Modern-Day Good Samaritan?

Uganda signsIf this had been you, what would you have done?

You’re in rural Uganda, in a convoy of 4 vans, packed with 15 people each, on a 4-hour drive from a remote town to a more remote, dangerous town to offer humanitarian services for the day. You’re traveling over roads of packed clay, pocked with divots deep enough to jar your teeth. You share this one-and-a-half-lane road with walkers, bikers, dogs, pigs and oncoming traffic. Oh, and there’s actually a steer (with the sharpest, biggest horns you’ve ever seen) right outside your window. You pass flipped cars in ditches strewn with trash and fear you understand exactly how they ended up there.

To get to your destination, the van bumps along, down into the Rift Valley. The mountainsides, green with forest, gradually give way to tall savannah grass. You think you see a woman lying in the grass on the side of road among the trash. But the van is traveling about 40 miles/hour through a series of switchbacks, so you’re not completely sure. No one else seems to have noticed. Plus, people on the road are walking right by. Surely, if someone were there, they’d stop.

The van continues on its way. You arrive in the small town of Buliisa on Lake Albert and are immediately overwhelmed by close to 1,500 people needing medical attention (50% of Ugandans don’t have any access to any medical care). More people are crossing Lake Albert in paddleboats from the Democratic Republic of Congo—the border somewhere in the middle of the lake. They’re coming to see you, too

After a long day, you’re on your way back to your bigger remote town. It’s dusk and it’s raining. The van slows at one point. A group of baboons sits in the middle of the road. They only grudgingly move off. There! It really is a person lying in the grass. A woman. Not just a pile of clothes. Several others see her this time, too.

The baboons are very close to her. Waiting.

Lots of people spill out from the vans to take a closer look, all while keeping an eye on the baboons that aren’t known for their friendliness. One of the bus drivers translates what he has been told about the woman by a local passing by. “She’s crazy.”

The woman lies there, unmoving in the grass. She’s wearing lots of layers of clothes although it’s muggy and hot. She appears to be between 20-24 years old. She’s twig-thin, her clothes like tent material. The van drivers shake their heads. No room in the vans. Already packed in like playing cards. Also, the woman might have a contagious disease. Who can tell?

Several people run back to the vans for food bars stashed in backpacks in case the need for a quick energy boost arose during the long day. But the food bars can’t be left beside her. The baboons will be drawn to them. Water is given instead. The woman moves slightly—just enough to accept the water.

The van drivers look around, frowning. Darkness is coming. Nighttime is dangerous here. It’s time to go.

This is based on a true story.  I promise to give you the details and what happened, in my next post. But for now, what would you do in this situation? What do you feel right now?


25 comments on “Modern-Day Good Samaritan?

  1. The feeling? Frustrated. Helpless. Probably Overwhelmed. What to do? I know you said the vans were packed to the gills… but you can always squeeze in one more. However, there is the contagious disease concern. So I guess that’s a no. Could someone (or two) stay with her (to keep the baboons and other dangers away) and when the van gets back they could send appropriate help?

    • It’s a bad situation, isn’t it? Seriously, zero room in the vans. All the team’s gear are even already piled on top of the vans. Some other factors to consider, too…unfortunately, they are a few hours away still from where they’re staying. Stay tuned! 🙂

    • Conundrum. You’ve got that right. I’ve always liked that word. (There’s even a pretty good wine called that) 🙂 Just a little levity for a serious topic.

      A factor to consider about someone staying behind. A Westerner newly-arrived in a country nothing like home. It’s getting dark and even though you’re in a convoy, your van drivers are antsy to go before night. No shelter. Very exposed. It’s a situation that really puts it to ya, isn’t it?

  2. I think I need more information. Is there shelter nearby? Is she responsive? Is she injured? Do any of the passers by know more about her other than “she’s crazy”? Is it plausible to stay behind with her until transport arrives? Is it unconscionable not to? What are the risks? Would she even go if it were possible? I feel anxious to know what happened.

    • Hi Honie, thanks for the great questions. Are you in the medical field? Sounds like you are or have some experience in that area. You’ll find out more about the woman’s background in my next post, but it’s not a nice story, I warn you. The team is still a few hours away from where they’re staying, unfortunately, and shelter options are pretty much non-existent. Excellent question about her even wanting to go. Hope to hear what you have to say about how it turns out, next week!

    • Carol, you shouldn’t feel guilty. The reason I brought this story to everyone’s attention is because this is difficult stuff. Choices aren’t easy. But the right people were there at the right time.

  3. What a provocative scenario and follow-up question, Marney. I feel…uncomfortable, like I know I should do something but not at all sure what that “something” would be. I look forward to reading the rest of the story.

    • I felt the same way, Judy, when I was interviewing one of the team members after their return from Uganda. These are tough folks…brave to go to Uganda in the first place. Dilemmas just keep challenging them though. God always keeps stretching us.

  4. I’m angry that no one seems willing to help. I think I’d try to get a group of people to stay out there with me…if no one would, I’d offer her my seat and I’d hang on somewhere crazy…ride standing up…something. If I had to just leave her there, it would be something I carry with me all my life.

    • Now remember, I paused the story here. Give them a minute to think things through, my friend. 🙂 You are one of the intrepid. I know you’d do exactly as you said above. One of the many reasons I’m glad you’re my friend.

      • I’m laughing that you had to tell me to settle down. 🙂 I only said I was angry because you asked what we’d be feeling in that moment. You did such a great job describing the scene that I felt the sun hot on my black hair and the high grass lashed my legs as I stood there, breathing in the dust with all these uncertain people. So, now I’ll read the follow-up and truly settle. 🙂

  5. If I left, I could never forgive myself. So – I’d have to bring her along…squeeze in and pray no contagious disease exists.

  6. Pingback: Modern-Day Good Samaritan: Part II | The Volunteer Fringe

  7. Love your writing. And how people really do enter into the spirit of your questions as they comment. I also can’t wait to hear the rest. Me? I also want more information, but first instinct….wrap her to block contagion and put her in my lap. No room…yeah…no room. One of my personal hurdles in life right now is to learn to help effectively where I can and let go of what I cant. It eats me up. Blessings!! Diane

  8. Hmmmm. What a story! I think i would agree with the previous comments and maybe have some people stay behind with the woman. Did they have cell phone service out there? It makes me fell like I want to think hard for a solution to this problem.

  9. This almost sounds like one of those math story problems when you have five people on one side of the river, and the boat only holds two, and you have to get everyone to the other side in two trips – numbers aren’t quite right, but you might remember the problem. Marsha 🙂

  10. A good time to have an emergency signal device that keys into a satellite and triggers a rescue team response. But where would the team come from and could they get there before the baboons do their damage. Or maybe a field triage to get a better assessment of her physical situation then cull out some of the luggage and put the her on top with one or two helpers to reduce the exposure to the “maybe” disease. I’m like everyone else commenting here, this is a very tough situation with no easy answer. Makes you wonder why the locals are not helping her or is it because she is “crazy” and does this frequently and they know that at sundown she will get up and walk home. My quick answer is that I could not leave her, but I wasn’t there so I don’t know.


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