- Tuesday, March 15, 2011
“Most of the cell-phone towers in the vicinity are down, and despite the government’s propaganda about what’s happening, in this village alone we buried forty-seven after the attacks. It is impossible to know how many are missing, because of the hundreds fleeing the area.” The jeep crashed through the thick brush edging the bumpy dirt road that was barely wide enough for one vehicle. “Those who remain fear the rebels will return, so most of them are staying inside the hospital compound. I’ll take you there first.”
Paige’s fingers tightened around the door handle as the hot breeze from the open window dried out her eyes. Any hopes that the number of deaths reported had been exaggerated faded like the morning mist. The International Criminal Court had sent out dozens of warrants for the rebels involved in the forced enslavement of hundreds of Dzambizans in the nearby mountains. The rebels’ response to the arrests of five of their commanders had been a vow to fight until the indictments were dropped and their demands for amnesty were met. A stance that meant until a resolution was negotiated, innocent people of the RD would continue to be slaughtered.
A minute later, the narrow bush path merged into the main road of town. A dozen cinder block buildings lined the street with colorfully painted walls advertising soft drinks, toothpaste, and cell-phone providers. But no one walked the dusty road through town today. Even the market, normally bustling with vendors and buyers, lay bare. Bensi had become nothing more than a ghost town.
Abraham parked inside the large compound of the hospital, where at least a hundred people waited beneath a thatched shelter sitting adjacent to the medical structure. At the sight of the aid workers their faces lit up with expectation. Paige undid her seatbelt and slid out of the vehicle. Three months in the country had taught her that a couple of hours were barely enough time to scratch the surface of everything that had to be accomplished. Today’s crowd had multiplied those odds against them.
A uniformed nurse met them at the door of the main ward, determination registering in her dark eyes. “I am Patience. We were afraid you were not coming.”
“We came as soon as we could. I’m Dr. Paige Ryan.”
By the time Paige entered the long, rectangular ward behind the nurse, several men had transferred the medical supplies to the floor by one of the pale-green cinder block walls. The nurse jutted her chin toward the other side of the room where two rows of metal beds lined the walls, each one holding a patient. “Most of our staff has left and our supplies are almost gone, including our generator that was stolen by the rebels. But I stay . . . hoping this will all be over soon.”
Paige caught the heavy note of desperation in the woman’s voice and stopped at the end of one of the rows. “They stole your generator?”
Obviously the hospital’s six-foot-high perimeter wall strung with razor wire had done little to deter the rebels’ rampage.
“And left three of my patients to die.”
Paige’s jaw tightened. Constant power outages made generators essential for surgeries and other critical life-saving operations. Without one, the death rate would automatically climb.
“I’m sorry. We had no idea things had gotten this bad.” Paige stopped at the end of one of the beds where an old woman lay sleeping beneath a tattered sheet. “The local media has reported outbreaks of fighting in the region, but always with assurances that the president’s army is in control of the situation.”
Patience shook her head. “I have yet to see one of President Tau’s soldiers come to our aid. The government only says what they want the world to hear. And they do not care if our women are raped and our children murdered in their beds as long as their pockets and bellies are full.”
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