It is truly a joy for me to give this testimony of an adventure that might well have ended very badly had it not been for the power of blessing.
I am an anesthetist physician, and in 2007 I get a call from a surgeon colleague in Toulouse on behalf of an association, “Les Enfants de l'Aïr” urgently looking for anaesthetist for a mission in Niger. I jump at the opportunity and get ready, albeit with a strange feeling that I might lose my life (I don’t know how). I can’t explain why but this prompts me to send to a few friends the text “The Gentle Art of Blessing” (see Jane Young’s video on this site). They receive it warmly.
Upon arrival in Niamey, we leave immediately for Tanout, in the north, where a curfew has been imposed because of the presence of Tuareg rebels. We reach the camp where we will be lodged, fairly close to the hospital. Soon after arriving, the very next day we are put to work. The following day operations begin at an intense rate, since the hospital has been without an anesthetist for months and the waiting list is very long.
We finish the last operation when we notice that the phone lines have been cut. Black smoke rises from the near-by camp, and shelling starts – not exactly reassuring. Still, we decide to go back to the camp. We leave the city in a 4X4 when suddenly we are stopped by rebels who have blocked the road and aim their Kalachnikovs at us. I see myself, lone woman among these rebels, held in detention deep in the bush, a French hostage likely to provide them with ransom money – a rather worrisome prospect!
Soon after, we arrive at a base camp teeming with masked Tuareg rebels. At one point, one of the rebels in the Jeep tries to recover a cartridge that fell on the ground; he turns towards me – he can’t be older than 15 years old. Inexperienced, he doubtless is trigger-happy. And it is at this moment that I start blessing him, because what else to do in such a situation? It truly is my only weapon.
It is right then that the Tuareg rebels’ top chief appears, leans across the door of the vehicle and says to us in French: “You may go.” Total silence reigns. Everything stops within us and around us. Then slowly, not daring to believe, one of us takes the wheel and we leave the rebel camp slowly, thinking they might strafe us from behind. But nothing happens and we rejoin our mission colleagues who relate to us how they were able to evade shots while several barracks near ours were pierced with bullets.
And the following morning we resume work, “business as usual.” In spite of urgent warnings by the French Embassy, we decide to complete the mission. And we learn that we were freed because one of best friends of the rebels’ chief was the companion of Annie Claire, a midwife member of our mission.
Upon my return, Patrick, one of the friends with whom I had shared the text on “The Gentle Art of Blessing” told me that one evening he felt impelled to bless us all, myself and my team. And that evening was January 21, 2008, the evening we had been arrested by the Tuareg rebels.
And to think that some people still believe in chance and “coincidences”!
Florence, Toulouse, France