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?