Desert Found Faith – The Demonstration Part 2
By Tammi Chang
"Make sure she’s covered. Make sure that not one strand of hair is showing…or else." Ali glared.
Nassar glanced over at me. "She’s covered, now leave her alone," Nassar thumped the leather of the front seat with his fingers.
"Praise Allah, for once she is listening," Ali said flippantly.
"Go," Nassar hesitantly instructed the driver to proceed.
"Allah, help us," the driver chanted some of the Koran.
"You are the cause of all of my problems," Ali lit another cigarette. "It will be your fault if I get into trouble again…"
The smoke had been thickening inside the sedan, and now the air had become unbearable as the pile of cigarettes on the floor grew. The children started to cough underneath the blanket.
"The smoke," I whispered.
"The bambinos need air." Nassar commanded the driver to roll his window down.
"No, they will see her face and she will get us killed." Ali jerked his head back and forth against the seat. "Cover your face."
Nassar informed Ali that I had already covered my nose and mouth. He spoke harshly to both Ali and the driver in rapid Arabic. The driver reluctantly rolled down his window a few inches.
I closed my eyes and rested my head against the door. I knew the angry faces pressed against the tinted glass would be burned into my memory and haunt my dreams forever. I prayed with my heart that the children would fall asleep, and when they awoke, we would safely be in Egypt, and this whole ordeal would just be a bad dream to them.
"Look." Nassar pointed out his window. Another demonstration appeared to be getting underway. I closed my eyes and waited. The longer we refused to respond, the more violent and determined the demonstrators become. Again, the infuriated demonstrators hit the car with rocks and wooden stakes and motioned persistently for us to join them. Ali was becoming more restless as each minute passed, afraid the crowd would discover he had an American passenger. Ali and Nassar worriedly exchanged muffled words.
The discussion was diverted when the driver pointed toward an opening in the crowd. The bitter taste of bile rose in my throat and my stomach began to knot as the checkpoint towers inched nearer. I knew this particular checkpoint would be the toughest because thousands of foreigners and Bedouins traveled this route daily. The border stood only one hundred yards away, but felt like miles. My heart fluttered, and I knew that once I entered Egypt there were still no guarantees of safety, but at least it would be safer than Libya.
Ali made a sudden move and leaned my way. I flinched and shifted backwards in the seat. I watched in slow motion as Ali reached for the door handle. I sat frozen as though caught between time and space.
"Amrikani, Amrikani." Ali taunted and touched the door handle. I watched as Ali’s face began to take on a demonic form. Now I knew the saying "the eyes are the windows to the soul" was true. I had just gotten a glimpse into hell itself.
"Tamara, Allah has cursed you." Ali’s eyes flashed with rage and hatred.
"Stop it, Ali." Nassar pushed Ali backward into his seat.
"What? I’m just making sure her door is locked."
"Leave me alone, for once Ali just leave me alone." I tried to keep from crying but tears formed in my eyes.
"How dare you talk to me like that, who do you think you are?"
"Momma," a small voice whimpered.
"Nassar," another voice softy cried.
As Nassar turned to check on the children, Ali lunged from the front seat and tried to back hand me; Nassar caught and squeezed his hand with massive fingers. "Stop it."
The driver got Nassar’s attention and pointed toward the border gate. A shudder ran down my spine. I could actually see the checkpoint. I had been not paying attention as the car inched closer to the border. I knew if we did not cross over to Egypt soon, our fate would be sealed. The children and I would be forced to live in Libya for the rest of our lives. I did not possess the strength to try and escape again, and I knew Ali would abort whatever plans I made to leave Libya.
"How do we cross?" the driver asked Nassar.
Nassar shook his head and pointed toward several revolutionary guards walking toward us. Ali spoke to Nassar in rapid Arabic. I couldn’t understand everything, but I knew he was trying to convince Nassar to turn around and head back to Benghazi. I watched the exchange covertly, relief pouring through my body as my guard shook his head no. Ali swore belligerently in Arabic, first at me and then at the U.S.
"Uskut," Nassar snapped.
Ali looked over his shoulder at me. He fixed his eyes onto mine with a hypnotic captivation and said, "Because of you, your precious children will be in danger. They will stay in danger if you do not..."
I could not look away from Ali. My mind was spinning in all different directions. Ali’s black eyes penetrated mine, trying to coerce me. I forced myself to close my eyes. I lowered my head and tried to breathe.
"Turn around and leave her alone; we have bigger problems," Nassar demanded. About six heavily armed revolutionary guards had nearly reached our car. Nassar spoke in rapid Egyptian to the driver.
I lifted my head slightly. I sat rigidly and held the scarf tightly over my face. I watched in fear as the revolutionary guards’ motioned for more guards to assist them. The checkpoint was about 100 feet away from us; I could even see the yellow painted lines. What irony it would be to get this close to only have freedom snatched away at the last minute.
One of the guards tapped his bayonet on the car window. Reluctantly the driver rolled his window down all of the way. I shivered, not from the cool desert air, but from sheer fright.
"Marhaba," the guard greeted the driver.
"Passporta," another guard demanded.
"La," Nassar shook his head.
"Passporta," the guard demanded more forcefully.
I buried my head into my scarf. I could hear Nassar producing several travel documents. One of the guards rapped on my window, and in Arabic he asked me to lift my head. I was terrified, but kept my face covered and head bowed.
"Up, woman," the guard repeated angrily, "your face."
"La," I shook my head.
I could hear the guard yelling for more men. Nervously I twirled my scarf’s edges. I could feel the tension thickening inside the smoke-filled car and outside in the black Sahara desert air.
"Dear Jesus, help me." I prayed silently. I loved my children more than life; I didn’t want them to be harmed. "Please help me, Jesus what do I do?"
"Up," the guard yelled.
I slipped my trembling hand from underneath my scarf and grabbed for the door handle. I tried to convince myself that if I surrendered then the children would be physically safe and that my life would be a small price to pay for their safety.
"La, Madame," Nassar whispered, "the bambinos."
Nassar leaned over to remove my hand, but stopped. He knew he couldn’t touch me in any way regardless of the circumstances. "Madame," his eyes pleaded.
I lowered my eyes and grabbed the cold metal, my fingers clutched the handle. Fear coursed through my veins.
Ali turned and stared at me with malevolence. I could feel the hatred radiating from him in waves. Ali took his index finger and ran it across his throat, "Your children will die," he mouthed the words to me.
"Momma," a small voice whispered from the back.
"Madame," my guard’s voice was low and filled with compassion.
Tears started to run down my cheeks. "Dear Jesus," I prayed silently, "I thought I would have more time," my chest started to heave. "I am sorry I have let you down and my children down. I wanted to teach them more about you and your mercy…"
"Up," the guard pointed his machine gun directly at my forehead through the glass. His finger was on the trigger.
I did not want the children to suffer anymore than they already had. I knew what I had to do. "I love you," I whispered to my children. As I began to push on the handle; my heart felt as if someone had shoved a dagger through it. Through tears I began to mouth the words, "Our Father who art..."
To Be Continued …
Tammi Chang is the mother of three beautiful teenagers and works part time for the State of Missouri with youths who have been incarcerated. She is completing her Master’s of Education Degree and writes because she is driven and passionate about the subjects. Tammi is grateful to live in a country where Jesus can be worshiped freely and knows that with Him, she cannot fall – only stumble to her knees in prayer.
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