspy puffs. Obviously he was parched with thirst. And alone.
"Sir, I am going to go and find you a drink. Just relax."
"Monsieur, that would be exquisite, merci."
Rejoining the doctor, the newcomer scrounged in amazement for the next twenty minutes until success. Smiling broadly with an apple juice size of can half-filled with copper-coloured water, he paced bending over toward the elder.
Still leaning against the tripod. Eyes closed. Suggestion of a contented smile on the wrinkled face. No raspy puffs. Dead. Just like that...
Note: Heard a testimony somewhat like this from missionary-evangelist Peter Pretorius of Africa. He has been engaged for years in mission feeding programs in cooperation with James and Betty Robison.