Tuesday, May 31, 2005
This is not a slight against anyone, and there are people whose emails I do anxiously look forward to getting. What makes this email so much more anticipated, is that for the first time in my life I think I actually held a person's life in my hands; and failed. The email I'm desperate to get is the one that will let me know that despite the failure on my part, he's ok.
Details I can not supply on here. That would be bad for everyone involved. Some generalities can be tossed out, and I'll do that now. My conscious could use some venting.
Movies are made in a seemingly endless supply in Hollywood. I can't be the only one who has watched a movie about a foreign country (or even our own) and has walked out with the thought that the repressive or sadistic or sinister action perpetrated against the 'good guy' is something that doesn't happen anymore; maybe it used to, not any more. This encounter shattered that illusion.
The bottom line is that I met someone who was fleeing from a place where he had been subjected to some horrible things for no valid reason. Conditions in his country are bad to begin with, and what happened to him was the last straw so he fled.
I spent a few days in the town where I met him, and we sat together and chatted a few times. Never in my life have I seen such terror in a person's eyes. His paranoia (more than justified) kept him constantly skittish and on edge. The cultural behavioural norms with which he'd grown up were falling away one by one in desperate attempts to stay alive and get to safety. He is the loneliest person I've ever met.
The night before I left town, I went to his hotel to see him. It took a hell of an effort to not cry in front of him (the last thing I wanted to do was to worsen his state of mind). Books talk about people being at the end of their rope, people being on the verge of doing something rash out of desperation, people with no hope left. That was him. I tried to tell him that everything would be ok (though in reality I didn't believe me either), and felt like the naive and sheltered foreigner that I was. We parted ways that night; he went to one part of town and try to get what he needed while I went to the popular foreigner's bar and tried to do my part, to no avail.
I'd promised to meet him the next morning before getting on the bus out of town, and when I got to his room he looked less miserable than I'd seen him yet. An alternative solution to his problem was quite possible, though he needed some 'help' to make it happen. That help could have come from me, but it didn't.
I have my excuses, of course: I'd have to skip my bus (ticket was already paid for); I was tired and feeling sub-par from staying up way too late and drinking a little too much BeerLao the night before so thinking was tough, and making decisions even tougher; I still had a lingering doubts that this might be a scam.
Wishing him luck, I ran and caught the bus.
A friend told me that it was ok, that I'd done way more to help this guy than anyone else. Maybe so. But so what? I still left him stranded. I still very much doubt it was a scam, but that nagging untrusting hesitation was enough to cloud my judgment.
Not a day has gone by that he hasn't crossed my mind. I'll probably never know what happened, but I continue to wait for that email, letting me know that everything is ok.
Shitty things happen to people everyday. I had a chance to help someone truly in need and failed. This is not a plea for sympathy or encouraging words. I just needed to vent a little.