[Reader-list] Belated Postings-Testing Times

Ojwando JP ojpatrick at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 23 11:50:18 IST 2006

Belated Posting
  Setting of a series of my belated postings –with sincere deep apologies to all- is the story of an incident that took place sometimes back in Bangalore revolving the case of a student from Kenya. 
  Across the world, there have been well-documented cases of incidents that have challenged the biases or injustices in the society. Seemingly, small in proportion, they have ended up stirring revolutions. This incident highlighted how genuine efforts of well-meaning individuals in the society can be marred by insensitivities of few. 
  The story of the Afro students in south Asia, when it is finally told, will have many such incidences. Still on the experience, this experience my not have had the Rosa Parks significance, but it served to galvanise the international student community to stand together in their hour of need. It is interesting to note that the evolution of a host of international students’ welfare associations in Bangalore is attributed to the Millicent’s episode. 
  Also, some of the students cite the case as their reasons for getting involved in welfare activities, many of them determined that no one should undergo what Millicent went through. Read on: 
  Testing Times 
  The journey, from a small town in the east African nation to the south Asian subcontinent must have been a long and arduous one. But Millicent Achieng’ Aoko showed a rare determination, tenacity and, a longing for something far in the distance that only she could fathom. 
  Although diagnosed with sickle cell anemia from childhood, she exhibited a burning desire, vision, and fortitude that were to lead her to Bangalore, months after her attempts to secure a place in a discipline of her choice in educational establishments in the coastal city of Mangalore in Dakshina Karnataka proved futile. Settling for Bangalore as her second option, a change that would turn out to be the beginning of a long protracted battle that no one could have forecast and ultimately leaving an indelible mark on an otherwise well-documented warmth and hospitality of the local community. 
  Setting off her trials were the frequent hospitalisations that put her spirits to severe test. If her admission to major hospitals in Bangalore- Manipal, St. Martha’s and Kempe Gowda Institute of Medical Sciences- all in a span of two years had been an ordeal, the way she clung to dear life was in itself an endurance of an unusual kind. 
  So, when on the last stretch, her admission to St. John’s Medical College Hospital, Millicent had reached rock bottom, physically and mentally. The strength and will that all along had been her mainstay in this struggle, and the desire to cling on was surely on the ebb. Gone was the zest for life that had endeared her to many others and with it too, the tenacity. Indeed, time had wrought havoc on the diminutive frame. The glow in the eyes of the young beautiful African woman was surely missing. As her eyes darted from one corner of the ward to the other, one could sense that she was losing the grip on life. Her ubiquitous phrase, “I will be fine!” was further betrayed by halting movements whenever she got up to take a stroll around the ward. Gripped by the new frailness, she seemed vulnerable.  
  But who was Millicent? 
  Coming to India, like many other international students, Millicent had her hopes of scripting a career in the field of Microbiology. But as fate would decree, her registration for the course at T. John College in Bangalore was the closest she came to realising her dream. So enthusiastic at the outset, a bout of jaundice put a spanner in her works, heralding a gradual decline. It was a condition further complicated by the fact that she was AB Negative. This being a rare blood group, it was not easy seeking donors to boost her already depleted blood count. Depending on which side you take, it must have been a bold move in itself or an error in judgment on the part of the parents to have allowed Millicent to come all the distance to pursue her studies, considering her health. A good care at home probably would have been a better option. May be they had placed a lot of trust on the host society or her positive attitude to see her through. Perhaps! Thus when crisis point was
 reached, despite the best of the doctor’s efforts and medical intervention, recovery was ineffective. This set in its wake medical complications with her hemoglobin levels rapidly dipping and eventually sparking off the failure of her kidneys. 
  From a position of marked defiance, where she had mocked her pitiable situation to hold on to life, a steady decline was now all too evident. Not surprisingly, her only wish was to be re-united with her parents. Unfortunately, this route too was clouded in mystery. The vicious circle, of being hospitalised for a long period of time had taken its toll. As finances were now hard to come by, her return home was in serious jeopardy. Stuck in a foreign country, bogged down by escalating medical bills as a result of a long period of hospitalisation, a life threatening medical situation, her future looked bleak. Later, help came through the collective efforts of individuals and organisations who found a way out of the tight financial squeeze. Leading the way was Rev, Arthur Raj and the staff of the International Ministries Fellowships (IMF), Mrs. Meera Bhupathi (incidentally India’s ace tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi’s mother), the International Victory Fellowship (IVF),
 Federation of International Student Associations, Bangalore, Kenyan and Ugandan students, the Kenyan Embassy in New Delhi, Administrator and staff of St. John’s Medical College Hospital, friends and well-wishers, who pooled in the resources that finally helped, accede to her request. 
  Unfortunately, when the day of her departure finally arrived, her passage home became another talking point. Thanks to the unsympathetic crew of a domestic carrier- Jet Airways. Millicent had to suffer the ignominy of being forcibly ejected from the Mumbai bound aircraft. That too, after boarding the plane and getting fully strapped in readiness for take-off. 
  And the reasons? According to the airline’s crew, she was too frail to be allowed to continue with the journey. Surprisingly, being in the possession of a doctor’s medical report, a Kenyan Embassy official’s acceptance of any liabilities, and the fact that she had been cleared at the airline’s boarding counter could not resolve the stalemate. However, as it turned out, the reality was that the crew believed Millicent was a HIV/ Aids patient. So, in taking that line, which other mode did the airline staff expect her to reach Mumbai and check in for the international flight? The result was that a patient in dire need of assistance was forced out and readmitted at the St. John’s Medical College Hospital for another night unsure of her journey back home. 
  With that too, an opportunity to travel to Mumbai to link up with another student from Uganda, David Kaloke who was returning home on the same airliner was lost. Suffice it to say that prior arrangements including an emergency dialysis had been performed to ensure her safe passage. 
  As the students, gathered once again at the hospital on learning of Millicent’s return that night, questions kept flying about that found no answers. What could have been the reason for the insensitiveness of the crew? What effect would the day’s happening have on the patient? All the while, she looked so composed and unperturbed by all that was going on around her.  “I know someone will finally take me home,” she said jokingly more resolute than ever. “It is just that they did not like my face.’ Elsewhere, the guilt of having prevented a patient from traveling spilled over and the Jet Airline staff that now made arrangements and transferred the tickets of Millicent and the accompanying team to an Indian Airlines (IA) flight scheduled to leave the following day. 
  And so on day two, the entire cast was back at the airport with Millicent, only to be rebuffed this time again. The ground staffs of IA were concerned that if allowed on board, she was likely to inconvenience other passengers. ‘We cannot compromise our customer’s trust because of one person,’ was the line they adopted. Also, ‘she could die any moment,’ a final assessment of Millicent’s condition that was made right in her face as if death was unheard of in this part of the world. But then there was a lone voice that stood out. 
  Touched by the case that was now threatening to spill over with tempers rising, it was a mother’s compassion- IA’s ground controller- that broke the impasse. Her assurance despite opposition from her male colleagues lifted the moral of team Millicent. Not keen to get into further arguments or cause the patient any further discomfiture, she not only made arrangements for an ambulance to take her to the runway but also ensured there was a crane to lift her on board.  A feat she achieved because of her commitment to service devoid of any bias. Millicent’s case was not any different. That she ultimately, facilitated the reunion of the parents and daughter even if for a brief period was perhaps the only bright side to what was a tale with signs of a tragic ending. Mulling over the happenings, one was left wondering whether it was necessary to subject a sick person to such an experience. Did she deserve this kind of treatment for no fault of hers? 
  Aboard IA, Millicent got the best attention. “What if she is sick?” queried the IA airhostess undaunted by the supposed risk that Millicent’s travel posed. “We’ll do what it takes. After all, we are all mortal.” In the face of it, the worse for Millicent was over. The end, coming barely a week after her eventful return to her native country, but memories of the episode still lingered of sadness, others tinged with anger at the apparent lack of concern. Her passing on was certainly a reminder of the frailties of life’s struggles. After all, birth and death remain life’s only truths.

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