“First of all, before I go on, know that I am alive, not missing any appendages or suffering from any broken bones..”
These were the first words I said to my mom on the phone when I called her yesterday from the hospital. For those of you who haven’t read previous posts regarding me living in Benin, motorcycles are the main mode of public transportation here in Cotonou. We call them ‘zemijan’ or moto taxi, which literally translates to “take me quick and safe” in the local language of Fon. I have also mentioned that I have personally witnessed several nasty accidents in my time in Cotonou. Yesterday, I was unfortunately involved in one myself.
My usual driver, Pete, who I have also blogged about, was in Nigeria for the week, so I flagged a zemijan down to get to work in the morning. I was already running late, and the zem was careful to navigate around potholes, and other vehicles. We were less that 2 km from the house when a man, whose parents apparently never taught him to look both ways before crossing the street, stepped out in front of the moto. I would say there was about 3 seconds between when I realized we would crash and I was flying through the air. I was thrown from the bike and landed in the opposite lane of traffic.
I remember my helmet hitting the ground, face down and feeling the ground slide beneath me. It was the first time I had ever encountered road rash and I have to say, one the strangest feelings I have ever had the earth slide underneath you and knowing there is nothing you can do but wait for your body to stop.
I sat up and started screaming, within a few seconds I felt my body being lifted from my shoulders and knees. By the time I took my helmet off I was surrounded by 15 locals asking me things in French I could not answer nor understand. My mind flashed back to my first day of work, when I met with the head of security for the U.S. Embassy. He told me if I was ever in trouble to call him, day or night.
I grabbed the phone and called his cell (thank goodness I had thought to store it in my address book). Within 5 minutes, he arrived with other Embassy staff and rushed me to the medical clinic at the Embassy. I could tell that other that the scrapes and bruises on the left side of my body, something was wrong with my hip. They brought the Embassy doctor to the car and he said he was afraid it was a fracture, so he jumped in and off to the hospital we went for x-rays.
African hospitals are probably the last place I would want to be on earth, maybe other than stuck inside a New York City sewer… actually, I may prefer the sewer. But the doctors were respectful and the x-ray technicians patient with my lack of French skills. It was particularly hard for me to be there because of the special treatment I received. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to receive it, but basically, at the first sight of me, I was ushered to the front of every line, given the most attention, while locals who were there for hours, still sat and laid waiting in the hall.
The same was true at the scene of the accident. Locals crowded around me offering assistance (the injured moto driver included), while the man who was hit by the motorcycle sat across the street with not a single person checking to see if he was ok. I asked the people in broken French several times to please check on him, and they kept insisting that he was fine and asking if they could take me to the hospital..
I was relieved to finally see the x-rays, no broken bones! I was checked out, staff from the Embassy brought me by the pharmacy to pick up my (much, much appreciated) pain meds, and took me home.
Today I am on crutches, but I made it to work for our quarterly staff meeting/review of health programs/ staff birthday celebration.. (There was free cake, who is gonna stay home when there is free cake at work?..Come on!)
After work today, my friend Andrea (who rocks and you will hear more of in the future) came home with me and helped me re-bandage my wounds. I also gave her some rice-pudding I bought at the store. (Known fact: Peace Corps Volunteers get INCREDIBLY excited about modern food when they see it, especially since most of them live in the middle of nowhere…evidence below.)
There are not words to express the gratidude I have for the American community here. Both the Embassy staff and USAID (not to mention my other friends) have been absolutely amazing during this traumatic time, I seriously don’t know what I would have done without them. Thank you to everyone who supported me.
Also, this is my public service announcement of the year: Anyone on a motocycle or bike.. WEAR YOUR HELMET! I would be a goner right now if I hadn’t!