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Zaire At Night: The Awakening To Pain and Suffering

posted Oct 23, 2010, 2:13 AM by Diana Rohini LaVigne   [ updated Oct 23, 2010, 2:13 AM ]

By Diana Rohini La Vigne



In 1990's, Zaire was not a place where a group of tourists wanted to be stuck in a small uncovered renovated meat truck.  The rainy season approaching could cause a flash flood in moments and steal your truck away from the roadways and keep the roads flooded for over a month.  Our truck is running behind schedule one week already with a forecast for increasing rains in the coming weeks.  Illness, then a coup attempt in Cameroon, and several major breakdowns have reeked havoc on our journey.  Out of a nervous fright, we agree unoumouisly to drive straight through the night to gain back some of our lost time. 

In Africa, most vehicles use the roadways only during the daytime because of the poor road conditions and lack of any lighting. 


On this particular night, I was sitting in the cab next to the driver to help keep him alert for the task at hand.  We are surprised by the sight of another truck ahead and shake ourselves alert for any complications about to arise.  Approaching the vehicle, we noticed it was parked on the embankment and the locals were just resting on the grass below at the side of the road.  It is not odd to see Africans taking any opportunity to escape the heat and rains to catch up on sleep. The driver John and I quickly return to our ongoing discussion about the differences between British and American politics.


Our truck was crawling up the steep mountainside just past the resting Africans when I let out a fearful gasp.  The trucks slid to a stop. John looks into my eyes to see fear and confusion. The truck headlights had briefly caught the image of a man standing upright just next to the road’s edge.  As I attempt to explain my sight and fear, John’s eyes are fixed beyond me.  Did I frighten him too?  What was he thinking? Was I dreaming? Am I going crazy from lack of sleep?


Mid-sentence I became aware of movement just outside my door.  I turn to look and see that the man was real.  He stood inches from my door and was crusted in blood from head to toe from an open head wound.  His right arm was broken off and held on only by his skin.  He looks like he is ready to say something but he says nothing.  I look more closely and his jaw is broken and hanging loose.  My heart starts throbbing as I noticed, he is only a boy!


I reach for the door handle but John grabs my shoulder and rambles off the statistics of HIV positive people in Africa.  I shoot him a hard cold look that told him to back off.  He lets go.  I jump from the truck to help the boy without concern for my personal safety.  He avoids my touch and walks away.  I follow, not understanding his lack of trust in me.


One hundred yards later, we round a bend.  Another truck is there at the side of the road.  An accident.  A chill runs up my spine as I look again at all the boys lying around me on the ground.  Blood is everywhere and several looked dead already.  The only sounds were low pitched moaning coming from some of them and the sound of one of my traveling buddies calling out to me.  I sprint back to the truck careful to step over the bodies.  An emotional wave runs over me, my eyes start to fill up as I look for the words to explain the situation.  After a sentence, my medical training kicks in and I start the process of taking control of the situation. I call out for specific supplies and for physical support to assist.  About half the crew jumps into action.  With gauze and various rags and limited medical supplies, we return to the area near the truck.   We have all the disadvantages.  We have only 1 person with medical knowledge, me.  And we are not sure about the nearest hospital but it could be as near as a day’s travel or as far away as 2 weeks distance.  But the biggest problem was communication. The little Swahili that the group knew was very limited.  With incredible luck, we were able to find a hospital in several hours.  All the victims that we took arrived alive which was a blessing. As I left the hospital, I smiled at the young boy I first saw.  He looked at me like I was an angel and it was the best feeling in the world.  If eyes could smile, that was the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.  I know we will never meet again.  I also know that we will never forget each other either.