I gave a prompt to my lovely friend and Indie Ink wife, Marian. Go check it out!
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I woke up with the worst pain on the right side of my head. As I tried to sit up, I hit my head. Ouch! Wait! Am I in a car? Yes, I think I’m in a car. I must be in the trunk. Why am I in the trunk?
Ouch! The car was going really fast. There were lots of bumps in the road. Ouch! I kept hitting my head. Am I blindfolded? I tried to move my arms. They were tied behind my back.
I remembered I had been in a village. I then remembered that I was an aide worker in Pakistan. Oh right! The mayor of the village we were working in had invited my colleague and me in to his home for a meal. We were delivering food and other supplies in the Punjab region of Pakistan, which had been devastated by the recent monsoon floods that left one-fifth of Pakistan under water and 2,000 people dead.
I remembered that a prayer to Allah had been said in Punjabi to bless the meal. And then I remembered hearing gunfire. After that, everything was a blur. Remembering the gunfire, I decided to remain quiet instead of calling for help. With my hands tied behind my back, there wasn’t much I could do to get out of the situation. I immediately thought about the training I had on what to do if I was ever kidnapped. I had been taught meditation techniques to calm my mind and gain control of my fears. I started to slow my breathing down. I counted 1, 2, 3, 4 as I breathed in and then 1, 2, 3, 4 as I breathed out. I breathed in, in, in, in and out, out, out, out over and over until the car stopped.
I heard the trunk open, and a man said, “Get out.” He helped pull me out of the car and then untied my hands. I wasn’t blindfolded after all. The scarf I had used to cover my head had fallen off and had slipped around my eyes. Adjusting my head scarf, I realized I had a huge gash on the right side of my forehead. The sun was going down, but the light still hurt my eyes.
“Please don’t hurt me,” I begged. “I was just there to help.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a Pakistan flag in front of a building. Are we at the border?
He said, “Come.” I followed him in to the building. Men with handlebar mustaches were dressed in ornate green military uniforms and were wearing shiny, black boots. They had vertical, green fans coming out of their turbans. Pakistan Rangers was written in Urdu, Punjabi and English on a sign in the office. The Rangers stared at me and watched every move I made. The man spoke in Punjabi to the government official behind the desk.
“Madam, do you know why you’re here?” the government official then asked me.
“Well, I came to Pakistan to distribute food and supplies to flood victims. I work for an NGO. My colleague and I were having lunch with the mayor of a village in the Punjab, and then there were gunshots. That’s the last thing I remember.”
“Well, this man saved your life. You see, he said that some men with guns came to the village to steal the flood supplies you were delivering. He pushed you out of sight as they stormed inside the mayor’s home, and after they left, he knew he had to bring you to safety. It was too dangerous to travel to Islamabad to the US Embassy, so he brought you here. He said he is sorry he hurt you when he pushed you out of the way. He was worried that if they saw you, you would be shot. He only tied you up because he was worried you would try to escape. He wanted you to be safe.”
Realizing why I had a pounding headache and a gash on my forehead, tears filled my eyes. I was relieved but also worried. “Where’s my colleague?”
The government official asked the man in Punjabi. The man looked at me, and I saw in his eyes that something was wrong. “I’m sorry, madam. He had to leave him behind. He was shot and didn't make it.” I desperately tried to fight the tears, but the news weakened me and I started to cry.
I didn’t have my passport or any money, but I was wearing my NGO identification badge. The official made a phone call and then filled out some paperwork and handed it to me. The US Embassy is sending someone from Amritsar to pick you up on the Indian side of the border. You will wait there until someone arrives.
He walked me outside toward the border gate. "Is this Wagah Border?" I asked. He nodded. I noticed men on one side of the road and women on the other side. The women were dressed in burqas. They were all gathered for the evening border ceremony. The ceremony took place each day at sunset and had been a tradition for Pakistan and India since 1959.
I thought back to when I had watched the ceremony from the Indian side the year before when I was working in India. As I walked toward the stands, the Indian Border Security Forces stood at attention along the road. They had handlebar mustaches and were dressed in khaki, ornate uniforms with vertical, red fans coming out of their turbans. Because I am white, they ushered me to the front row of the VIP section. I was told it was safer for me. Thousands were gathered in the stands. It felt like an American football game where the fans are divided and dressed in their team’s colors. When the ceremony started, the Pakistan Rangers and Indian Border Security Forces lifted their boots, stuck out their chests, and stomped their feet as they goose-stepped their way toward each other in the middle. The crowds on each side cheered louder and louder with each stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. As they marched past each other, they forcefully shook hands. Slap. Slap. Slap. And then the flags for each country were lowered, folded and taken away, and the border gate was slammed shut for the night.
I was now on the Pakistan side. While it was quieter, there was still just as much pride. As we got closer to the border gate, the shouting started. “Hindustan!” the Indians cheered. I heard the bhangra music and saw the dancing. I then heard some men on the Pakistan side respond with, “Mooch nahi to kuch nahi."
“What does that mean?” I asked the government official.
“Without a mustache, you are not a man,” he translated to English. At that moment, I turned back toward the office and saw the man who had saved my life looking out the window. I waved and said, “Thank you.” I knew his was a mustache I would never forget.
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You wake up blindfolded and tied up in a moving vehicle. What happens next?