Saturday, August 12, 2006

The Accident

The funny thing about having a blog is when people know you have one and see you on a regular basis, and crazy stuff happens to you when you're with them, it garners comments such as "I smell a blog entry!"

Which is what happened to me last night. Originally, I was so frightened, sobered and angry that there was no way I was going to share it. But then I received the aforementioned comment this morning from my friend. Now I feel a bit compelled and well, wiser to the complexity of these events, which I feel may be of interest.

Last night I went out with some friends to a bar. It was me, my Lutheran missionary buddies, my UNHCR friend who liked the hippos, my pal Al and Canada Jim , who had just returned from some R&R back at home the day before.

About 12:15, we decided to drive across town to the Old Town section to go dancing at another club. I hopped in the back of the Lutheran ambulance, a bit peeved that we had parked so far away because I've contracted tendonitis in my ankle due to all the flip flop wearing and it hurt to walk. This sounds silly, but it's important.

So, four of us got into the ambulance, while Al and Canada Jim take off in their own vehicles. Somehow, we start singing show-tunes (ok ok, it was just ME and no I didn't have that much to drink...) and rumble off down the road. Just as I was getting to the chorus line of "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria" we came across a terrible, fresh car accident.

It's Canada Jim. As he was crossing a bridge, the car coming towards him drifted into his lane. He narrowly avoided a head on collision (or worse yet, being pushed into the ditch) by swerving into the opposite side of traffic and clipping the guy on the passenger side (remember, British system = driving on the left, meaning the passenger side is really what we would consider the driver's side for all you Americans, Canadians and Continentals out there...)

Anyway, the accident must've happend just seconds before we arrived because Canada Jim was wandering around, disoriented (he had hit his head on the steering wheel, but was wearing his seatbelt - thank god- so only his left eyebrow was cut open). The driver of the other car, not so lucky. I didn't get out for a good look, but he was in the car, unconscious when we arrived. He was driving a low sedan and the entire front end looked like a meat grinder had been taken to it. Canada Jim's Pajero didn't look much better.

As luck would have it, we are a) in an ambulance with a nurse and b) about five minutes by car to the nearest hospital. The nurse, Kim, (who incedentally was the one who told me to write this in a blog..) jumps out of the car and runs to check on the other guy. He's alive and breathing, but she can't tell the extent of the damages. The three of us left in the car go to the hospital to wake up the nurses and get a stretcher.

Here's where it really hit home that we were in Malawi. Now, I haven't been in too many accidents in the US, or really even witnessed any gory ones up close, but I would imagine that within minutes the medics arrive and the police and everything is taken care of in a somewhat orderly manner. That expectation is morbidly laughable here.

The only thing that arrived within seconds was a) a crowd and b) a traffic jam. When we returned with the stretcher, the other driver was out of the car (dislodged by our courageous nurse and a few Danish high school students), lying on the pavement and gurgling. You could tell he was breathing, but there was blood everywhere. Kim has got it all over her hands.

I have to admit, the absolute first thing I thought (after I saw the passenger alive) was: AIDS.

My friend and I set the stretcher down and Kim starts coordinating people to help shift this guy onto the gurney. She catches my eye when saying this and all I could think of was "Pleasedontpickmepleasedontpickmepleasedontpickme". I feel like Peter, in the Bible, when he denies Jesus three times before the cock crows. I am a rotten human being; I won't even pick up a perhaps dying man from the road. I swear I heard a rooster crow in the distance.

Kim, perhaps sensing my split second hesitation, sucks in her breathe and says "Men." Catching her voice again, louder she says "Men! I need men to lift this guy!" I back away, grateful, and about twelve hundred onlookers surge forward. Kim is polite yet firm, manages to stabilize his head while arguing with one particularly beligerant sexist Malawian. I don't remember what about, but it's kind of gratifying to see all these fatsos being bossed around by a 115 pound nurse. They obviously wanted to do it their way, and she quite firmly wasn't going to let them.

After more arguing (the dudes wanted to put the guy in the PICKUP TRUCK while Kim wanted to wait for the ambulance, which was parked mere feet away, to swing around) they finally got him loaded into the ambulance. This was more than a normal undertaking, as the guy was easily 250 bils and there were five 110 lb bags of maize already occupying the back of the ambulance. Malawi: where ambulances become grocery stores.

I notice that there is very little interaction with the wazungu and the Malawians crowded around the accident. It was eery, really. We whiteys crowded on one side of the road and they crowded on the other. We barely spoke. I asked one Malawian guy if he knew the driver, but he just shook his head, which just made me madder. What the hell were you doing here then? Don't you have something better to do? To me, it was like rubbernecking to the nth degree, and it was tacky.

One Palestian guy stops his car in the middle of traffic, gets out and walks around the mangled car for about ten minutes. Frustrated, angry and scared, I finally ask him to move his car because he's going to cause another accident having it parked in the middle of a dark highway like that. "I just wanted to see if this was my friends car," he says, drunkenly.
"It's not," I snap. "He's Malawian. The other guy is my friend. Mazungu. Move yer damn car."

It's not until the morning that I realize it was completely within the realm of possibility that this Palestinian guy could've been friends with the Malawian, or even Canada Jim.

I also remember that in Malawi, those pesky onlookers that crawled out of the woodwork - the ones I assumed were there just for the blood and gore - were really the transportation safety net of Malawi. In a country where EMTs are unheard of, if strangers didn't come to help during an accident, no one would. These guys were just doing their civic duty. Both of these revelations conspire to make me feel like the biggest racist ever. Cock crow number two.

I talk Al and my UNHCR friend into driving me home to grab an ice pack and some water for Canada Jim, as his eye was swelling quite rapidly and he complained of blurred vision. Sadly, I had no aspirin in my house to speak of and it was too far to go to the other's houses. When we return, the police have just arrived (this is about 1 hour after the accident!).

Canada Jim tells his story, and the onlookers start arguing. To give Canada Jim some support via proximity, I cross over from "our" side of the road. I hear some discussion about skid marks. One particularly beligerant onlooker claims that the skid marks prove that Canada Jim was in the wrong. He concludes that the entire mess was Canada Jim's fault.

I am boiling. I start yelling about that's physically impossible if you examine the impact points of each vehicle and that the skid marks mean nothing. Secretly, I'm surprised because everyone stops to listen to me rant. Then the asshole tries to cut me off by saying "Are you done now sweetheart? Can I share what really happened now?" but I talk over him, louder, getting very shrilly. Not really making sense, just wishing I had a good comeback to his condescending "sweetheart" talk. The only thing I can remember saying is, "Sweetheart? Did you call me sweetheart? Listen here SIR (trying as hard as I could to put a sarcastic twist on that - and failing miserably), I know what I see and you're wrong."

I catch my breath and know there's still alot of yelling I could do. A lot. And some punching to the face, but I remember Canada Jim and swallow my pride. I think that arguing in a foreign country in front of police is a great way to get arrested, and that's the last thing I wanted to have happen, so I shut my trap. Yet, inside, I feel like I've just lost a major battle. Why couldn't I stick up for myself? Why couldn't I get this guys respect? What gives him the right to belittle me just because he has a penis?! Forget Jesus, I hear Susan B. Anthony rolling over in her grave.

I slink back to "our" side of the road while the jerkwad was just starting to accuse Jim of being drunk. I hear the third rooster crow.

Once home, I don't know whether to laugh, cry, sigh or just forget about it. I lay awake for a long time digesting the evening and then slip off into sleep.

Canada Jim's car is totaled, and he is shaken up, but ok. The passenger - who tested negative for HIV/AIDs - is in stable condition. Turns out the only thing of damage he did was bite his tongue pretty hard (that's the rumor at this point anyway). The police are still filling out their report and Jim will probably be dealing with this for a while yet, but everything has turned out much, much better thant it could have.

Remember how I was annoyed that I had to march the extra fifty feet to the parking lot to get into our car? Canada Jim had a better parking spot and therefore got to leave those few seconds ahead of us, causing the whole chain of events to unfold. The really funny thing is, we almost took that parking spot.

Wear your seatbelts.




emira said...

I'm so glad you had to walk an extra block to get to your ride. Damn, sometimes I think maybe everything is part of a big plan. Perhaps it is good that I don't think about that too much cause I'd be freaking out thinking that my actions were already predetermined.

Sorry, I'm getting a bit corny, but it's a bit freaky to think that events are somehow weirdly linked. I hope your friend deals with police in a timely fashion and I hope that the guy at the hospital gets better. Can't wait for you to get back so that we can talk about the crazy summers we've had.

Rose Connors said...

Wow. Crazy story. Thanks for sharing. It makes me think about what I would have done and I don't know the answer.

Megan said...

Oh, honey. Wow.

First of all, while I don't think you did, thought or said anything that I wouldn't have, I'm glad you're able to think about all this in a way that you can learn from. It's too easy to write off 'random events' as flukes that don't mean anything, and not reflect on them.

Secondly, I'm really, really, really glad you're safe. And that your friends are. And that everyone involved is.

Thirdly, did I mention I'm glad you're safe?

Finally, I love you and all your introspection, reflection, honesty and intensity. No one gives me grounding like you can. Thanks.