the length of the ward, people’s eyes followed us with curiosity and resentment, with envy of our good health, jealousy of my white skin, my
privilege, my wealth.
Where was Jamilla?
Boris gestured with his head.
At the far end of the ward, Jamilla lay motionless in a bed shoved
lengthwise against the wall. A louvered window stood open at her head.
She was diminished, shrunken, child-sized. Her skin was dry and gray.
The exhausting work of dying dragged at her cheeks. She hardly seemed
to breathe, only sipped at air intermittently. Eventually she became
aware of our presence and her eyelids fluttered open a fraction of an
inch: it took all the strength she possessed.
I leaned over her bed to greet her, moving slowly, softly, afraid of
startling her. I bent over Jamilla, but the head I saw on the pillow was
that of my own child. I saw my fifteen-year-old daughter lying there, her
sun-bleached blond hair spread around her like a halo. Her blue eyes
shrouded. Her life receding. I saw her chapped lips and her skin tinged
cyanic. Saw her body caved in, her breath faint as a dying bird’s. Saw her
as clearly as I see these words before me now.
My stomach heaved. Lurched.
Gagging, I raced out the nearest door and stumbled across the veranda, staggered to a neem tree, and leaned against it for support. Gripping the rough bark, I stood bent over, gasping for breath, fighting the
urge to vomit.
Boris was right behind. “You see!” He crowed it out. He was vindicated. Everything he’d told me was proven true. “She cannot be saved.”
I hated him then. I was filled with loathing, for him, for his family,
his village, his town. For his culture—which until now I had delighted
in. I hated the ignorance, the contempt for women, the contempt for life.
I wanted to blow it up. All of it. I wanted a massive TNT plunger, something I could shove down, right there, right then, and explode it all away,
blast it into oblivion. Not just this hospital, or this town, or this country,
but the fatalism and the poverty and the corruption that allowed it to
endure. To hell with the suffering Third World. And to hell with the
trillion-dollar “feel-good” foreign aid industry it supported. I hated it
all, hated the patronizing Western espousal of respect for ancient tradition and so-very-special indigenous cultures. Cultures that allowed this.
Hated the television ads at home, the wide-eyed children dying of some