Last month I was riding my bike home from Ndago, the district capital. Without warning, my bike jack-knifed, sending the handlebar into my rib cage and ejecting me from the bike. My first two points of contact were my right palm and the left side of my face. I didn't lose consciousness, but when I reoriented I was lying on my back, my backpack ripped open, writhing on the ground. The knees of my jeans were ripped open and blood was already congealing on my skin-less palm. In other words, I was broken and helpless.
Within seconds, a Rwandan man was at my side. In my delirium, I could only stare at him first. I could not process what was happening. He was talking to me quietly, asking me something. Repeating it over and over. He was then yelling. Yelling at someone else. Yelling at others who were running towards us. No words were ever exchanged. I have no idea what he was asking me. No idea what he was shouting to the others. Remembering back, I know now he was speaking Kinyarwanda. I can remember bits and phrases of what he said, but nothing that makes a cohesive thought. I also know the man spoke no English. He was a Rwandan farmer. Covered in dirt, missing most of his teeth, and had abandoned the plantains he had been carrying to come to me. In a normal state, I would have been able to communicate with him in Kinyarwanda. But it this state, I was going nowhere on my own. I was saying nothing. I was doing nothing. This man had no obligation to me. He owed me nothing, in my eyes or in his.
He laid his hands on me. When he touched my left rib cage, the place where the handlebar caught me before I went over it, I almost screamed. I was concerned, scared, frightened, pissed off, and really scared. The man ran his hands over me. In my mind I was convinced he was relieving me of all my possessions. All of the things he would never be able to afford. By now more Rwandans were around. Kneeling around me. Whispering and yelling. It was like I was removed, out of my body, watching all of this happening. Around me. To me.
What the man did, what he was doing, was saving me. We had almost nothing in common. We couldn't communicate, we couldn't understand each other. He had nothing on me and I had nothing on him. He was in total power. And he saved me. He picked me up, literally. He packed my things back up, every last one of them, and put them in my torn backpack. He brought me over to a motorcycle taxi, one that I hadn't noticed until I touched it. The man helped me on the back. I reached behind me to grab the handle bar with my right hand and picked my feet off the ground. I immediately slipped off the seat and almost fell to the ground. I painfully turned to see why I hadn't stayed on. The handle bar was smeared in blood. A lot of blood. My blood. I hate blood.
I was unable to close my right fist. I reached back and held on with my uninjured left hand. The tension of the muscles in my wrist and had caused the open skin on my forearm to bleed profusely. The moto driver and the man had a rapid fire conversation that I wouldn't have been able to understand if I had been on my game anyway. As we took off (to where I did not know yet), I could only think one thought: my bike. Where is my bike?
Halfway back to my village (which is where we were going, I found out when we got there), my head rolling with the difficulty of holding it up, I glanced at my right arm. Blood was pouring down my arm, dripping onto my jeans. My eyes caught my green shirt, where the color had turned red. With blood (did I mention I don't like blood?). I gingerly touched my face and my fingers came away red. I smeared the blood on my shirt and touched my ear. They came away red. I could literally watch the blood saturate my shirt.
The moto driver dropped me off at my house, where my site-mate Volunteer came down to help clean off the blood. The moto driver returned with my mangled bike. He stood in my living room for a few minutes, fascinated by the scene of the broken white man. It wasn't until he noticed the trail of blood droppings leading from my door to where I sat at the table. Bloodied rags and bandages littered the table. He promptly left. He did not ask to be paid for his double run.
I would later have three stitches put in my chin to close up the inch-long gash and another put in my ear. I was missing most of the skin from my right palm, my left forearm, my left ear, and the left side of my face. The Peace Corps doctors said I was lucky my ear was still attached and that the handlebar hadn't hit 3 inches higher, where it would have broken a rib or two. It took me 9 days in Kigali to regrow most of the skin and be able to walk without feeling like I had been beaten with a 2x4.
The point of this story isn't that I was hurt, or how cool I am now because I went through that. The extent of my injuries weren't that bad and at no point did I fear for my life. The point of this story is the man.
That man had nothing to gain from helping me. He had no real reason to coming running to me. He could have kept walking, he could have ignored my whimpers. He could have stared and said "Dore, Muzungu" (Look, a foreigner).
But he didn't.
He stopped. He helped. Even though we didn't speak the same language. Even though we didn't know each other. Even though he had nothing to gain. He did everything he could to help me.
I have tried to find this man. I've walked to the village (my bike is still mangled and, frankly, so is my desire to ride it). I point to my scar on my chin and ask for 'the man who saved me before.' The Rwandans do not understand me. They look at me just as confused as I look at them when they try to speak English. Finally, a young boy understands. He spitfires Kinyarwanda to the crowd. They all 'ahhh' in understanding. Finally, I will meet the man who was my model of human selflessness. The boy says they do not know who he was. They know he was a farmer who had come into that village to sell his plantains. They have not seen him in the weeks since.
Despite not being able to find the man, I am at peace. He could have found me. He could have walked to my door and claimed credit for his actions. But the fact that he did not only reinforces why this man is a great man. He did what he did not only without benefit to himself, but he did not claim the credit and admiration that he, by right, deserves. I may never know the great man's name. But I know him. I know him at such a level that I cannot describe it. I have seen into his heart and soul, and those I do understand.
-Don't Forget To Be Awesome
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