Alright, three notes to preface this post.
1) I am posting twice in one day because I have a lot of writing to catch up on and excellent stories to tell! Be glad, not annoyed!
2) If you haven’t watched Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, go do it now. This is the other post where a knowledge of it will be relevant, for at least one punchline anyway. You may have noticed I have an affinity for Indiana Jones. The Georgians have noticed as well, even calling me “our Indiana Jones“!
3) Sudanese Militias may be hunting the protagonist of this post so I will try to protect his identity as much as possible. I will call him The English gentleman.
4) Surprise Fourth Note!! This post is also to appease those to whom I will not be giving the password to the previous post.
Two–scratch that, Three weekends ago, when I was first in Kakheti, I met many people from the fourth group of TLG volunteers. We had all been invited to a vineyard in the East Georgian province of Kakheti by the Minister of Education. Please feel free to read all about it here!
Amongst the fourth group was this one older British gentleman who seemed a bit out of place. I sat on a wall and ate some watermelon with him, but didn’t really get a sense for what kind of person he was, for better or for worse. He was very patronly and reminded me a bit of Group Two’s Own Bea. He seemed worldly but in an odd sort of way.
He dropped clues about his life throughout the day: we learned he’d been a philosophy professor in China and a teacher in the UK. He has a Chinese fiancee half his age (Well done, sir!) and he spent some time in Africa teaching English before coming here. We heard the Minister’s toast and he stood up to counter-toast–something that isn’t really done in Georgia.
All in all, he seemed a bit odd, but in an endearing way. And then he got awesome.
We were finishing off wine and mtsvadi (Think super-awesome Shish Kebabs) amidst The English gentleman’s jokes about how he wishes he were drinking Whiskey when he drops a bomb on us: “Well, when I was in Africa I got shot twice. Right in the leg!”
In one day he got shot in the leg twice, in Sudan. We had to know how. He pulled out his laptop and showed us a picture of his Sudanese English class. They were grinning wildly–so excited and happy looking. He had captioned the photo: “If they can smile, so can we.”
He told us that he showed his Georgian students this photo and explained it to them. “I know you might not have books or laptops in your classrooms. You might not have lightbulbs or heat. But these children in Sudan have nothing. They have no family, they have no parents. They sometimes don’t have food or water, and yet they are smiling. You have no reason to complain, so I don’t want to hear any complaints.”
This alone made for an inspiring story, but we still hadn’t heard how he got shot. So we asked him again and he showed us another picture of him sitting in the back of a pick-up truck, smiling, but with jet-black hair and beard.
“When was this? You look so young!” “Well, you see, that was three years ago.” “Whaa?” “The Sudanese militias wanted to kill me. They were hunting for a white man with white hair so I–” he burst into a chuckle at this point, “–I took some shoe polish and dyed my hair!”
Dying your hair with shoe polish is funny, I’ll admit that. But Sudanese miltias wanted to kill him!? He continued: “I was rescuing children from slave camps and they wanted to kill me for it.”
(For effect I am no longer going to put my own commentary into his story. I will save such comments for the end. Beginning now, the story is all him.)
What we would do is we would watch the militamen run into a school and kidnap the children. They were stealing young children for evil purposes. They wanted to turn the boys into child soldiers and the girls into sex slaves and I just could not let that happen.
I had three of my students with me: two boys and one girl. We would hide and silently, silently follow as the soldiers brought the boys and girls to their encampment.
When night fell our driver–we had an 85 year-old man for a driver; he was Muslim–would park our truck about 200 yards from the camp. If we were that far away, the soldiers wouldn’t hear us. Then my students would sneak up to the camp and whistle for the other children to come out. We would load them into the truck and the driver would start the engine.
That always drew the attention of the guards. They would start yelling and chasing after us as the truck got up to speed. My job was to hold a rifle and run behind the truck, shooting at the militia.
We made five runs like this, rescuing probably 120 kids in six months. I felt pretty good about it.
(Direct narration ends here–though I admit to paraphrasing and choosing a lot of my own words)
We still didn’t know how he got shot, exactly. After hearing his ridiculously epic story we still had so many questions. The first came from Liis, “What about the guards? Surely there were guards who would notice if you came to steal the children back. What did you do about them?”
“I shot them.” Liis’s jaw dropped, “But I don’t believe in killing. I only shot them in the legs. I’m a very good shot–I’m still a captain in the British army!”
“How did you get shot?” “Well, let’s go back to this picture I showed you earlier. You can’t see it in the photo but I have two fresh gunshot wounds in this one and the back of the pickup truck is filled with my blood.”
Behind a red pickup truck, standing against the wall is the 85 year-old Muslim driver- dark, sunworn skin and turban included. In the distant background several bodies are crouched against a wall, huddled together. The English gentleman is smiling through his blackened hair and apparent pain.
“I was done rekidnapping children when our driver told me that his grandson had been taken. After everything he had done for us, I knew that I had to go back on one last mission.” This story is seriously more intense than any action movie. “We made it into the camp and rescued all the kids, but this time when we were running away I got hit twice. Once in the foot and once just below the knee. I didn’t really notice at first, not until my pants started getting soaked through.
“I didn’t want to go to a hospital though, for several reasons. First, many of the doctors there are in cahoots with the militia and, since I was a wanted man, they would turn me over and I would have been killed. Second, we’re talking about Sudan here. Hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa are breeding grounds for HIV.
“Instead I pulled out my knife and dug the bullet out of my foot with it. I had a flight the next day so I just bandaged it up really tight and when I got to England I got off and went straight to the hospital. Essentially I said, ‘Excuse me, I’ve just come from the Sudan and I’ve been shot.’ and they patched me up pretty good!”
Last bit of the story that he shared with us was that while teaching in England he had taken a blood oath with several of his students. He promised them that they would pass their exams and get into a top-notch university if they agreed to work for it. They all pricked their fingers and mashed them together, swirling their blood within each other’s veins. The oath was that if the students succeeded, they would have to take a gap year to change the world and make it a better place. The English gentleman agreed to participate as well. He took his gap year in Sudan.