I hadn't thought about the risks to myself when I decided to volunteer my time in Africa. My life had been spiraling out of control for more months then I wanted to think about and all I knew was I needed to get away. I didn't look at the dangers that my decision might offer, I'm not even sure I consciously thought about them. I only knew that there was something missing in my life and I wasn't going to discover what it was if I remained in Chicago.
I should have been shocked by the conditions in Kisangani and Matenda but I wasn't, maybe because I found myself making comparisons to how things were during the war back home. It was impossible for me not to.
It was funny, but I found myself welcoming the exhaustion that came with the work in Africa. After 18 hours or more on my feet I became numb, and in the twisted way that my mind was seeing it, I found comfort in that. I found comfort too in the arms of Gillian, but not so much in the emotional sense as much as the physical.
If not for what happened in Matenda I believe I very likely would still be locked in that loop of self-destruction that led me to Africa, but fate has a way of intervening when you least expect it to.
I don't think any of us thought things at the Matenda clinic would progress to the level that they did, how could we have? When I decided to stay it was my decision, I had patients who couldn't be moved, I was needed. Patrique, I wish he had left when the others had, but his loyalty to what we were doing, maybe even to me was too strong to let him, and he stayed. How could we know it would end the way it did?
The calm of the first few days was deceiving and I'm sure my battle with malaria clouded how I was seeing things, but I refused to recognize the growing threat despite Patrique's warnings. And once I did it was too late, the wheels were in motion and what was coming was more horrific then any of us could imagine.
We fled into the abandoned fields surrounding the clinic to avoid the fighting, carrying those that were too weak to walk. We took almost nothing with us, the bare minimum of medicines and nothing else. By morning most of those who had escaped with us were gone, they understood that their own lives were in danger if they were found with us...why couldn't Patrique, Chance and her mother have gone with them?
I blame myself for everything that happened after that even as I know it was beyond my control. If I hadn't been sick, if I hadn't been trapped in the cycle of abuse that had led me to Africa in the first place.
We couldn't have known the Mai Mai would still be at the Matenda clinic when we returned, but they were, and that mistake would cost Patrique his life. Not at first of course, but that would be the final outcome. It's hard to remember the details, the malaria was raging in me by then.
When John found me in that stifling shack I was close to death. But, by the time I was able to return to the States the healing had begun, and I couldn't help but see my life far differently then the way I had when I had arrived. Chance and her mother... Patrique...the sacrifices each had made were not made in vain. In the midst of all that death I somehow found what I'd thought I no longer had in Chicago, I only wish the cost had not been so great.