There were four dead.

The branches in the middle of the road told us there was an accident ahead. The number of branches and the distance they spanned before we could actually see the accident told us it was bad. As we inched forward, we noticed a wall of cars in the other lane parked and deserted. And to our right, a throng of people around what could only be the crash site.

And there it was, a car crumpled, the front end seemingly split in two as it collided with the metal barrier separating road from burned out banana field. I found myself staring until I caught sight of the woman in the front seat, slumped and with no one attending her. I knew her repose was one of death.

We drove on. In the pseudo safety of the NGO vehicle we’d snagged a ride in.

The thing is, navigating the ex-pat world is complex. It affords certain opportunities denied most people from the country you are a guest in. things like shared American-ness that makes a perfect stranger agree to pick you up at 7am and carry you at least as far as he is going. It makes it possible to have a driver that isn’t sleepy, or drinking, or distracted by the 8 passengers he is carrying in a dilapidated five-seater, while navigating pot holes the size of Buicks and other drivers with similar distractions.

Being American meant I wasn’t in that taxi today.

It also meant that instead of just being dropped off at CARI (Central Agricultural Research Institute) a few miles from home, we were instead invited to observe the World Food Day celebration. To watch a program of speakers, including Vice President Boakai, just meters away.
It was while waiting for the Vice President that we learned that five were dead. En route to the event, he stopped to offer condolences.

But after condolences there were speeches. And booths filled with cocoa plants, praying mantis, cassava demonstrations, and a horticulturist delights. And there too, I was assaulted by the complexity of being an American ex-pat. The Bangladeshi UNMIL soldiers were intent on taking my photo. Not simply, one. Not just of me. But each one standing beside me, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups- never touching, always a respectful distance away. Surprised, I initially acquiesced. But later, a lone and persistent soldier asked and then followed me about even after I told him no. and my otherness doesn’t save me from that – it is the reason for it.

They brought the bodies, and the lone survivor, to the hospital. I gazed at the people milling about, some holding their heads, others looking down or at the car that carried the bodies away from the crash site. Nurses and doctors fought to save the remaining woman – she was coherent and able to give her sister’s name and phone number, cognizant enough to request her husband, to receive blood…to die on the operating table because the damage was too severe. And I spoke to my friend, the nurse whose arms that woman died in, and she just kept saying, “I gave her blood”.

Six died in that taxi on the side of the road on the way from Monrovia. And my American-ness, while not a shield against any horror, is an extra protection, pair of hands, final resort, ride in an SUV with new tires and a driver who isn’t racing a clock or scrambling for the extra money that “one more trip” might provide.

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