Yes, it was stupid. It was night, I was alone and it was Africa. But you have to understand, walking around Kololo, Kampala’s wealthiest neighborhood, you forget where you are. It’s where the embassies are located and where the whites live, in large houses with pampered gardens. I had a ten minute walk on good roads with fancy parked cars. Yes, I forgot I was in Africa.
The guards at the restaurant had suggested I take a boda, but considering it was going to rain and it was such a short walk, I decided to just go instead of waiting for one to come. People here are so lazy. As I walked, the drizzle became a quicker, thicker rainfall. I thought about my backpack getting wet and the crackers in my bag of groceries. If someone comes by, I decided, I’ll take a ride.
But strangely, in the city where I am constantly shooing off drivers and turning down ride offers – no one came. I considered calling my friend, but figured there wasn’t much she could do. I would find my way to her place, drenched but independent. I remember picturing myself arriving at her doorstep soaked and proud of my sense of direction, because I hadn’t been there many times. My self-assuredness was inherent and thoroughly detached from reality. After years of confidence-boosting and leadership-building activities (such as boxing, which I’d done just before eating dinner, alone) I guess I thought I was invincible.
I hadn’t heard footsteps. I hadn’t seen a shadow. I was in my own world, lost in thought, when my boda helmet was yanked out of my hand and bashed on my head. Someone threw me on the cement. His hands grabbed things from my hands.
A moment later I was on my feet, watching his feet run. And then I shrieked. It was purely instinct; I never shriek. And I didn’t even say anything, it was a primitive, almost internal voice of confusion and horror ripping through my throat.
The street was silent. I shrieked again. No one came.
Do you see me down there? On the quiet black street. Surrounded by large homes and gates, I am small. I am wet. And I am so, so alone.
I stumbled over to the nearest gate. Every one of these homes has a guard, I knew. I banged. Nothing. “Help!” I yelled and banged more. No one.
I ran, head spinning, until I reached an open gate and a large, lit up building. I stormed into what looked like the reception of a fancy hotel. “I need help!” I yelled as the blood in my body seemed to flow around in unexpected directions. Three Ugandan workmen looked at me, dumbfounded. One white woman dressed in a suit and skirt looked at me, concerned. “I need to go to the hospital,” I said, panicked. I assumed she was the manager, not a guest. She told me to calm down, which only agitated me more. “What do you mean?! I’m not okay, I have to get taken care of!”
“You’re going to be okay, just calm down.”
“How do you know?! Take me to the hospital!” She knows nothing. They know nothing. I’m the only one who seems to know anything and I’ve just been attacked and can hardly stand. These moments are crucial, I thought.
They walked me over to the bathroom and I realized that they were all looking at me strangely. “What?” I asked. “Am I bleeding?”
“Well,” said the woman. “You have a… hole in your head.”
I felt the spot she was pointing to, and the top third of my finger slid down into a crevice. I looked at my finger. It was bright red. The blood in my head rushed around even more quickly. I have to sit. Here’s a chair. Am I going to die? Is my brain going to be messed up? Is it messed up already? I tried to diagnose myself. I assessed that aside from losing some blood and feeling faint, I was relatively with it. But I couldn’t be sure.
“Look,” I said as evenly as I could. “I’ve been attacked and I need to go to the hospital. Can you please get me to the hospital. NOW?”
The woman turned to the workers. “Is someone coming?” They answered that a cab was on its way. I was sick of African time. The woman tried, meanwhile, to understand who the hell I was. “Do you have anyone we could call?”
We got in the cab and picked Vivian up. The way she later decscribed it to me was opening the door with a cheerful “Hello! How are ya,” and then seeing a strange woman instead of me, who said, “Your friend was stabbed. She’s outside in a cab.”
The woman dropped herself off and Vivian and I drove to The Surgery.
The Surgery is, supposedly, the best medical clinic in Kampala. It’s where all the mzungus go. But I wanted the best care I could get and found it hard to believe Kampala was the place I’d get it.
I lay wet and shivering while the doctor asked me questions and hooked me up to different machines. He informed me that the sharp object had penetrated my skin and reached the bone, but didn’t do it damage. He sewed four stitches. When my pulse had gone down to a nearly-human rate, I remembered my blog, and thought if I’d get through this alive and well, it would make a terrific post.
No, I don’t know why I’m smiling either…
How did I still have my camera, you may wonder. Well the funny thing about this wole incident is that in his frenzy, all the asshole took from me was my old, deteriorating phone and a bag of groceries. (The bag of groceries had some yogurts I was very excited to eat, but you know. Even when I know how to put things into perspective every once in a while – even when it comes to dairy products).
So he left me with my ipod, my new camera (the old one had already been stolen) and my money (the little I had left). He didn’t steal my credit card because I no longer had one.
I can’t believe someone stabbed me for yogurt and a crappy old phone. At least I got some sense of vengeance, picturing him coming home to enjoy his loot and seeing yogurt.
I demanded an X-ray. The nurses called the X-ray man. He would drive over, but I had at least half an hour to wait. Vivian filled out my form: Phone number? Stolen. Address? Namulanda. Next to the chapati stand?
X-ray man said the results looked fine but asked me to come and look at them. I didn’t like that. What the hell was it supposed to look like? I nodded, admiring my beautiful skull and walked back to the doctor’s office. I had some information, I was no longer shivering and I was calm. Time to call Mom.
By now it was past midnight; she picked up groggily.
“Hi Mom,” I responded.
“Danya?” she asked, worried.
“Danya?” this time it was my concerned brother.
“Hey Matan, what’s up?”
But before I could reply, my other brother picked up the phone.
“Well hello Brady Bunch,” I chuckled. I finally managed to get out a condensed, censored version of what had happened, all the while dealing with interjections from three worried people. Luckily my Dad wasn’t home that night. My mom gave me a list of things to do:
1. Don’t let Vivian leave you
2. Don’t leave the hospital until you see a neurologist (was that two things or one?)
3. Call the American embassy, see if they have a neurologist or if they can help you (Israel doesn’t have a good relationship with Uganda)
Okay. Okay okay okay okay. I hung up and turned to Vivian “Wow, I really freaked her out.”
Then I heard a distant voice say, “I’m not freaked out, I just want you to make sure…” and off she went again.
I listened again, made sure to hang up properly this time, and turned to the doctor. “I need to see a neurologist,” I informed him. He looked at me with a smile.
“No one will answer you at this time.” I wanted to smack him. I argued and he eventually called two doctors. Neither picked up.
Then I tried getting the number of the embassy. They didn’t have it.
“Do you have a phone book?” No.
“Is there a number I can call for information?” No.
“No? In all of Uganda there is no number to call for information?!” They all looked at me blankly. I hate this country.
The next day I apologized to the doctor for having been so rude, and he confessed, quite frankly, that he’d wanted to slap me. I laughed, not saying he was lucky I hadn’t smacked him first.
So we called sisters and boyfriends in Honduras and in Switzerland. We got my roommate’s number by calling a guy who had hit on both her and on Vivian. After many wrong numbers and unanswered calls we reached the American Embassy hotline. “If this is an American citizen in an emergency, please dial one.” We waited, were transfered and then waited more.
The man asked bureaucratic questions, then useless, curious questions and informed methat no neurologist would see me at this time. But could I file a report tomorrow?
Maybe Uganda is not the only country I hate.
I called the woman in charge of volunteers twice. No answer. A while later, she called back, hysterical: “I heard what has happened… I can’t come! It’s late! I am a woman! I am alone!”
What? “Don’t come, can you just help me-”
“I can’t! I can’t, it’s dangerous!”
“(name of woman here) – I’m not asking you to come! Do you know any doctors in Kampala?!”
“Yes, of course,” she answered, insulted.
“Okay, I want to see a neurologist. Could you call your friends and see if anyone knows a neurologist?”
“But it’s so late! I can’t, they won’t…”
“(Name of woman)!! Just CALL them.”
The Surgery had nothing else to offer. I got the name of another hospital that might have a neurologist, and we went back into Sylvester’s taxi.
Have I introduced you to Sylvester? Numerous heads had floated over me while I got my stitches put in. One man was looking at me very intently. I looked back at him. “Um.. I don’t mean to be rude,” I had said eventually. “But who are you?” It was Sylvester. Sylvester cared about me more than anyone that night, and definitely more than I’d expected of a cab driver.
He got us past potholes, poor signage and locked gates into Case Hospital. Again – bureaucracy, money, time. I was tired. I didn’t see anything resembling a neurologist. And it was near two.
I felt a lump in my throat and could’ve stopped it, but decided it was time for a new strategy. Men try harder when girls cry. “I can’t call a neurologist, you don’t need one, no one will answer….” But my tears must have made an impact and he called one. No answer.
He called Sylvester in. They had a fairly long discussion about the whereabouts of IHK and of International Hospital Kampala, and about the concept of abbrevitations. (It’s the same place?)
At IHK we were led through a dark hallway to what looked like a reception table, and sat down to wait between two sleeping men. A black cat walked by. Who cares, I thought. If there had been internal bleeding, it was probably too late to do anything anyways.
Finally a woman walked by and asked what we were waiting for. The reception was downstairs.
“Have you ever been here before,” asked the woman behind the desk, handing me a form. I was sick of this.
“Listen,” I said. “I was stabbed in the head hours ago, I’ve already seen two doctors and I just want to see a neurologist. Is that possible?”
No. I had to see a general doctor. Luckily the general doctor was nearby and he came to the desk. And luckily he was one of the best doctors I’ve seen in a while. He gave me a quick biology lesson, a list of possible head injuries, and explanations as to why I didn’t have any of them. He also gave me the number of a good neurologist I could call the next morning. And the next morning wasn’t looking too far anymore.
I was exhausted, my head hurt and I was sick of this country. At four in the morning, I was ready to go to sleep.
I’m feeling better. I tore a muscle in my neck, and I’ve been lying around for a few days, quite shook up. But I have wonderful friends who are taking good care of me. And buying me yogurts.
And I know that somebody, somewhere, is working very hard to make sure I stay alive. Thanks again, G-d.