ASSOCIATES (2006, November, v. 13, no. 2) -

Bessie Mayes
SPAWAR Systems Center, San Diego

Scene ... somewhere in Africa ...

... “OH!” The hot wind buffeted the thin cloth fabric in repeated gusts that tore at the pinions holding the tiny tent structure to the desert ground. The shaking caused a moment of panic among the occupants that huddled within its shaky confinement. This storm was one of many that had been weathered by the group.

But of all the sandstorms that had been endured, this one seemed more threatening. Even among the men, there was doubt as to whether the tiny shelter would withstand the ragging assault of the winds.

The air was humid and hot in the tent, but Tabuka could not help thinking about the others outside their tiny shelter. Friends and neighbors he had grown up with were living exposed to every storm or element of nature that blew through the compound. This had gone on for over a year now. Some had died from sickness and disease.

Deciding to dwell on more pleasant matters, Tabuka's thoughts turned to how some of the older adults and the youngest of the compound had recently received help from aide workers who had brought blankets, medicine, and food. For the first time in years, the refugees received medical treatments.

Children and adults were fed three meals a day, and given clothing to wear and books to look at that had happy pictures. Tabuka remembered a day when Yola, his wife, and Melissa, the relief worker, read one of the books to children in line to receive their meal. But after death threats from wandering bands of snipers and after the hacking death of a foreign correspondent by the Lu--one of the warring factions--the aide workers had been asked by the leaders of the tiny government to leave for their own safety.

They boarded their vehicles that had carried in much of the food the compound had eaten in the past weeks and left, with feelings of hopelessness and anger. The aide workers had also brought in two-person tents to live in while working among the droves of refugees in the compound. Some of the workers had opted to give their tents assigned to them to some of the refugee families.

They in turn chose to sleep outside, exposed to the danger poised by both animal and human predators. Tabuka remembered the newly wedded couple with warmth. The four of them had become close. Now, all that was over.

Like most things these days, the pleasure was short-lived. Every one of the relief workers had left the area, driven off by the terror outside and the terror inside that had overcome the tiny nation. The sandstorm was more than some will survive today, Tabuka thought, worried that the sand blasting in more than a few faces would be the last act of humiliation before dying alone and exposed this day.

Huddled with his family and a few friends under the cover of the tent, he wondered if his children would ever see days like they once experienced in happier times. Normally, this was the season for planting the vegetables used to feed the family for the coming months. He would also be fishing the stream so that Yola could sell the fresh catch, along with her variety of colorful woven baskets, at the village market in town. Sadness overcame Tabuka as he reflected on their village.

It no longer existed. The buildings had all purposely been torn down by the militias. The town no longer existed. A blast of wind interrupted his thoughts. With the threat of an attack now imminent, he wondered if any of his dreams he had for his young family would ever come true...

Scene somewhere in America ...

… “I can close the window now honey, the room’s not so hot!” Todd had made a small fire in the fireplace for Melissa, but it had proved to be to much for his comfort. Yet Todd’s thoughts were elsewhere.

Todd and Melissa had returned to the United States from their travels in Africa. It had been their first foray out of the country. The time had not gone quickly, nor had the trip ended as they had planned. Their hope had been to bring some relief to that part of Africa that had been shown practically every night on evening newscasts.

Seeing the poverty, hunger, and desolation caused by drought and the incompetent leaders of that tiny state had deeply troubled them. In fact the anger at not seeing this horrible human tragedy dealt with by other nations playing out on their television at their dinner time, had moved them to act.

The compassion felt by both had moved them to join a group of citizen relief workers formed with the help of their state congressional office hoping to help the struggling refugees. All had gone well, even up to their gathering supplies for the basic daily needs of the refugees from caring neighbors and friends. All were very happy to participate and contribute to the effort, albeit at a distance. But the trip had to be cut short due to the death threats from the warring groups.

Todd thought it best to bring Melissa back with the others, giving that her life--and the life of their soon to be born child--outweighed other endeavors at this time. While struggling over what they both thought to be Melissa's stomach virus, an assessment easily assumed due to the lack of sanitary conditions around the compound, the morning sickness had shown itself to have other profound reasons.

One of the doctors on the trip confirmed the pregnancy while in camp. Todd relished the memory again of the moment they both learned of it. The doctor had told him and Melissa at the campfire that evening. The stars could not have shown any brighter that night. The moment still brought a smile to his face, remembering the joyful emotions running through his soul.

Even now, he smiled with delight. Their future would include a child, a little baby. This makes it a real home, Todd thought. Todd’s thoughts wandered to the family they had given their tent to, how they were fairing. They too had a growing family, and in spite of the disaster that had come, seemed happy just to be together and alive.

“What different lives we have,” Todd said out loud. Todd let the moment of sadness flow over him and then out. He and Melissa had followed their compassion in working to alleviate the heartbreak of others on a continent half way around the earth. Yet he had realized on the long plane trip home that it was he that had been changed inside by it all.

Tabuka and his family were better off for their visit. In fact, the plight of the others in the compound had improved as the result of the effort. A small investment, yet the ramifications would last in the minds and the lives of those they had touched in the compound.

Before Todd could react, Melissa had run into the room and jumped on the couch where he had been daydreaming. She had been making arrangements to spend the next day at the public library down the street. Melissa found that she loved reading to the children at the library story hour, and had become a volunteer aide on a part-time basis. All that would change with the new baby. She burst out in pure laughter, as they both snuggled close, catching the last of the warmth of the embers in the fireplace.

“Todd, don’t you think now is a good time to ask for an executive level management responsibility at the regional office?”

Todd wondered if this would be a good time to tell her about his thoughts on starting his own business. He had done a business case study on the idea before they had left for their trip to Africa. Todd had wanted to tell Melissa while on the trip about his desires, but had not had the opportunity. Until now.

Todd explained to Melissa his desires for the business, and the steps he had taken already to secure the financing needed for the first three years, knowing it normally took that long to make a profit. He expressed his frustration of working for owners who were dishonest in their daily dealings with long and short term customers, and how this had affected his decision the most. Todd had wondered how the other managers could sleep at nights.

Melissa was very quiet, and for a moment Todd wondered if he would ever see his dream come true. He could not blame her for if she nixed the idea with the new baby on the way, and future expenses needed to raise him or her. But Melissa wasn’t thinking at that time about the new baby.

As Todd had been speaking, Melissa was reflecting on a very vivid picture in her mind. Melissa saw a tiny nation that had suffered much destruction at the hands of murderers and rapists. The devastation was playing out on a screen in Melissa’s mind as she surveyed the lives that had been greatly affected by circumstances thrust upon them by unknown enemies.

No schools, no buildings, no one to comprehend the devastation, even the ones affected by it. Yet they had hope for the future. Tabuka’s wife, Yola, had told Melissa this as Melissa held Yola’s son as she changed the diaper on her other son. “My sons will see a happier season,” Yola had said emphatically.

Melissa’s thoughts at that moment were about Africa. Because of Yola, she placed a higher value on the opportunity to be educated, having a job, and a home. She would never again take such things for granted. On the plane ride home, she had pondered more on this, and had realized that her outlook on life had been changed completely by her friend Yola.

Even more so now, Melissa wanted a happy and secure future for their first child, and other children that were sure to come. She turned to look at Todd, who had an uneasy expression of concern on his face. Melissa looked into his face and smiled, comforting him. She tucked her head underneath his arm and snuggled closer.

A slight chill was in the air that now blew through a nearby open window. The season was changing outside. Melissa thought for a moment and then said, “We all have dreams and desires, let’s invest in making ours come true ...”

Bessie Mayes©2006

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