A terrible accident

I was walking with Illiasou away from the market when I heard the sound &

the thud of a car slamming into a human.

"He's been hit, the little boy!" Illiasou cried. We saw the driver gunning his car forward and a crowd of people forming. We rushed over.

"He's dead, it's finished!" a man screamed. The boy was lying in a puddle of purple-red blood. His body was crumbled, his limbs all the wrong angles. Illaisou flipped open his cell phone to call the fire department. They didn't answer. There are almost no emergency services in Niger and the police often can't come because they have no gas in their vehicles. I pulled out my phone and called an American nurse practitioner.

"A boy has been hit by a car," I tried to sound calm. "What should I do?"

"Move him as gently as you can," Peter answered. "Try not to disturb his neck. Take him to the national hospital."

The national hospital scares me. Underfunded and understaffed, it's a place that people go to die.

Two men carried the mangled and bleeding, but now conscious, little boy to the driver who had hit him &

who had pulled over to the side of the road.

"Jennifer, can we go with them, please?" Illiasou said. We squeezed into the small front seat.

"Who are you?" two gendarmes asked aggressively through the window as they examined the driver's license and identity card.

"We're accompanying him to the hospital," I said firmly.

That seemed to appease them. They held the driver's papers and waved to us to go.

The driver was an older man, a plant biologist who did his Ph.D. in Illinois. He panicked when he realized he had hit the boy, he explained as we drove, and he accelerated without thinking. He wasn't trying to flee the scene. He was just upset.

So upset, in fact, that he couldn't drive safely. I got behind the wheel. Knowing the limited resources and competencies at the hospital, we went first to a private clinic. A paramedic ambled out nonchalantly, as if he had all the time in the world. Another looked at the boy lying in the back seat moaning and bleeding and fetched a doctor. The doctor told us we had to take him to the hospital.

"His leg's fractured. And his arm. We have no surgeons here. There's nothing we can do."

The medics at the hospital were even more apathetic than those at the clinic. Although there were more than a dozen workers milling around, nobody wanted to help get the boy out of the back seat of the car. A fireman got in the car and grabbed him under the arms. A man in a white coat &

who must have been a nurse &

held him by his broken legs and started to yank.

Abbass screamed in agony. I slid my hands under his torso to help him onto the gurney. They wheeled him inside. It was only after I looked at my hands that I realized why the nurse had grabbed him by his broken legs &

he had pooped in his pants when he got hit by a car and the nurse (who had no gloves) did not want to get dirty.

The emergency room, if you can even call it that, was filthy. There were nurses everywhere doing nothing. No one would even clean Abbass' wounds. "It's like that here," a doctor said. "You need gloves to wash him and we don't have any." They didn't operate on his arm until — a.m.

When Illiasou and I came to visit the next day, Abbass was crying silently from the pain, lying in a puddle of pee, the open wound on his thigh turning green. His head was still filthy and bloody. Even though we bought gloves, only one foot had been washed.

It hit me like a sob as we were leaving, how incredibly fortunate I am to be American.

"Illiasou," I said. "Promise me you won't have an accident in this country. No one should have to suffer that much."

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