What was your scariest moment in Peace Corps?

Even though I have finished my time in PC, I am going to try to finish writing about all of the blog seeds that Dad sent me.

This is something I have avoided writing about for a while, and I warn readers that the story is a bit graphic at times. I’d also like to add the disclaimer that every country has its problems, and the things I will mention here are not a complete picture of Azerbaijan.

My scariest moment in Peace Corps came after a relaxing and enjoyable weekend in the village. A group of us had gathered to celebrate the birthdays of two volunteers and spent the weekend cooking, making music, playing games, and singing around the bonfire in the village home of one of the volunteers. This particular volunteer is quite possibly the most isolated of our entire group, as she has to walk upwards of an hour to reach the road out of her village and then hitchhike to get in to the city/region center. No buses or taxis here. This level of isolation was a cause of great respite for those of us visiting, and we were all disappointed to leave. When it came time for all of us to return to our own sites, we decided to walk out of the village together and see what marshrutkas we could catch. The fall weather was pleasant and we looked forward to the leisurely walk, stopping along the way to pick pomegranates from renegade braches and slowly eat their seeds as we went. As we came near the halfway point of our walk, one of the men from the village began to follow us. It appeared that this man had down syndrome, was incredibly strong, and quite possibly drunk. He began to talk to the one male in our group in Russian and ask about the women. We wondered if he thought that we, as foreigners, were ‘ladies of the night’ and wanted to inquire about our cost. We were careful to keep a watchful eye on him because of his brute strength and drunkenness and tried to hurry our walk out of the village and get to the road as quickly as we could. As we continued, a car came up on the horizon, presumably someone returning home to the village after a morning in town. As the car approached, the man seemed to be angry about something. He froze in the road and slammed his hand down on the hood of the car to stop it from driving by.

At this point, everything seemed to go in slow motion for a minute. I turned to see what had happened and saw him looking at his arm in shock, the blood spurting from major veins and his hand hanging limp along his arm, broken at the wrist. His hand had nearly been severed, and as he stared in disbelief at blood and bone, I’m not sure the pain even registered until his mind could comprehend what had just happened. There is a kind of macabre humor in a traumatic experience, and my first thought was, “how strange. That looks exactly like a tacky Halloween decoration from Target.” I’m sure I only stood there frozen for a second or two, but it felt like an hour as a strange kind of laughter bubbled up from deep inside of me at the absurdity of life. Before this laughter had a chance to surface, however, time no longer stood still as the man collapsed to the ground and I heard my friend scream behind me. Suddenly, everything sprang into motion. One of the girls was impressively calm under pressure and rushed to this man’s aid. We happened to have an extra t-shirt along and tossed it to her as she made a makeshift bandage and tourniquet on the fly, meanwhile calling our security officer and trying to find someone to call a doctor. After a few minutes, the car turned around and came back to the scene of the injury. A woman stepped out, told the man to get up, and tried to lift him by his arms into the car. We argued, saying they needed to call a doctor, that he had lost a lot of blood, and that they shouldn’t move him until help arrived. But rather than agree with us or listen to what we had to say, she laughed. She laughed at us for caring, laughed at us for being scared for this man, laughed at us for wanting to call a doctor. I understand that everyone reacts to a traumatic experience differently, and I imagine it must have been just as devastating for her, if not more, due to the fact that she was in the car when the accident occurred. Because of this, I can forgive her for the way she reacted to us. What I can never forgive this woman for, however, is the way she reacted to the man who was hurt. As I mentioned before, this man had downs syndrome. As he lay there, losing blood and whispering for his mother, this woman laughed at us and wondered why we were so concerned, saying, “nevermind, he’s sick,” and pointing to her head. Another volunteer asked, “Is he not a person?” She flippantly responded, “Oh, yes, he is…but he’ssick. He’s sick.” And again, she dramatically pointed to her head for emphasis.

I was completely appalled. All I could think was, “I am going to watch a man die in front of me today.” And amidst the fear of this happening, I felt a rage and hatred toward this woman. How could she not even think of this man as human? To this day, I have to tell myself that maybe she didn’t understand the gravity of the situation. Maybe she didn’t see the amount of blood lost or the bone protruding from the man’s wrist. Maybe she didn’t hear him asking for his mother. I can only hope this is true, because if she knew all of these things and still acted so shockingly cavalier, my faith in the innate goodness of humanity would undoubtedly be shaken.

I am pleased to say that shortly thereafter, the brother of the village doctor arrived and they moved the man into the back seat of their car to take him to medical help. I am even more pleased to say that he made a full recovery. However, the whole experience left me emotionally bruised in a number of ways. For one, it was terrifying to have mortality so blatantly waved in my face. I am young and don’t wish to think of the fragility of life just yet. For another, it was incredibly disappointing to see the lack of basic first aid knowledge as well as the indifference to those with mental handicaps. I would never claim that there is a complete sensitivity, understanding and acceptance of these people in the United States, as I know they still struggle daily to be accepted as a valuable part of society. However, I feel confident enough to say that at least we have come to a place where these people are no longer seen as anything less than human. It was shocking and heart wrenching to hear this woman speak about this man as if in her opinion he was on the same level as a street dog and served to strengthen my conviction that education is the most important thing needed to make this world a better place.

I thank god every day that I didn’t watch a man die that day. I thank god that I was born into a place privileged with a wealth of knowledge and education, and I pray that one day, even the smallest village might be blessed with the basic education I have so apathetically accepted.


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